There are two types of Bookmakers: Sharp and Soft. So what’s the difference between them?
In this article I explain how Sharp and Soft Bookmakers produce their odds, and what it means for sports bettors.
Sharp bookmakers use sophisticated systems to compile their own odds. They have the ability to set prices, and adjust their lines very quickly. This process is almost entirely automated.
Due to their speed, precision and knowledge, Sharp bookmakers consistently provide odds that are close to the true probabilities of sporting outcomes, and similar to those found on betting exchanges. This means they’re able to offer better value odds to players, working on a “high volume, low margin” model.
“Sharps”, as they’re known, are not usually concerned about being picked off by smart bettors, because their pricing models are accurate and reliable. In fact, several of them hold a “Winners Welcome” policy, enabling professional or high roller clients to place large stakes without restrictions being imposed.
- Low margins. This means that casual players lose a lot less over time than they would using Soft Bookies
- Winners are often welcomed. Account restricions are less common. Arbitrage is even encouraged by a few of the Sharps.
- No frills. The main focus is on the odds and less so on other forms of entertainment.
List of Sharp Bookmakers
- Pinnacle – Sharpest sportsbook even promoting sports arbitrage.
- Bookmaker EU
Soft Bookmakers use less sophisticated methods to set their prices. Instead of calculating accurate probabilities for events, they predominantly monitor the odds offered by Sharps and the Betting Exchanges and base their prices around those.
While Soft Bookmakers do use automated systems to track/monitor market prices, and employ traders to manually manage their risk, they’re much slower to react to events than Sharps. This means that the Soft Bookmakers lag behind, leaving their odds open to exploitation from professional sports bettors.
Soft Bookmakers counteract their vulnerabilities by incorporating a large margin into their odds. This means that the average recreational punter will be a lot worse off using Soft Bookmakers than Sharps. Additionally, Soft Bookmakers focus more of their tech and personnel on identifying profitable bettors and, controversially, restricting their stakes and closing their accounts.
- Slow moving prices. This means that plenty of arbitrage and value opportunities occur
- Wide variety of gambling products. This includes promotions and reward schemes.
- Inferior odds. Sharp Bookmakers and Betting Exchanges have better prices
- No longevity for pros. Profitable players will inevitably have to move on to another site.
List of Soft Bookmakers
There are countless Soft Bookmakers — far too many to list them all! But here are some of the most popular brands:
- William Hill
- Paddy Power
- 888 Sport
Why Are Soft Bookmakers So Popular?
It’s a good question. If Sharps offer more value, why do so many players continue to use Softs?
The main reason is because Soft bookmakers invest so heavily into branding and promoting their services. Most punters simply don’t look elsewhere. After all, taking higher margins means they can afford to invest in advertising. free bets, affiliate incentives, and TV/radio campaigns.
It’s also worth noting that many Soft Bookmakers (particularly in the UK) have also leveraged from their legacy of high street betting shops. Long before the rise of the internet, several Bookies built up their reputation and client base. Naturally, the public recognises the brand and sticks to what they know and trust.
What’s Involved In Setting Odds?
Put simply, setting odds is about making estimations about events.
Once upon a time bookmakers manually estimated probabilities of sports events based on past performance and set their odds accordingly — like in the hit TV show Peaky Blinders. The process wasn’t particularly accurate, but that didn’t matter because the skill was in creating a large enough overround (advantage) that would ensure the bookmaker took bets on all sides, and generated a profit in almost any scenario. This practice hasn’t been disregarded — but there’s a lot more involved in pricing odds since online betting commenced.
Nowadays bookies have automated processes to monitor the odds from their competitors and the betting exchanges — where the public creates prices organically. They have the ability to react to breaking news (e.g. player injuries in football), changes in circumstances (e.g. the weather in horse racing), or the opinon of the public (represented on the Betting Exchange). It’s these factors, among many others, that determines when a bookmaker decides adjust their odds, and by how much.
The sophistication level of the approach used to price up odds varies greatly between bookies. As a general rule, Sharps are the trend setters that move early, and respond quickly to new information. Softs tend to follow suit.
Sharp Or Soft — What’s Best?
On one hand Sharp Bookmakers offer superior prices to Softs which, on the surface, makes them more attractive. The flip side is that they’re very tough to beat.
To consistently beat Sharp Bookmakers bettors must develop a pricing model that’s, at least, equal to that used by the Sharps. Very few bettors are able to achieve that. Hence Sharp bookmakers such as Pinnacle aren’t concerned about professional bettors eating into their profits, and rarely limit or close their accounts.
Soft bookmakers, although mainly aimed at the retail end of the market, are far easier to exploit than the Sharp bookmakers. For instance, when a Sharp bookmaker moves their lines, often the Soft bookmaker is slow to react and remains out of sync for a period of time. This is how arbitratge and value betting opporunties arise — which are profitable for bettors. Rarely does such an occurence happen between two Sharp bookmakers.
The majority of professional sports bettors regularly utilise Soft books — for as long as they’ll allow them to. But it’s a means to an end. So the ultimate pro will progress onto the Betting Exchanges to become a trader, or in rare cases, successfully extract value from the Sharps where they won’t face restrictions.
If you’re looking to access Sharp Bookmakers with industry-leading odds, I can recommend the following Bet Brokers:
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