Handicap Betting

Predicting the outcomes of sports events and wagering on their results has long been one of people’s favorite pastimes. In the last two decades, this industry has taken an interesting turn for the better as today placing a bet on your favorite sport is more convenient than it has ever been. Thanks to the advent of the Internet and mobile technologies, sports betting has taken the world by storm. Fans can conveniently place a bet on their favorite sport from the comfort of their homes. Online bookmakers enjoy a tremendous popularity as they offer hundreds of markets at quite competitive odds.

Most betting providers are available in a mobile format which allows for bets to be placed while on the go. You can easily back your favorite tennis player or soccer team while waiting for the train to come. But tennis and soccer are by no means the only sports one can bet on. The list of options you’re faced with is rather long and includes popular sports like basketball, rugby, baseball, hockey, volleyball, and golf, among many others. Less known sports such as bandy, futsal and trotting are also decently covered.

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In addition to the diversity of sports, online bookmakers accept a variety of bet types. These encompass straight and over/under bets, parlays consisting of multiple selections, futures and propositions which are based on sports statistics. Wagers can be placed on games in progress thanks to the In-Play feature most web-based bookmakers have on offer. A common practice among punters is to place handicap bets. The latter enjoy a great popularity but probably are not the right type of bet to place if you are relatively new to the sports betting scene.

What is Handicap Betting?

football handicap bettingLet’s commence with a more detailed explanation of what handicap betting is. The term handicap (hand-in-cap) itself originated in the mid 17th century, when bet money for a then-popular lottery game used to be collected in a special cap. The term “handicap race” was used in the 18th century – in horse races, an umpire was expected to decide on the weight each participating horse was to carry in the race. However, this type of bet became especially popular later on in the United States.

Handicap betting is sometimes referred to as “the line” and is common for sports which are based on scoring goals or collecting points. Such sports include basketball, soccer and baseball. But handicap betting is by no means restricted only to the aforementioned sports.

Today, the term “handicap”is used to refer to the practice of giving one of the two competing teams or athletes a virtual advantage. Only in modern times, the bookmakers assume the role of umpires. Adjusting the odds in a specific way is a common practice among bookmakers, whose main goal is running the so-called “balanced books” to generate more substantial profits. One of the teams or athletes is “handicapped” to increase the opponents’ chances of winning. Some sort of balance is achieved. This way, both teams appear to have even chances of winning. Otherwise, all punters will place their bets on the sure winner and the bookmaker, respectively, would have to pay out a substantial amount of money to the winners.

Virtual advantage is given to one of the teams in order to even the field. This is typical for points-oriented sports such as basketball – a certain number of points are added to the underdog’s side. Similarly, points can be subtracted from the favorite’s side. To win, the favorites are supposed to overcome this “handicap”. If the score of the team you’ve selected is greater than the handicap that has been applied, the team will be considered the winner and you will profit. The chief goal is to even up the market by artificially boosting up the inferior team’s chances of winning.

It would be best to demonstrate this with an example. Let’s assume Manchester United are competing against Sunderland. As you can probably imagine, most punters would deem Manchester the sure winners. Therefore, most bets would be placed in favor of the Red Devils. If the latter win, the bookmakers would be forced to part with massive amounts of money to pay out the winnings.

To prevent this from happening, the bookmakers will give Sunderland a handicap advantage of 3-0. If punters place a handicap bet on Manchester to win, but the final result is 1-0 in favor of the Red Devils, everyone who backed them up will lose their money. Manchester would be deemed winners by the bookmaker, only if the outcome is at least 4:0. Then again, if the result is 4:2, those who’ve placed their bets on Sunderland will emerge as winners.

Now, let’s broach the question how handicap bets are presented. We’ll stick to the example with Manchester and Sunderland.

Manchester (-3) evens
Handicap tie (-1) 4/1
Sunderland (+3) 3/1

If Manchester win the game with 1:0, those punters who backed the team to win, will lose their money. Manchester were supposed to score a minimum of 4 goals in order for such bets to pay out. Those who placed bets on the handicap tie will collect their winnings, if the Red Devils net 3 goals and Sunderland fail to score even once. If the final score is 3:1, Sunderland will be considered winners, thanks to the handicap – punters who bet on them will win the market.

In this case both teams that participate in the game are evenly matched, no handicap will be applied. The term “scratch” will be used, instead and the real winners will be viewed as such by the bookmaker.

One very important thing to take into consideration is that many bookmakers offer no-draw handicap betting. This way, the winner of the game is guaranteed as far as bets are concerned. Typically, in such cases a half handicap point is added. For instance, if Liverpool are playing against Aston Villa, the bookmaker will give the former a handicap of +1.5. A punter decides to bet on Liverpool to win. If the game’s result is 3:2, all bets in favor of Liverpool will win because of the half-point handicap. The result will be viewed as 3.5:3 for the Reds. As you can see, the game ending in a draw is completely out of the question as no one can score half a goal. One very important thing to remember is that the handicap is applicable only to the selection you bet on.

Asian Handicap

This is a variation of handicap betting which emerged in Asia, as the name itself suggests. This type of bet is expressed through both whole numbers and fractions. This is done to eliminate the possibility of the game ending in a tie. Otherwise, a “push” will be at hand, in which case, bookmakers will have no other option but to pay back punters’ initial bets. You neither win, nor lose anything – it is as if you haven’t placed a bet at all.

The handicap of one of the selections may be expressed through a whole number, while the other handicap selection is presented as a fraction. This is an example of Asian Handicap – Juventus (-2, -2.5) vs. Inter Milan (+2, +2.75). Juventus are supposed to score a minimum of 3 goals to emerge as winners. If they net only two goals, the result would be a draw, but the handicap of +2.5 goals would automatically give Milan the victory. Fractions like 0.25 and 0.75 are also applied in Asian handicaps.

Handicap Bet Placing

sports betting over under goalsAs was previously mentioned, handicap bets are predominantly placed on sports oriented towards collecting points or scoring goals. Soccer is probably the most common sport to place a handicap bet on. As in the previous section, we’ve already provided examples for soccer it would be best to proceed by explaining how handicap bets are placed on points-based sports, such as basketball.

When one of two competing basketball teams is favored over the other, bookmakers tend to give the favorites a handicap to level the field. We’ve already mentioned the handicap is expressed as either + or – value, for instance +/- 8.5 points (if no draw is allowed). This number is then factored into the final score to determine the sports event’s outcome. The handicap result does not necessarily coincide with the game’s actual outcome. Let’s consider the following example for basketball: the Chicago Bulls meet the LA Lakers for a clash.

Chicago Bulls (+8.5pts) 2.050
Los Angeles Lakers (-8.5pts) 1.863

As you can see, the Lakers are given a virtual advantage of 8.5 to avoid the push. On the other hand, the Bulls are “handicapped” with 8.5. This means that if the Bulls won the game with 100 to 95 points, bets placed on their handicap will in fact lose. 8.5 points are actually subtracted from the Bulls’ final score for the purpose of the bet. In this case, it turns out the Bulls have collected only 91.5 points, while the Lakers have 95, so that all punters who have bet on the latter will profit. Had the game ended in 105-95 points, things would have been different. The adjusted result would be 96.5 – 95 and the Bulls would still have emerged as winners. They would have “covered their handicap”.

Handicap bets can be placed on individual sports like tennis, for instance. In fact, seasoned punters who place bets on tennis, predominantly rely on the handicap markets to generate more substantial profits in the long run, because the purpose here isn’t to guess who the winner will be. It is the players’ performance that is taken into consideration. Similarly to football and basketball, one of the competing tennis players is given an advantage to even the field. Otherwise, all bets would be placed on the sure winner and the bookmakers won’t profit.

Allows us to demonstrate this with yet another example. Roger Federer and Kevin Anderson play against each other and it appears Federer is the favorite. Keep in mind, it’s important how many games each player has won. Who actually wins the entire match is not taken into consideration here. Anderson is given an advantage of 3.5 games, so this number is added to his total score. On the other hand, the same number is subtracted from Federer’s total. So, if Anderson wins the first set with 6-3, thanks to the handicap of +3.5, he would have won 9 games as opposed to Federer who would have only 3 wins for this set.

In case Federer wins the second set with 6 to 4 games, Anderson would still be winning with a total of 13.5 games won. Then again, if Anderson proceeds to win the final set with 6 to 2, the final result would then be 19.5 for Anderson. Those who have bet on Anderson would win because the +3.5 handicap is added to his final score. This market was for games won, but there are bookmakers who offer Set Handicap markets as well. If a tennis player is handicapped with 2, for example, this means they should win 3 sets, so that punters can collect any profits from their bets (provided the bets were placed on the handicapped player).

Things are not much different with American football, either. The handicap market is quite popular among NFL fans. In the following hypothetical example, the Buffalo Bills are playing against the Miami Dolphins. The bookmaker has set the handicap for the Bills at -7 at odds of 1.9. The odds for the Dolphins are 2.0 with a handicap of +7. From this, it follows that punters who’ve bet on the Dolphins will win only if the team wins by 7 or more points, as this number will be subtracted from their overall score. If the total score is 36-21 for the Dolphins, they would still emerge as winners. The result will actually be 29-21 for the Dolphins.

Handicap Betting Tips

Naturally, one has to be very well familiar with how this type of bet works, if they want to generate good profits in the long term. As you can see, handicap bets can prove to be a mean feat if you lack experience. This, however, doesn’t mean you’re doomed to lose all your money. The following advices are specially designed to tip the scales in your favor. If you follow them closely, you might gain a considerable advantage.

Before you place a handicap bet, you should consider whether the handicap advantage for the teams is high or low. As one of the teams receives virtual head start, you should first consider whether the number is high or low. For example, if you’re betting on a soccer game and your favorite team is handicapped with +5 or +4, it would be virtually impossible for you to place a winning bet in their favor. Remember this number will be subtracted from your team’s overall score. If your team wins the game with 5 to 0, you will still lose if they’ve been handicapped with +5, for example. Then again, it would be rather difficult for a team to score over 5 goals in a single match. Even if your favorites win, you still would fail to gain any profits with your bet. Punters should look for games where their favorites are handicapped with a lower number such as +1 or +2.

Keep in mind, placing a winning bet does not always entail betting on your favorite team. Sometimes, if you want to win, it would a far better idea to bet on the underdogs as they are given a significant advantage.

It would be best if at the beginning you visit the specialized websites which offer free picks of games where a handicap has been applied. Such websites typically update their data on a daily basis, so that punters are always provided with the latest information and predictions. Place your first bets on picks provided by expert bettors.

Some punters experience difficulties in calculating the outcome of the handicap bets, they’ve placed. If you’re inexperienced, you would likely face the same problem. The good news is there are specialized websites, designed for this purpose specifically. Special handicap betting calculators are available on the Internet. These are relatively easy to use and will help you a great deal.

In most cases, inexperienced punters are asked to select the two teams which will compete against each other in the match. You need to enter the names of the away and the home team. The next step involves selecting the handicap that’s been applied to the game in question. Then you’ll be required to select which team you’re betting on – the away or the home team. Finally, punters are expected to fill in the scores for both teams and that’s it. The outcome of your bet will be calculated.

Another thing to take into account is the odds, offered by the bookmakers. As the latter want to gain profits, too, in many cases the odds are adjusted so that winners will generate smaller profits. Because of this, it is advisable to register at several web-based bookmakers and compare the odds on offer. Place your bet at the bookmaker which offers the best odds. Needless to say, this will not only increase your chances of placing a winning bet, but if you do win, you will generate more substantial profits as well.

Of course, observing the teams’ performance throughout the season always helps. If the handicapped team demonstrates bad form and poor performance, they will most likely fail to overcome the handicap. Injuries, weather conditions and benched players are yet another factor to consider.


Obviously, placing a handicap bet is a complex activity and a number of factors need to be taken into consideration. However, this type of bet can be lots of fun, not to mention punters can generate considerable profits, provided they know what they are doing. Handicap betting may be difficult to grasp, if you’re new to sports betting, but nevertheless, it comes with a number of advantages.

Their greatest advantage is that odds are typically higher and are definitely worth your while. We all know higher odds pay off better. In addition, all online bookmakers offer handicap bets. Even though the latter are especially popular in the United States, handicap bets are available on most sports. You won’t experience any difficulties in finding a sport to bet on. Don’t forget you should first improve your betting skills and acquire the necessary experience prior to placing a handicap bet. Start with classic sports betting at the beginning and remember you should never underestimate the risks of handicap betting.

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