Chasing steam moves is something that bettors have been doing since the early days of legalized Nevada sportsbooks. This trend has become significantly amplified with the proliferation of online sports betting. Chasing steam is certainly a successful strategy, but it is one that needs to be understood before being implemented.
What is a Steam Move?
A steam move is a drastic change in the sports betting marketplace that occurs as the result of heavy betting action.
That action will often be spurred by one or more of the top sportsbooks and will dramatically shift the odds in the sports betting marketplace.
A steam move sees a large amount of money being wagered in a short time and signifies heavy betting action by professional bettors or syndicates (example at bottom of infograph). In most cases, multiple sportsbooks are hit with the same betting patterns, which create an industry-wide line move.
Steam moves are exclusively caused by professional high-volume bettors. The betting public, or “squares” as they’re colloquially known, simply don’t wager enough in a short amount of time to produce this kind of rapid movement. Public betting clearly has an effect on the lines, but these sudden moves will almost always be the result of wiseguy money.
An Example of Chasing Steam
Say you’re looking at a table of live NFL odds at a dozen online sportsbooks. Every shop on the board has the Pittsburgh Steelers as a -6 favorite over the visiting Cleveland Browns. As the odds update, one of the sportsbooks moves the line to Pittsburgh -7.
Not only has the line moved a full point in a matter of seconds, but the game has moved onto the key number of seven for NFL contests. Also, the sportsbook that moved the line is known for their larger betting limits and sharper lines. This is a steam move.
“Chasing steam” means betting the Steelers at -6 before the rest of the market adjusts. By going to another sportsbook, and locking in your wager at -6, you can guarantee yourself the best price before the move and one that will probably beat the closing line. Other sportsbooks will be quick to shift their odds to -7, so striking while the iron is hot is of the utmost importance.
This can be hard to do because many books will be almost instantly hit by sharps. Even the ones that don’t immediately take serious action will adjust their odds based on the rest of the market. Sportsbooks that are slower to move their lines are far more vulnerable to steam plays.
Betting with the Move
Is chasing steam always the right move? Not necessarily, but the fact that many offshore sportsbooks will limit players who continually chase steam should give you a decent idea of its potential profitability.
Picking the right side is a key factor when it comes to winning at sports betting, but it is even more vital to get the best price on your wager when compared to the closing line. The problem is that not all steam moves accurately predict future line movement.
Sharp bettors realize that their moves will be followed by a percentage of the betting public, and some decide to use this factor to their advantage. They may decide to heavily bet on one side in order to move the line in their favor, before then switching an even larger amount to the opposite side.
Blindly betting all perceived steam moves isn’t a sound strategy because it can be difficult to decipher what the move truly means. Some moves have more validity than others. In some cases bettors may get a better price with the opening number, and sometimes with the closing number.
However, if you can manage to beat the closing line at a top sportsbook, it’s almost certainly worth several additional percentage points on your return on investment. Depending on the sport and the number, beating the closing odds by a point or more provides a nice added advantage. Also, depending on what price you lock in, a steam move may also set you up with a terrific middling opportunity.
Putting It into Practice
Even with an understanding of steam moves, chasing steam is quite difficult long-term. In today’s age of internet-fuelled sports betting, there’s almost no delay, and most sportsbooks will adjust to a big move within minutes. Some books use betting software so that they can react automatically to such events.
A large bankroll and funds at a number of different online sportsbooks are must-haves for those wishing to chase steam. Essentially, this is line shopping on steroids. Players will need to have their eyes on the odds throughout the day, and must be able to act within minutes or even seconds. This is where funds across several online bookmakers can come in handy.
Another option might be using a local bookie. With this approach, you will often have more time in which to act as online moves can take a while to trickle down to the locals. That’s especially so with the old-school bookies who still get their opening odds from the day’s paper.
Will Chasing Steam Get You Limited?
Yes, in a lot of cases. Some sportsbooks view steam chasing as a personal attack because it amounts to bettors trying to capitalize on slow line moves by sportsbook management. Chasing steam is an excellent way to draw attention to your account and have your betting account limited.
Not only are you usually getting a better line than most on a particular market, but because the sportsbook has to move the line in order to fend off big money plays from the sharps, they will be unable to offset the action of those chasing steam.
Solely betting steam plays is going to be a gigantic red flag to bookmakers, and may get your account noticed. This is even more likely if you’re wagering a large amount or the max limit available on your steam plays. Some bettors have reported being limited even with relatively marginal profits, such was the suspicion attracted by their betting patterns.
Playing at a reputable sportsbook is all the more valuable if you’re going to be chasing steam. Less-than-stellar shops have banned players for betting steam plays, and have fallen back on rules hidden away in customers’ terms and conditions to give them an excuse for voiding winnings. This penalty is unquestionably draconian, but it’s a risk that players must be consider when choosing a sportsbook.
Chasing steam is undoubtedly +EV, provided you can both take advantage of moves, and are reasonably accurate at predicting closing numbers. Such a strategy is hard to execute properly, and in the long-term it can end with significant limits being placed upon your account(s). Steam moves are important to understand, but still represent just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to handicapping sports successfully. Crucially though, chasing steam often ends with players getting the best price, and that’s half the battle when it comes to beating sports.
Author: Joseph Falchetti