What is handicap betting?
In short, a handicap is a figure set by a bookmaker that aims to “even up” either side’s chance of winning a match. The favourite will normally have a negative handicap that they have to overcome to win, while the underdog will have a positive handicap that acts as a head start.
The premise of handicap betting is the same across all sports but given the vast differences in rules and how these sports are played, sport-specific knowledge is crucial.
Handicap betting in soccer
Given that soccer is such a low scoring sport, trying to predict the winner in terms of handicap betting requires refined predictive skill – it isn’t simply a bet on the winner of the match, it is a bet on how either team will perform.
Although it is simple enough to grasp what handicap betting means in different sports, it is only when bettors develop more sport specific knowledge that they can begin to get an edge over the bookmaker.
Handicap figures are presented as goals, so if a team is -1.5 to win, they have to win by more than one clear goal for a handicap bet to win. Alternatively, a bet on the opposition at +1.5 would win if they lost by one goal, drew or won the match.
Pinnacle’s Premier League Handicap table is a useful tool when it comes to keeping track of teams’ handicap performance. This information can be used to see which teams outperform or underperform when it comes to the betting market’s expectation.
It can be useful to track handicap performance over the course of the season, but it is when compiling historical handicap performance data that it really becomes beneficial to bettors. Certain teams can develop a trend for failing to cover the handicap in their matches, showing that public perception and in some cases, the bookmaker’s estimation is incorrect.
NFL handicap betting
The handicap in the NFL is more commonly known as “the spread”. If a handicap bet on a team wins, they have “covered the spread” and handicap performance is referred to as a record “against the spread” (ATS).
The handicap is considered to be the most popular form of NFL betting. As shown by Michael Konik in The Smart Money, it is often the market of choice for expert NFL bettors – while bettors have to be more accurate, they are rewarded with higher odds for the favourite to win or an increased chance of the underdog winning.
Due to the points system and scoring patterns, certain key numbers are very important when it comes to handicap betting in the NFL. A touchdown with the extra point conversion (seven points) and a field goal (three points) are by far the most common winning margins – making negative handicaps just below and positive handicaps just above these marks very valuable.
Once bettors understand how handicap betting works in the NFL, strategies can be developed using yards per play rankings or the Pythagorean theorem to help make more informed betting decisions.
MLB handicap betting
The handicap in baseball betting is referred to as the Run Line. Unlike other sports, the handicap in baseball is consistent and is always set at 1.5. This means if a team is -1.5 they have to win by two runs and +1.5 means a team can lose by one run or win the game. However, bettors still have the opportunity to increase or decrease the Run Line in the form of an alternative handicap.
It can be useful to track handicap performance over the course of the season, but it is when compiling historical handicap performance data that it really becomes beneficial to bettors.
Stadium dimensions and the weather can have a major impact when it comes to handicap betting in baseball. If a team is expected to dominate and conditions suit a high scoring game, they may be more likely to win by more runs. Similarly, lesser-ranked teams may give better teams a closer game if conditions play to their strengths.
Handicap betting in basketball
Basketball is similar to the NFL in the sense that bettors often prefer betting on the handicap as opposed to Money Line. Basketball is one of the highest scoring professional sports with games consistently featuring over 200 points scored between both sides – the low-value points system and scoring frequency means there are no key numbers as with other sports.
Regardless of what market you bet on, the important things to consider in competition specific betting is the impact injuries have on team strength, how scheduling can affect performance and which statistics can help identify mismatches in games. Additionally, ATS records go some way to highlighting which teams are potentially over and underestimated by the betting market.
Tennis handicap betting
Handicap betting in tennis is different to most other sports as there are two separate options available within one match. As well as the Money Line and Totals, bettors can bet on either a game handicap or set handicap in a tennis match.
A game handicap in tennis betting is calculated by using the total number of games won by either player. Using a hypothetical example, if Rafael Nadal was -6 against Mischa Zverev and the result was 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 (18-10) Nadal would have covered the -6 handicap as he won by eight games in total.
The other handicap option available in tennis betting is the set handicap. Bettors can place a bet on whether a player will win in straight sets or not (-1.5 or 2.5 sets) – the other side of this market is a player to not lose in straight sets (+1.5 or +2.5).
Although it is simple enough to grasp what handicap betting means in different sports, it is only when bettors develop more sport specific knowledge that they can begin to get an edge over the bookmaker. Access to the right kind of information is crucial when it comes to making a consistent profit betting, but this needs to be combined with an understanding of the type of bets being placed.