When is a bet a good bet? And when is a bet a bad bet?
The absolutists amongst us, those who see the world in pure black and white, would argue that a good bet is one that wins and a bad bet is one that loses. Simple.
Of course, there’s a heck of a lot of nuance to sport and often the final result doesn’t always reflect the action: how often have we seen a team dominate a football match but fail to score a winning goal, or a racehorse torch the rest of the field before falling at the last?
It is possible to place a ‘good’ bet that loses, while it’s not impossible that you will place a ‘bad’ bet that wins – such is the variance of sport (and why we love watching it).
So how do we quantify the actual quality of our bets – irrespective of whether they win or lose? One way is via the study of our closing line value.
What is Closing Line Value?
Let’s say you place a bet on a football match.
You take odds of 11/10 about Liverpool winning on Thursday, with their game against Arsenal scheduled to kick off on Sunday.
In the interim period, the betting community decides that Liverpool’s price is a generous one, so money flows into the market and Liverpool kick off as a 5/6 favourite.
This is closing line value (CLV) in action. By the time the game kicked off and the pre-match betting market closed, your wager (at 11/10) was more valuable than what was available to the punting public (5/6).
Other times, circumstances dictate that you have (or don’t have) CLV. Let’s say you bet on Liverpool and then, the night before the game, they eat a dodgy lasagne. Eight of their first-choice team are side-lined with food poisoning, and so Liverpool’s odds go from 11/10 to 2/1. It’s beyond your control, but clearly you don’t have closing line value in this case – quite the opposite, in fact.
But when all things are equal and there’s no gone-off meat consumed, you can analyse your bet as ‘good’ (positive expectancy) or ‘bad’ (negative expectancy) based upon the odds you took compared to the closing line, i.e. the price at the point that the game started.
Does Closing Line Value Actually Matter?
Our absolutist friends will be only too quick to point something out: just because you have closing line value, it doesn’t mean that your bet will win. Conversely, just because your wager is negative expectancy it doesn’t mean it will lose.
They’d be quite right, too. But in the long run, we have to consider what CLV actually represents.
Imagine you’re betting on a popular market such as the Premier League. Tens of millions is wagered on these games every week, and so it takes a huge amount of money to come in to change the odds one way or the other.
So, if you are on the right side of closing line value, it shows that the betting community – professional punters, football fans and casual bettors alike – has decided that your instinct is right and that the odds offered are too generous (or the opposite if you don’t have CLV).
This feeds into the notion of the wisdom of the crowd: the idea that, for the most part, if you ask enough people you will eventually come to the correct consensus.
The crowd can be, and often is, wrong when it comes to betting on football: maybe an underdog plays out of their skin, the referee has a shocker or one random moment of luck – a shot deflecting into the net off somebody’s backside, for instance – can determine the outcome of a game.
But in a sample size of hundreds, if not thousands, the crowd will usually come out on the right side of things – highlighting why securing closing line value as a punter is important.
How Do You Beat the Closing Line in Betting?
And so we come full circle back to the original question of this article: what is a good bet?
Putting inconceivable outcomes (dodgy lasagne) aside, the secret to beating the closing line in sports betting has two elements:
- Spotting value bets (where the bookies’ odds are too generous)
- Taking the best odds (so-called ‘line shopping’)
Spotting value bets isn’t always easy given the rigorous analysis that odds compilers put into setting their odds in the first place. But opportunities are available – particularly if you are knowledgeable or put lots of research into niche sports and markets.
Let’s face it: it’s unlikely the bookmakers will get their lines for Arsenal vs Liverpool ‘wrong’, but they might for a Vanarama North fixture.
However, you have to make sure you bet before the line moves too far. In horse racing, for example, horses that are well backed – i.e. where a value opportunity has been found – are called ‘steamers’, but if you are too late in getting your money on you may well have lost out on the value….you may end up with negative closing line value as a result.
Once you have identified a value opportunity, you still need to squeeze out every morsel of potential return by taking the best price available. For that, you can use an odds comparison website to find where the most equitable ‘line’ is available.
And then, well, you have to sit back, relax and see how the action unfolds. But one thing’s for sure: if you can beat the closing line more often than not, you are giving yourself the very best possible chance of becoming a profitable punter.