Understanding Reverse Line Movement

reverse line movement

Bettors are always looking for whatever edge they can get: any piece of information, any misjudgement by bookkeepers, any insight they can glean in order to make money when they place a bet. One way you can find an edge is watching how the betting line moves. More specifically, you can watch for a line that’s moving in a seemingly counterintuitive way: a reverse line movement.

To understand reverse line movements, you need to understand how betting line movements work. From there, you need to know why a line would move in reverse – and then, whether or not it’s worth betting on the reverse line movement, and which side you should bet on. We’ll cover all of that, and more, in this comprehensive guide:

Why betting lines move

A bookie’s strategy behind betting lines is simple: get bettors to place money on both sides of the line about equally, then make your money off of the juice. Most spread and total bets give odds of -110 on both sides of the equation. That means you have to spend $110 to win $100.

With equal bets on both sides, you effectively have one group of bettors paying the other group $100 – with the bookkeepers pocketing the extra $10. 

Betting lines move, then, when bettors are betting too heavily on one team, and bookies risk losing their money. For example, there’s an upcoming NFL game between the Chiefs and the Falcons where the point spread is -10 Chiefs/+10 Falcons. If 75% of bettors are putting money on the Chiefs, bookies stand to lose a lot of money if the Chiefs beat the spread. They might, then, start offering -12 Chiefs/+12 Falcons to encourage more people to bet on the Falcons.

What is a reverse line movement?

A reverse line movement is simply a line movement that happens in the opposite direction of what the expected line movement would be. 

Let’s look at our Chiefs vs. Falcons example again. Imagine you know that 75% of bettors are putting money on the Chiefs. You then watch the spread go from -10 Chiefs/+10 Falcons to -8 Chiefs/+8 Falcons.

That’s odd. You’d expect bookkeepers to make the spread harder for the Chiefs to beat, not easier – that way, more people would put their money on the Falcons. With -8 odds, even more people are going to put their money on the Chiefs – why would they want to unbalance the books even more?

A sharp(er) image

In the number crunching games, there are two important things to look for in your data points: quantity, and quality. In the sports betting world, there are two kinds of bettors: sharps and squares. Squares are the regular, everyday bettors who mostly play for fun (and mostly lose). They make up the bulk of your dataset. 

Sharps, on the other hand, play to win. They’re professional bettors, like Kyle. When they put a lot of money down on a team, bookkeepers take notice.

Reverse line movement is movement based on how sharps are betting. In the case of reverse line movements, their bets will be statistical anomalies for two reasons:

  • They’ll be betting against the herd
  • They’ll bet large sums of money

Successful professional bettors don’t put down large sums of money against the grain for no reason – they do it because they’re fairly certain they’ve got a big edge. These bets signal to bookkeepers that they may have miscalculated the line – whether it be spread or total – and that they may need to recalculate it. 

You may be asking why bookkeepers would recalculate their line in the first place – after all, if most people are already betting on the wrong side of the equation, why mess with a good thing for the books? There are two main reasons:

  • To encourage more people to place the “wrong” bet
  • To discourage sharps

Remember, sharps tend to bet a lot more money on games than squares do. That means that while the bets placed may be 75% Chiefs and 25% Falcons, the actual money pouring in may be closer to 50/50. If too many sharps bet too much on the Falcons, bookkeepers stand to lose a lot of money. By skewing the point spread to -8/+8, they’ll get more bets on the Chiefs (who the bookkeepers believe they misevaluated), and fewer sharps betting on the Falcons (who have lost some of their edge). 

Obviously, this isn’t an exact science – bookkeepers want to keep the money around 50/50 on either side, so they’ll try to calculate a new line that will achieve that goal. They may, after some time, feel that the line still isn’t accurate, and adjust it again.

Following reverse line movements

Now that you know what reverse line movements are, you might decide that they’re an important signal to use in your betting strategy.

Here’s the problem: how do you track them?

In order to get a read on how a line is moving, you need to know how many people are betting on each side of the line. To do that, you need a lot of data about bettors, something most bettors simply don’t have access to.

There are tools online that claim to monitor and report reverse line movements. The biggest problem with these tools is that it’s hard to evaluate how accurate their data is – without access to the datasets they’re using, there’s no real way of knowing whether or not a particular movement is a reverse line movement.

Betting on reverse line movements

Now that you know what reverse line movements are, and how you might be able to find them, we can answer the big question: should you bet when you see a reverse line movement, and who should you bet on?

The answer: it’s complicated.

As a rule of thumb, you should never bet based on only one piece of information. A reverse line movement tells you that sharps are probably betting on the least popular side, but sharps aren’t always right. Even though they win most of the time in the long run, a good sharp may still only average around 60-65%. It’s better than a coin flip, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be cautious. 

You should also keep in mind that when the line moves, it’s moving in order to discourage sharps. That means if you’re betting after the line moved, you may already be too late – it’s possible sharps won’t continue to take the action.

It’s best to look at reverse line movements as one signal of many. The reverse movement itself weights your bet toward whatever side of the line the sharps are betting on – but the movement also means worse odds on that very side. 

Kyle Covers Spreads uses a wide variety of factors to determine which side of the line the smart money is on: that means considering reverse line movements, but also considering how the point spread or total changes as a result of that movement. Injuries, historical trends, player performance – all of these things, and more, are factored in.