Sports Betting 101: The Importance of Closing Line Value

May 5, 2020 01:00 AM

One of the most common misconceptions in sports betting is that if a bet wins, it was a good bet. On the other hand, if a bet loses, the most obvious reaction is to think it was a bad bet. Often you'll hear bettors say "the right side is the winning side, the wrong side is the losing side." It's easy to see why people think this way. It sounds right in theory but the logic is flawed. 

The truth is that wins and losses don't determine whether a bet was good or bad or right or wrong. A smart bet is determined before the game is played based on hard data, where the value lies and most importantly, what number you bet the game at. The outcome is irrelevant. 

Sharp bettors document their plays so they keep track of their wins and losses and map out their performance. But to really judge the value of their bet and gauge their skill as a bettor, wiseguys use closing line value. 

Closing line value, also known as "CLV" for short, is a simple comparison of what number you bet a game at compared to what the line ended up closing at. If you got a better number than what the line closed at, that would be considered a smart bet because you beat the closing line. In other words, it means you beat the market and got better odds, or a better price, than the closing price. In turn, if you end up betting a team at a worse number than what the line closed at, that would be considered a bad bet because you read the game wrong and the market beat you.

For example, let's say you bet the Chiefs as a 3-point favorite against the Broncos. But the line ends up falling a point and closing at Chiefs -2. The Chiefs go on to win the game by a touchdown. Great, right? Not exactly. Yes you won your bet, but you got beat by the closing line. Since you laid 3-points on a team that closed as a 2-point favorite, you paid more for the Chiefs than what they were really worth. And although it worked out for you on this particular occasion, over the long term losing a point off of the closing line will bankrupt your bankroll because you are overpaying and betting bad numbers. 

This is why sharp bettors determine the quality of their bets by comparing them to the closing line, not whether they win or lose. If you were to to bet the Chiefs -3 and the the lined as -4, that would be considered a smart bet because you beat the closing line by a point. Even if the Chiefs fail to cover or lose the game outright, you still read the game correctly and bet the game at a better number than what it closed at. Over the long haul, if you keep beating the market that will lead to far more wins than losses.

Consistently beating the closing line is a mark of a sharp bettor. It means they are interpreting and anticipating the market correctly. It validates their skill as a bettor because they are getting better numbers than what the line closes at. 

This begs the hypothetical question: if you beat the closing line 10 times in a row but lose all 10 bets, are you still considered a sharp bettor? The short answer is yes. 

All bettors go through stretches where they get extremely lucky or unlucky. Luck comes and goes. Sometimes it's on your side, sometimes it isn't. But skill is different. Skill is sustainable. It sticks with you. If you're beating the closing line but losing your bets, it means you're breaking down the games correctly and you're on the right side but you're just not getting any breaks. This is why sharps don't worry too much when they're in a cold spell. As long as they're beating the closing line, they known they're on the right track and it's only a matter of time until their luck turns.

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