Handicap Betting Explained
Handicapping is an age old practice of giving an advantage or disadvantage to contestants, teams, horses, etc. to alter the chances of winning. The name handicap comes from a 17th Century lottery like game called hand-in-cap where people placed their bets in a cap.
In modern times handicapping was first introduced in horse racing as a way of equalising the horses. In handicap racing horses will carry a weight that supplements the weight of the animal and the jockey giving the effect of evening out the field. Handicaps can be applied by distance, age, pace, breed, class, form, jockey and more. This allows horses and jockeys of different caliber, age, etc. to race together in the same field
Handicaps in horse racing are physically applied to the animal whereas in other sports like football handicaps are virtual but follow the same ultimate principle. Obviously we can't go adding weights to football players to even out a match and so handicaps are applied virtually. In this case you are simply applying an advantage or disadvantage to a given team or contestant. This can be as simple as adding a goal to the final tally in football or giving a set advantage in tennis, etc.
What Is A Handicap Bet?
Here we are simply applying an advantage or disadvantage to a selection and this changes the overall odds of the result. For example, Arsenal v Liverpool v has odds of 6/4 on Arsenal and 9/5 on Liverpool. With a +1 Liverpool on Handicap (i.e. add one extra goal to Liverpool in the result) these odds have changed to 8/15 (see example below).
This way if the game finishes 1-1, for example, and you have bet on Liverpool with a +1 handicap then you will win. You can have whole point handicaps where the draw can take effect (as in the example below) or you can have half point handicaps that removes the possibility for the draw, these are better known as Asian handicaps and are described next.
Handicaps are either used to get better odds on events where there are strong favourites or to get higher odds on events where contestants are more evenly matched.
If you think Barcelona are going to win against Getafe in the Spanish Cup by a big goal margin then just betting on an outright win will give you poor odds. One option might therefore be to bet on Barcelona with say a -2 goal handicap, this is going to give you much better odds and more winnings if you are correct.
What Is An Asian Handicap Bet?
Asian handicaps are actually far simpler than they seem. In effect you are removing the possibility of a draw and to do this you must give one team a handicap. For example Everton vs Chelsea, in this case Chelsea are odds on favourite for a normal single win at 8/13 and Everton have long odds to win at 27/5.
If we now apply a one and a half goal handicap (+/-1.5) the odds will change. In this setting Chelsea are -1.5 and Everton are +1.5, this means Chelsea must win by 2 or more goals to win and if it was a draw or 1-0 to Chelsea then Everton would win from the point of view of the bet. This therefore changes the odds, Chelsea are now 9/5 to win and Everton are just under are 4/9.
Odds for Asian lines are often written in decimal format, for details of how to convert decimal to fraction (or vice versa) see our odds explained article.
You can have all sorts of half handicaps for example, +/-0.5, +/-1.5, +/-2.5 etc with different odds for each. You can also have whole goal handicaps +/-1. +/-2, +/-3, etc., but it is important to remember there is no draw so with a +1 handicap if the game finished 0-1 against you then with a +1 handicap applied the result would be 1-1 and the bet would be void and your stake returned. If the game finished 1-1 with your +1 handicap the result would be 2-1 and you would win.
Split double handicaps, can be combined together to remove the chances of a completely void bet. Here your stake is split into two. Let's take a +1.0, +1.5 handicap for the home side in a football game, if the result is 1-2 in this case half of the bet wins (+1.5) and half the stake gets refunded (+1.0).
In Asian betting you will sometimes see quarter handicaps (as seen in the screensht above). This is exactly the same as a split double handicap, except on a bet slip it is expressed as one number. The bet is effectively a split each-way bet, for example, a +1.25 goal handicap will mean half of your stake goes on a normal bet (i.e +1.0 goal handicap) and half of your stake goes on a +1.5 goal handicap.
In Asian betting there are no draws so in this case if the game ended 1-1 half the bet would be void and half the bet would win.
- Handicap Match Betting - This is the most common handicap bet. Here you are betting on goals or points scored during a match. The bet wins if your team wins once the handicap is applied. This can be applied to any sport where points are scored.
- Handicap League Betting - It is generally possible to place handicap bets on league positions, especially if placed prior to the start of a season. In this scenario placing an Asian handicap works the same way, if your team is tied once the handicap is applied you will get a refund. This also applies to tournaments if it is a points based league system.
- Handicap Match Markets - Effectively anything that can be given a numerical value can be put into a handicap bet. You can bet on things like number of corners, cards, penalties, free kicks, throw-ins, time-outs, tie-breaks, etc. As a general rule if there is a conventional market available there will generally be a handicap market associated with it. If not ask your bookmaker directly and they will usually give you odds.
- Handicap League and Tournament Markets - Very common to see handicap bets for things like top goal/try/touch-down scorers, highest/lowest scoring teams, etc. Sometimes specialist markets are even handicapped, for example I've seen handicap lines for how many meters a player will run in a tournament or how many minutes they will be on the pitch.
- Handicap Novelty and Special Bets - Put a number on something and it can be handicapped. Popular handicap markets, such as political elections, can have hundreds of lines available.
- Handicap Coupons - Common for football especially, but can generally be round for match results for most top sports.
- Handicap Betting In Play - It is more and more common these days to see handicap lines in play. Guaranteed to see match result markets and even goalscorer, corners, bookings and others during live matches and events.
How To Place a Handicap Bet
Placing a handicap bet is no different to any other type of single bet, find your market add it to your betslip, select your stake and place your bet. There are a few pointers to bear in mind however.
Handicap bets are no safer than conventional fixed odds bets. They are generally used to give you more options if you are confident not just in the result of an outcome but also in the margin of that result. Most people use handicap markets to create more higher odds on the favourite (or most likely outcome), by making the conditions more stringent, or to give an outside bet a better chance of winning, by making the conditions less stringent in exchange for lower odds.
Bookmakers will have a headline handicap for a market (e.g. see screenshot top of this page), this will be a level of handicapping that brings both outcomes as close to even odds as possible, from this there will then be additional handicaps with odds lengthening or shortening accordingly.
It is worth bearing in mind that in many instances handicap bets are excluded from money back, best price guarantees, insurance and free bet offers. You may also be restricted from using promotional cash and free bets on these markets, it is worth checking first. Finally handicap markets are less competitive than other headline markets, such as win/draw/win, therefore bookmaker margins can be higher and it is worth either shopping around or considering other bet types that may be better value.