Sharp or Soft
In my articles sometimes I talk about sharp and soft bookmakers. This is an important concept in the world of gambling but it might be confusing for some novice bettors. In this article I will explain what it is all about.
The main difference between sharp and soft bookmakers lies within their business models. Sharp bookmakers are in the busiess of pricing events and calculating odds. Soft bookmakers’ main task is marketing bets to retail customers. You can read more about the implications of this below.
The soft bookmakers are bookies that are in general bad in determining the correct odds for an event. This is not their point of expertise and they do not dedicate much resource to get better in it. For most events they copy the prices of the sharp bookmakers or the exchanges. For prop bets or in-play betting they sometimes use some sort of an external odds feed. But basically, the main task of their traders is to identify profitable punters and ban them.
Since the soft bookmakers are not so good in setting the odds, they differentiate themselves from the competition by investing heavily in marketing. As a result of this, they have the most well-known brands, whereas sharp bookmakers are unknown to the average punter on the street.
When a sharp book moves, softs are sometimes slow to adjust their odds. This allows Arbitrage and Value Betting opportunities to appear. In general, soft books they make their money by active marketing efforts to seduce the losing bettor and banning the winning one. The majority of known bookmakers fall into that category.
The sharp bookmakers are the ones that are famously good in setting the correct odds. They manage to do that via the market making process. When a sharp bookmaker takes a bet from a sharp punter they immidiately move the odds. And they know if the punter is sharp, because they profile all their customers. Just in comparison to the softs they don’t ban the sharps, but use their bets as an indication for where the price should be. This process gets repeated many times until finally the line gets in shape.
That means by the time an event has started the sharp books have a pretty solid line. They much more rarely get the probabilities wrong. Although sometimes they still do. Especially for bets where they haven’t booked a lot of action. This may be the case for smaller events or more exotic markets. Even then, since their target audience is much sharper than the one of the average bookmaker, they do the best to offer a strong price.
Because of their accurate odds, sharp books can afford to offer better odds. This is true because their better price leads to lower risk to lose on the event. That translates to a lower overround. Furthermore, sharps don’t limit the accounts of winning players. This makes them suitable for (partly) hedging your risk if you do Arbitrage Betting alone or in a mix with Value Betting.
However, it is not all rosy for the punter hear either. With sharp books you will see less marketing promotions of the types of deposit bonus, free bets and such. And good luck turning a profit at a sharp book long-term. As I have explained, their prices are extremely efficient, and if you manage to beat those, you probably don’t need my advice anyway.
The most famous sharp bookmaker is probably Pinnacle, you also have SBOBet who are quite sharp in football, as well as some Asian bookies only available through a broker like Singbet, IBCbet, betISN. If you can’t access some or all of these books, brokers should be able to help.
Why does it matter
This is interesting information but why would I care about the business models of the bookmakers if I myself don’t intend to start one, you might ask. Well, you mainly need to be able to tell a soft bookie from a sharp one in order to know where your winning account might get limited. When doing sports arbitrage for example the soft books will chase you while the sharp ones wouldn’t care. Sports arbitrage is also definitely not the only reason to get your account limited in a soft book – many players have had the same experience after following other types of profitable betting strategies.
But there are other implications too – sharps often offer higher limits on events since they are more confident in the odds they are offering, which might be important for an experienced bettor. Finally, sharps have extremely efficient odds, meaning if you hedge your arbitrage bets with them you will lose there in the long term. This might urge you to turn to Value Betting in order to improve your returns. However, mind the variance.
In general, among experienced punters sharp bookmakers are respected while soft ones not so much. But we should not forget that the soft books offer great opportunities for Sports Arbitrage and often give good bonuses that one can benefit from. Make sure you use those opportunities and bag those bonuses before getting your account limited.
If you have any questions let me know in the comments.