Chasing Steam in Sports Betting

Chasing steam is one of the many tools in the arsenal of a sports bettor. “Chasing steam” occurs when a slew of sportsbooks move their number and the sports bettor jumps on a number from the book that hasn’t moved yet. It can be an incredible strategy to be used against the sportsbook. To follow steam blindly, however, can be dangerous. Let’s do a deep dive and examine this all a little bit further.

What is a Steam Move?

In short, a steam move is a “big” and uniform shift in a line across a multitude of sportsbooks.

Steam Move Example

DRatings Capturing a Steam Move in an NHL Game

With connections to odds feeds, our system captures these moves for money lines, spreads and over/unders in most sports. In the case above, there was a steam move at 12:46pm ET on the Arizona Coyotes money line. The price moved from +180 to +170, which indicates that there is some positive news for the Coyotes. In this case, it appears that information came out that Antti Raanta was back from injury and starting in goal. He is a much stronger goalie than backup Adin Hill. Right before the opening puck drop there was another steam move. This time the move went in favor of the Wild with their money line going from -200 to -210. With this move, it is much less clear why the line moved.

Which lends us to ask the question…

What Causes Steam Moves?

As we sort of alluded to in the last section, this is a question that needs a much more detailed answer. Sometimes we know what causes a steam move and sometimes we don’t. The most common type of events that cause steam moves are injuries. If a report comes out that states that LeBron James is taking the day off to rest, then you can bet that will cause movement in the betting markets for that game.

Now, typically what happens is a lot more complicated. Sports betting is a global business with a lot of money at stake for both bettors and operators. We live in a new age where information travels faster than at any other point in history. So, back to the Lebron James example. What happens in reality is that there are Laker insiders who know before the markets do that Lebron is going to sit the game out. This information leaks to different people and in different ways, but eventually it gets out before initially announced. The best sports gamblers in the world are the outfits that can get this information first. These outfits also have a lot of money and a lot of outs (places to bet). They start betting big all over town and the sportsbooks quickly realize what is up and adjust their lines.

One can use their imagination to figure out what other things cause steam moves. After all, one goal of this site isn’t just to provide information, but make one think. Other examples include (but aren’t limited to): starting goalies in hockey, weather in baseball and football, trade rumors in all sports, etc.

Should I Chase Steam?

Chasing steam can be a great strategy, but comes with a few caveats. Remember how we discussed those big betting outfits? Well, sometimes they will steam a line one way just to get an even better number in the other direction. In that case, you would simply be following them into a market-manipulated bad number. Another caveat is that chasing steam is frowned upon by the sportsbooks. They may flag your account or limit your betting in the future, however that could be looked at like a badge of honor!

We think it makes sense to chase steam when used alongside a strategy with line shopping or implied margin. For sake of argument, let’s create a steam scenario in the example below. Let’s say an event occurs that moves the money lines at all the books except Circa to +155/-175.

Steam Example

Odds for the Cavs/Hornets Game

That would instantly create an arbitrage in the market. You could do some math and get the Hornets at -150 and the Cavs at +155 and guarantee yourself a profit. This is a scenario where it would appear that Circa would be the “off” line and one should probably jump at that -150 bet. This is also something that we attempt to capture in our “Sharp Line” feature. Based on the movements of the markets, we project which way the market is moving. Using this in conjunction with steam moves is a very powerful tool.

Final Thoughts

Chasing steam is one of our favorite betting strategies. What makes it even more amazing is that one doesn’t even have to know anything about sports to use it effectively.