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Squares vs. Sharps: Who They Are and How They Wager

Here is a scenario to ponder as you get ready to handicap today's games. A guy walks into a small sports book in Vegas and places a relatively minor $500 wager on an individual or team, and the line moves to account for his wager. A second guy comes in right after him and places a $5,000 on the same contest, and the line doesn't move a bit. Why would a small wager move a line and a large wager not affect it at all? 

It's simple; it all comes down to the guy who placed the wager. This is why bookmakers get to know their customers. They need to know how to separate the squares from the sharps. Doing so allows the house to move the line based on the "right" bet, regardless of the amount of the wager. A square is a typical public bettor while a sharp is someone who is a true handicapper.

For starters, a casino or bookmaker can separate the squares from the sharps just by who is placing the wager. A sharp uses gambling as a primary source of income and rarely will place his bet personally. He will rely on a "runner" to do this, and bookmakers come to know these people. Conversely, a square bettor can normally be spotted a mile away.

Of course, sharps and squares don't just exist in places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Every bettor who has ever placed a wager over the Internet also falls into one of these categories. There really isn't much middle ground; you either wager for leisure or you wager for a living. So, what do sharps do that squares don't, and vice versa?

Betting Action

  • Sharps choose a certain number of games and bet only those games. For example, they may set a limit of four games on Saturday and six games on Sunday.
  • Squares have a haphazard betting style and may bet zero or one game one day, then bet every game on the card the following day.


  • Sharps wager the same amount on every game, give or take 10 percent, regardless of whether they are winning or losing for the day or week.
  • Squares adjust their wager amount based on "feelings," "hunches," and whether they are ahead or behind for the day or week.

Optimize Your Line

  • Sharps wager when they are sure they are getting the best possible line. Most often this is soon after a line is released.
  • Squares ignore lines all week and wager at the last minute, leaving them stuck with whatever the line ends up being.

Betting Strategy

  • Sharps do not bet randomly. They have a strategy to make sports wagering profitable, and they stick to it at all times. Each time a sharp places a wager, he is confident that he has a distinct advantage over the bookmaker.
  • Squares wager when they are bored. They often will places a few wagers just to have "action," and when they lose the first wager they end up chasing the rest of the day.

Number Crunching

  • Sharps use mathematical and statistical formulas to analyze each matchup they are thinking of wagering on. Once they come to a conclusion as to who has the upper hand, they wager accordingly, based on how significant they feel the advantage is. However, as already stated, no one bet is ever more than 10 percent greater than the next.
  • Squares base their wagers on none of the above. Some squares will look at things like who won their last game and by how much, but that doesn't make them sharps. Unless every trend and angle is analyzed, you may as well just flip a coin. Sadly, some squares do exactly that!

Emotions In Check 

  • Sharps don't sweat their wagers. Once their bets are in, they sit back and wait for the results, knowing that they are in it for the long haul and that their system will work over time.
  • Squares place wagers and stress over every play that occurs. They end up angry, depressed, and often take it out on those around them.

No Gimmicks

  • Sharps don't fall for gimmick bets. Teasers, parlays and future bets all have their place, but they are best left for the square. A sharp focuses on individual contests knowing that this is the quickest may to make a profit.
  • Squares love the gimmick bets. Parlay wagers were invented to give the house a greater advantage. For example, check with your preferred bookmaker and see what odds you can get on a 3-team straight up parlay. Most pay around 4-1, with some as high as 6-1. Those seem like good payouts, but the odds of hitting a 3-teamer are 8-1, so who really has the advantage? Meanwhile, you may hit two out of three games and still lose your bet.

Know The Game

  • Sharps know the ins and outs of wagering. They are aware that they only need to win more than 55% of the time to come out ahead. Anything over that is pure profit.
  • Squares have far too much pride. They think they can and should hit every wager they make. No one wins all the time; it isn't possible.

Play To Your Strengths

  • Sharps know their strengths and weaknesses, and wager accordingly. They freely admit that a certain sport may not be their forte, and they limit wagering on that particular sport, while focusing on sports where they have a better track record.
  • Squares will bet on anything and everything. Soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, bocce, lawn darts; it doesn't matter. If they can watch it or get the scores on the Internet, they will bet on it. No one is an expert on every sport.

Play Money

  • Sharps have a bankroll that they can afford to lose. No one plans on losing, especially a sharp, but losing streaks do happen and a sharp will only wager as much as he can afford to lose. The typical wager for a sharp is about 2 percent of his entire bankroll, give or take a few percent.
  • Squares often wager with money that cannot afford to lose, in which case the rent or a car payment ends up late or unpaid altogether. Furthermore, if a square has lost 50 percent of his bankroll, he will often bet the remaining 50 percent trying to "get even" in a hurry.

Line Shopping

  • Sharps have accounts with multiple bookmakers and shop around to get the best lines.
  • Squares work with just one bookmaker and they are stuck with whatever line is offered.

So, now that you know the difference between a sharp and a square, and what their betting tendencies are, which one are you? Don't feel bad if you have to admit to being a square, you are not alone. The average bettor is a square and sharps are very rare. The good news is that no one starts out as a sharp, and just because you are a square now doesn't mean you always will be. With some dedication and a plan, anyone can turn this leisure activity into a profitable business.

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