Last week there was a lot of demand for an article on head fakes. I was actually surprised a lot of people were not familiar with what it is and how it is used. So, let’s get our hands into it! What is a head fake? According to Wikipedia, “A head fake is a type of feint in which someone moves the head to fake an intended change in direction and thereby deceive opponents.” What is a head fake in betting? When a bettor (typically sharp) makes a bet in an effort to show intention to play a certain side of a wager only to deceive the book into moving the line in favor of the bet they really want to make… the opposite side.
To visualize this in practice, I will use an example from today. Tennis has seen rampant head fakes the past few weeks since the US Open. Last night I reported that there was sharp money arriving on Rublev. At the time the effect of this money eventually pushed the line down to Zverev -152 to -156. Well, the line stayed there until about 30 minutes before post time when the line shot through the roof in an instant as incredibly heavy action hit on Zverev. When the steam finished the line was up to -186… a 30 cent move in only 3 minutes! The result, Zverev won the match 6-0, 7-6.
What’s the background on this? There was clearly a group of bettors that felt very strongly about Zverev. What the bettors did, when limits were low the night before, is they put $2-3K limit wagers on Rublev. Less than $10K in total action. However because the volume and limits were low, that sort of money from people considered on the sharper side can have a major effect on the line. Last night the action did and the line dropped from Zverev -163 to -152. On top of the sharp money in these situations, often the public will see these types of moves and will follow them. The public will then help the sharp’s head fake by further pushing the line down as they follow what they believe is sharp steam. All of a sudden, less than $10K in action from a few sharp bettors on Rublev has moved the lines at most of the sportsbooks and betting exchanges. The trap has been set!
With the line pushed down, the sharps setting up the head fake now sit and wait. What are they waiting for?? The sharps are waiting until the match gets closer to post time and the betting limits go from $3K to $10K or $15K. The higher limits allow the sharps to now do some serious damage with their head fake. Around 30 minutes before post, the sharps emerge from the forest and hit every book and exchange they are able to hit. The $10K they bet the night before on Rublev is offset quickly and easily with multiple bets of $5K to $15K across multiple books and large trades on exchanges like Bet Fair or Matchbook. All of a sudden the sharps went from $10K on Rublev to being set to win $150K or more on Zverev. The $10K of Rublev action from the night before is just a cost of doing business.
Essentially, a head fake in betting is when sharps pretend to telegraph their intentions by betting one way when volume and limits are low. When volume and limits are low, it doesn’t take much action, especially from a bettor considered sharp, to move the line. Then when limits increase closer to post time, those same sharps come in and hammer the other side of their initial bets… usually saving on juice and getting themselves great spreads/lines/odds AND the highest of limits.
Head faking is a strategy used by sharp bettors and it is usually used in situations which they believe to be high percentage. It has to be high percentage if they are willing to “waste” money on the wrong side to setup a massive wager at prime odds on the other side. So, following head fakes can be a good strategy. The problem is that you never know if it was indeed a head fake until right before post time when there is no longer a chance for late action. You might ask why books move based on early sharp action??? Well, sharps are “sharp” and they know that they cannot always do head fakes on every game they like. Sometimes the early action is the same betting they do at high limits close to post time. Other times it is a head fake! The mixed betting style keeps the books from knowing for sure what is a setup for a head fake and what is legitimate early sharp buying. If head fakes were easy to figure out and spot before-hand then the technique would not exist. There would be no reason.
I get asked all the time to post a lot of early sharp action for NFL and NCAAF. The reason I don’t do it is the risk of head fakes. I know people will buy that early sharp action straight and in parlays. Then if it is a head fake they might not have the money to buy out of it later. Instead I look for the top early sharp buy for college and NFL (which I post in the weekly The Sharp Plays Newsletter). Typically, those top early sharp buys do not turn into head fakes but the emphasis is on the word “typically”. If you follow any type of sharp action you need to monitor it all the way through to game time.
I love watching head fakes. It’s strong from a betting performance standpoint but I just enjoy the choreography that sharp bettors implement to put one into place. I hope the above helped to clarify what a sports betting head fake is and why it is done… to get the best number at the highest limits!
Good luck in your action!
~ The Sharp Plays