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What is handicap betting?

Handicap betting is a form of sports betting used to even the contest when there is a perceived strength differential between two opponents. Despite their increasing popularity, many bettors don't understand them. This handicap betting guide covers everything you need to know about sports handicap betting.

Handicap betting explained

All sporting events are at the mercy of situational factors. Traders - on a betting exchange - or bookmakers interpret these factors and represent each player or teams chances of success with odds - their implied probability of winning the game.

Depending on each outcome’s perceived chances of winning, the difference in odds can be large, offering little value on the favourite, and small returns.

Handicap betting - also known as the spread or Asian handicap betting - effectively "even up" a market, by assigning a virtual deficit or surplus (handicap) to each selection.

Handicap betting markets apply either a positive or negative goal/point handicap to each side/player depending on which is identified as the favourite (negative handicap) or underdog (positive handicap).

Once the final score has been confirmed, If the selection you bet on is greater than the opponents after the handicap has been applied to the score, your bet will be successful.

How does handicap betting work?

Handicap betting counters the perceived differences in ability between the competitors, by attempting to level the playing field, and offer better value odds.

For instance, if Michael Phelps was to swim a 200m race against an average club swimmer, you would expect him to win almost all of the time - and the odds would reflect this at 1.01. However, what if the club swimmer was given a 100m head start? The result would be less certain, and effectively ‘even’ the contest up by handicapping Phelps.

This example typifies how handicap betting works; by giving one outcome an advantage and the other a disadvantage to counter the skill ability between the competitors. As a result, the odds on offer for the overwhelming favourite become more appealing, because the likelihood of the underdog winning is increased.

Different handicap betting markets

There are a number of different variations to handicap betting. We outline the different handicap betting markets below and give you examples of each.  

Handicap betting

When betting on handicap markets the supposed better team will be awarded a goal/point handicap to eliminate the difference in quality for betting purposes. For example, they will start the game with -1, -2, -3, -4 points.

Example of a handicap bet:

Let’s say the New England Patriots are playing the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL. The Patriots are 4 point favourites (-4 points), while the Cowboys start the game with + 4 points. This means the Patriots have to win by 5 points or more to cover the spread.

If the score finished 21-18 to the Patriots, the winner on the single handicap market would be the Dallas Cowboys because the game, according to the handicap market, finished 21-22 to the underdogs.

3-way handicap betting

Three-way handicap betting gives bettors the opportunity to bet on the handicap tie option. Selecting the handicap tie option is effectively betting on the match finishing in a victory for the team receiving the virtual deficit (-1 etc.) by the exact winning margin offered.

Example of a three-way handicap bet:

The three-way handicap margins on Burnley vs. Chelsea are offered as below:

Burnley: +2

Draw/handicap tie: effectively -2

Chelsea: -2

Let’s say the game finishes 1-0 to Chelsea. Backing Chelsea to win would have resulted in a lost bet as they didn’t cover the spread - the game effectively finished 2-1 to Burnley.  

If you placed a bet on the handicap tie, your bet would also have lost as Chelsea didn’t win by the margin specified in the handicap.

Remember when betting on the handicap draw, you’re betting on the margin of victory and not the actual goals scored, eg a Chelsea win of 2-0, 3-1, 4-2 etc.

No draw handicap betting

Alternatively, no draw handicap betting ensures there is a guaranteed winner, by eliminating the option for a draw, irrespective of the final result. The no draw handicap markets allow half goal/point handicaps to certain outcomes.

Example of a no draw handicap bet:

In a football game between Liverpool and Southampton, the draw no handicap market offers Southampton a +0.5 handicap - they are already leading 0.5 goals before kick off.

Let’s say the game ends 1-1. Your bet on Southampton would have won because the final score in the market would be Liverpool 1 Southampton 1.5.

Asian handicap betting

Asian handicap betting markets are perfect for football traders looking for an alternative to the more traditional 1X2 betting markets - read our detailed Asian handicap guide which also explains the many benefits of Asian handicap betting.

Asian handicap betting is a variation on the no draw handicap match betting market explained above, whereby the draw is eliminated. However, they also offer the possibility of split handicaps, whereby your selection is made up of a selection of whole, half or quarter numbers.

Example of a single Asian handicap bet:

Let’s say you want to bet on Leeds United who are -1 on the single Asian handicap market against Aston Villa.

If Leeds win by two goals or more your bet is successful, if they win by a margin of one goal the result is a push and your stake is returned, and you lose your bet if the game ends in a draw or a win for Aston Villa.

Example of a split Asian handicap bet:

A split Asian handicap divides your stake across two handicaps. For example, let’s say you want to bet on Ipswich who are +1 and +1.5 against Sheffield Wednesday.

The game ends 2-1 to Sheffield Wednesday, as a result half your stake (+1) will be returned as the game effectively ended 2-2, while the other half (+1.5) will be deemed a winner as the game finished 2-2.5 to Ipswich.

Apply this to betting

Now you understand what handicap betting is - a method of making an event even - you have a new dimension and a number of advanced opportunities to find betting value.

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