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There are a number of different sports handicapping strategies that people use to beat the sportsbooks and make a profit.  But what is top down handicapping versus bottom up?

If you are going to learn how to bet on sports, then knowing as many different ways as possible to win is only going to help you accomplish your goals.

What is the Top Down Sports Handicapping Approach?

I consider reading markets, studying sharp moves, finding arbitrage bets, and chasing steam to be top down handicapping.  This guide will help you get a head start on the approach and win more of your bets.

Reading a market isn’t like handicapping a game.  You are more interested in the technical analysis than you are in the fundamentals of the matchup.

This means that you are handicapping the market and not the teams.  You are looking for price volatility patterns and not who has the edge in the matchup or situation.

If you want to know how to handicap from the bottom up then check out our guide to building sports betting models.

What Tools Are Required to Win with Top Down Betting?

The main thing that you are going to need is an odds screen.  There are plenty of options out there but Don Best is really the gold standard.

Don Best has the most books and has been around the longest.  They have an archive where you can study previous line moves to see which books moved first, what time they moved, and how often they update.

They offer real-time updates, injury news, weather conditions and urgent game updates via a desktop software.  The alerts are top notch and the ticker gives you a running update on updates across all sports.

Spank Odds and Unabated are two other options worth considering as well.

Spank Odds was created for professional bettor Spanky’s personal use.  What I do like about his software is that it includes limits on the games.

This is an under-rated feature in my opinion because a line moving when the max bet is $500 is a lot different than when the line moves a point taking a $10,000 bet.

The downside is the software is still a little buggy and the price is the same.  But it’s definitely a viable alternative if you want a quality screen.

Unabated has a live odds feed that is good as well.  The downside to their product is that they don’t have alerts so you have to pay attention without any triggers giving you an assist.

Is Top Down Handicapping Still Profitable?

Yes, but not nearly as much as it was in the past.  If you go back 15 to 20 years ago you would see a lot of unique numbers across different sportsbooks.

In Vegas, right now it’s MGM, Caesars and Circa that dominate the market.  Before each casino had a unique sportsbook and they weren’t all tied together so you had more options for off market lines.

Plus, not every online book used an odds screen and moved off air.  They were willing to put up a number and stick with it unless a respected bettor placed a bet with them and they adjusted based off of his action.

Now they seem to just see what Pinnacle, Cris, BetOnline, or Circa do and if one of those books moves a number, every other outfit follows suit.  You see more of a one, true market number than you do a set of them to pick off unique ones.

If the recreational books want to increase their profits, they aren’t going to wait until someone hits them to move off their number.  They are going to “move on air” when they see the sharp books get hit.

How to Read the Line Moves in Order to Profit with Betting

Here’s the catch with top down handicapping, in order to win you’ll have to be sitting at your screen all hours of the day.  You can’t take a break and that’s a taxing way to approach betting.

The important thing you have to figure out is what books moves demand respect and which ones move first.

You need to have accounts at as many of the follower books as possible, because if you can track the moves at the sharp spots and place bets at the weaker books before they move, you have a theoretical edge.

You’ll need to study the betting patterns, but they aren’t always going to be the same.  Each sport might have books that are moving first.

In fact, you might see that totals get hit at one book before another.  You might also find that the real line moves don’t start until a popular pay-per-head (PPH) posts their totals a little later in the morning.

The other way to read the line moves is to improve your own approach.  If several games in a row a team is getting bet on or against then you might be missing something on them compared to the market.

If a team is getting hit over or under their totals and the books aren’t adjusting, there might be an edge there that you haven’t picked up on yet.

What Are Head Fakes or False Line Moves?

One thing to pay attention to are what’s called “head fakes.”  These are false line moves where a bettor makes a bet on a book to massage the line a little bit the wrong way in order to come back hard the other way.

Billy Walters was famous for doing this, and sometimes it didn’t even cost him that much money.

You see, books will flag accounts as sharp.  Once they do that they might auto move based on the action it receives or they might take that info and use it to bet themselves across a network of books.

If a sharp bettor knows an account is hot they can make a bet to cause the market to move, setting up the real action coming back the other way.

Once you study the moves for a long enough time you can start picking up on if the move is a head fake or not by seeing the order in which the market moves, how quickly the books move, and what time the odds start going.

Why Do Books Hate Bettors Who Steam Chase?

The sportsbooks don’t really mind sharp bettors giving their opinions.  This helps them sharpen their lines and potentially make more money by having better odds.

However, sportsbooks will quickly limit players who steam chase.  The reason is that you aren’t really giving them any new information to sharpen their lines.

The books are either already getting hit from the originators already, or are just not able to move their numbers as fast as you bet them.  Instead of trying to speed up their processes they will just limit players who are taking advantage.

Following the best sports handicappers can have a similar effect.  There are a lot of clients betting the same thing at the same time as soon as the handicapper releases their picks.  However, the delays and variety in books that the players hit vary enough this is rarely a problem.


You might think that chasing steam or following the sharp money around isn’t as respectable way to win as handicapping your own games, but it’s a tool you can use to increase your winnings. And at the end of the day it’s the winning that matters.

Plus, you can study the line moves at the end of the day to see if there are ways to improve your own handicapping, such as finding if there are any teams that the sharps have a different opinion on than you do.