This is the line in the sand for crude oil

After slipping a bit to settle at $49.98 on Wednesday, crude oil rose on Thursday to finish the session at $50.79. And while oil's recent moves may seem moderate, the commodity's flirtations with the $50 per barrel mark give the daily machinations of oil prices great moment, according to RJO Futures senior market strategist Phillip Streible.

"$50 is considered the bull/bear line and this is where a tug of war comes into play between supply and demand," Streible wrote to CNBC on Tuesday.

In the bull case, OPEC nations "continue to comply with the [production] cuts" and there is "ongoing discussion of extending those cuts." Additionally, in this bull case, U.S. crude oil stockpiles drop. And from a macroeconomic standpoint, "a strengthening global economy" prevails.

If these catalysts transpire, crude would find itself above $50, in Streible's view.

Yet Streible also lays out a bear case, in which production increases in the U.S., as well as in Libya and Nigeria; oil inventories rise as seasonal demand falls off, and the dollar strengthens thanks to expectations of tighter Fed policy.

Obviously, crude oil would likely fall below $50 if the full bear case plays out.

With so much up in the air, and with the chart at a precarious level, Streible advises playing it close to the vest.

"Start by playing the long side — buying at or near $50," with a target of $53, but with a plan to exit the trade if crude hits $49, Streible recommends.

Yet once oil gets to $53, "sell at $53 with a $55 stop loss targeting a washout to $47," the trader added.

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Michael Santoli

Michael Santoli joined CNBC in October 2015 as a Senior Markets Commentator, based at the network's Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.  Santoli brings his extensive markets expertise to CNBC's Business Day programming, with a regular appearance on CNBC's “Closing Bell (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET).   In addition, he contributes to CNBCand CNBC PRO, writing regular articles and creating original digital videos.

Previously, Santoli was a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance, where he wrote analysis and commentary on the stock market, corporate news and the economy. He also appeared on Yahoo Finance video programs, where he offered insights on the most important business stories of the day, and was a regular contributor to CNBC and other networks.

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