Steam moves are generally recognized as uniform, sudden and drastic line moves across the marketplace. They are reflective of either a large sum of money or significant sharp action on a particular side.
The protagonists of steam moves are typically professional bettors who are highly organized and amply resourced, meaning they have the ability to get their bets down with multiple bookmakers at once.
Some bettors are under the impression that blindly following steam plays can be a profitable strategy, as they are piggybacking the plays of professional bettors who make a living off winning. There are many reasons why that tactic carries significant risk and is likely a losing approach.
Understanding steam moves and what causes them is critical in determining whether to chase steam or not.
A steam move can be a legitimate reflection of the value of a number. It can look similar to a major line move based on a significant piece of information like a player injury or a personnel decision. It can also be a false line move instigated by professionals seeking a better number. At times that will precipitate the start of a significant plunge in the number, with pros waiting to pounce on the market-manipulated spread with far heavier bets than those they made to facilitate the original move.
Regardless, identifying the reason behind a steam move and understanding the different approaches that should be taken with each is important if following steam as a betting strategy.
One indicator that a steam move is a reaction to news — usually injury — is when said news comes out almost immediately after the move. This is not so much a steam move as the market adjusting for the injury. Another strong indicator of a false steam move is when oddsmakers — particularly those known for taking sharp money — don’t move the line as drastically as would be expected, indicating they view the action as an attempt on the part of professionals to move the number in a desired direction.
The two best strategies when using steam as a guide are to look for stale numbers and/or to bet on a market overreaction.
The first requires identifying a steam move early and then looking for oddsmakers who have failed to act quickly. For example, if a steam move on the Patriots moves their line from -6 to -7.5 vs. the Texans and -7.5 is the new consensus line but one sportsbook still has -6, laying 6 would be astute because you’d be getting the best of the number with the potential to buy back at a higher line and play a middle if it turned out to be a false move.
The second strategy involves following a general contrarian approach by assuming the best of the number is gone on one side and to bet the other side. This allows you to get the best of the number if it was in fact a false steam move. It also allows you to be on the right side of any market overreaction. Using the above example, taking the Texans +7.5 would mean you would have the best of it if it was a false steam move or the market had overreacted, particularly across a key number.
Following steam can be profitable, but only if done astutely and with clarity.