Handicap betting is a common trend in points-based sports like football, rugby, basketball and tennis, but it's also one of the most misunderstood betting markets around.
For that reason, it's a perfect way to round out the Intermediate portion of the Bet School series before we graduate to a few advanced topics from tomorrow.
✅ Handicap betting 101
Also known as line betting, points betting or Asian handicap, handicap betting is the process where bookmakers convert a sporting event with varied odds into an even money contest, by handing a virtual advantage to "underdogs" to even out the playing field. Handicap betting exists to make one-sided sporting contests a more exciting, enticing proposition for those who enjoy betting.
For example, if Chelsea were favourites to beat Tottenham Hotspur, the bookmaker might give Tottenham a 2-0 handicap (think of it as a head start).
If you then place a handicap bet on Chelsea to win, but they only win the game 1-0, you will lose your bet, due to the handicap that had been applied. Effectively, in the eyes of the bookmaker, Chelsea lost the game 2-1 factoring in the handicap.
🤔 What do handicap bets look like?
Using the above example involving Chelsea vs Tottenham, the handicap match betting might be presented as follows:
- Chelsea (-2)
- Handicap Tie (-1)
- Tottenham (+2)
The match ended in a 1-0 victory for Chelsea, but if you bet on Chelsea to win you wouldn't win the bet. Chelsea would have needed to score as many goals as the handicap in order for your bet to pay out.
If you bet on the handicap tie, you would win your bet, as Chelsea won by the exact margin specified in the handicap. When betting on a handicap tie, it is the winning margin rather than the number of goals scored that is crucial. If you had bet on Spurs, you would win your bet, as they effectively won the game 2-1 according to the bookmaker.
❎ No draw handicap match betting
Many bookmakers offer no draw handicap match betting to guarantee a winner of the game in terms of the bet, regardless of the actual outcome. The way that no draw handicap match betting is set up is by giving half handicaps to certain teams.
For example, in a Premier League match between Norwich and Liverpool, the bookmaker has given Norwich a handicap of +1.5. You place a bet on Norwich to win.
The match ends 3-2 to Liverpool but because of the +1.5 handicap, your bet on West Brom pays out, and the score was effectively 3.5-3 to Norwich in terms of the bet. It would have been impossible for your bet to have ended in a draw, according to the bookmaker, because it is impossible to score half a goal in football.
Again, it is essential to keep in mind that in handicap betting, the handicap only applies to the selection you are betting on.
🖊 Further notes
Handicaps are set as negative & positive figures. The team with a negative handicap must win by more than the figure set by the bookmaker in order for your bet on them to land, while the team with a positive handicap simply needs to win, draw or lose by less than the figure set for your bet to land.
In football, according to the odds, the underdog is awarded a goal or the “favourite” is given a handicap before kickoff. That means that a favourite would have to overcome a handicap handed to them for your bet to win. Football also offers a three-way handicap which lets bettors place wagers on a draw. For instance, in a situation where Team 1 is favoured to win, they start with a -2 handicap. Team 2 has lower odds to win outright, so points awarded by the handicap level the odds, meaning Team 2 starts with +2. The handicap tie now is -2. Essentially you are betting on the team that wins by the margin specified by the handicap.
💵 Where's the value in handicap betting?
Handicap betting isn’t always going to prove to be better than outrights bets as the latter is usually less risky. Points/goals differentials, in general, are way less predictable than straight match outcomes. Write down your predictions ahead of a round of football fixtures and then consult your favourite bookmaker's odds and see where the value lies. If you think the bookies have made a mistake by handing a certain team a handicap, there's value to be had for the punter. Just do your research and you're on the right footing.