I spent more time writing this article than any other. There is a lot of information I want to share and stringing it all together is tricky.
I love and hate in-play betting markets.
The competitive dynamic is fascinating, but the tedious work is mentally exhausting.
I spent three seasons manually moving in-play spreads and totals for NFL games with DGS Software for ASureWin. I can not count the number of times I hit F5 for the lines manager, CTRL and ENTER to open the edit screen, and TAB to reach the odds box.
Major corporate bookmakers are much more sophisticated than the setup I had. Big betting firms have traders who sit in-front of a computer screen for eight hours and adjust in-play prices based on company needs. Traders monitor video, text or picture feeds of matches and work as a team to manage liability.
Bookmakers apply bigger margins to in-play markets than pre-match and often trade “safe” by reacting to money entering the market instead of trying to dictate where it goes.
In most cases, in-play markets follow a pre-planned trajectory. It is not a coincidence that matches will end up with the same price at the same time in-play on the same scoreline.
Don’t believe me? Look at every 0–0 soccer match. Regardless of prematch odds (barring extreme circumstances), the draw hits EV (2.00) between the 65 and 70-minute mark in almost every match.
The trajectory odds follow is based on time decay. As time applies itself to a market, the range of possible outcome narrows and prices become more efficient.
Programs like SoccerMystic and BetAngel allow soccer bettors to input exact score and timelines to create prices based on time decay.
NFL bettors do not have such luxury. The fixed scoring and point spread centred betting makes it difficult to create time decay based prices.
The fixed scoring does, however, allow for numerous market re-evaluation due to frequent lead changes and ties.
Each time a team scores to tie an opponent, bettors can look at in-play prices to get a full reassessment of the market. The later in the game, the more accurate it will be.
In-play positions by bookmakers during NFL games can be very noticeable.
When analysing in-play markets and trying to spot a position as a bettor, it is important to remember five things.
- The in-play market is an extension of the pre-match market; they are not separate entities.
- Every in-play market has a liability side and a house side.
- Bookmakers are either protecting their liability or encouraging it.
- In-play odds are a re-evaluation of the market, not a prediction of the outcome.
- Possession dictates position. Bookmakers must always respect the fact that the team with the ball can score seven points.
Here is an example of how I would look to spot positions being taken in-play during an NFL game.
The Chicago Bears are playing the Green Bay Packers on Thursday Night. The Packers are 7 point favourites.
Green Bay is the liability side. Chicago is the house side.
The pre-match spread is a key number. Key numbers are significant because bookmakers will be hesitant to move through them. Moving through a key number allows for any bettor with a prematch point spread ticket to shoot for a middle opportunity and win on both sides.
I know before the game even begins that bookmakers will be hesitant to move Green Bay higher than -9.5 but will be more than happy to move them down towards 0.
If the Packers have possession early in the game and the score is tied, odds of Green Bay -7 and up tells me bookmakers are protecting, odds of Green Bay -6.5 tells me bookmakers an encouraging.
In the late stages of a tied game, bookmakers will set odds to the nearest key number. In the case of the Chicago vs Green Bay example, the nearest key number from being tied is Green Bay -3. If the Packers have possession late and I see Green Bay -3 or up, I know bookmakers are not confident Chicago can get a stop. If it is Green Bay -2.5 or less, I want to be holding a Bears ticket.
Market flips excite me.
A market flip through a point spread of zero 0 is a bold sign of confidence from bookmakers — especially if moving towards the house side. Flipping the market through 0 means any bettor with a prematch wager on the house side can instantly buyout and secure profits. This leaves the bookmaker in a deficit and forces them to deal with only the liability side.
Not every bettor buys out — nor will they ever. But, no bookmaker likes to concede profit. Choosing to give the option for bettors to do so is a very telling sign of how bookmakers expect the game to unfold.
I always make note of any market flip through zero, especially if it happens early in the game.
Everybody has their own style of in-play betting. It comes with experience and time spent in the market. I prefer to take my positions early and sell them off late. There is less volatility this way.
My favourite in-play trade is to look for a side leading by two possessions where the market has not flipped through zero or increased by more than one touchdown.
An example would be on Thursday if the Chicago Bears were leading 10–0 but the Packers were still listed as favourites or the Packers were leading 14–0 but not favoured by more than 14.
I find bookmakers and the market can price recovery much more accurately than they can price retention. Anytime a price is too short in this spot I like to back the team trailing in hopes to sell off for a middle when the deficit is recovered.
When an in-play market is broken down into liability and house side and compared to time decay pricing expectations, they are much easier to understand and beat.
I know this article will spark many questions. As always, if you want or need to ask anything, my Twitter inbox is open to everyone.