What is handicap betting?

It often happens in sports that teams of different levels play against each other, even within the same league. This means that the odds for the favorite to win are usually low and so betting on the favorite’s victory is not an attractive option. At the same time, the odds for the outsider’s victory are usually much higher, implying lower possibility for this to happen, and so betting on the underdog’s victory is much riskier. So, bookmakers along a wide range of bets offer the Handicap bets, to make such matches more interesting for bettors. Such bets imply a deliberate advantage or disadvantage of one of the teams, which enables you to somehow balance the odds even in matches where there are unequal teams in terms of strength.

Bookmakers are aware of the power balance and so for a match between a clear favorite – let’s say a tournament leader – and an outsider – let’s say a team fighting for survival – they will offer very low odds for the victory of the favorite (1.3 or less), which can be as low as 1.01 if there is much difference between the teams. This means that betting 100 euros will return 1 euro if the bet wins.

In such cases, it is quite possible to make things a little more complicated for the clear favorite of the match, by assuming that it will come to the game with a deliberate disadvantage. Or alternatively, make things easier for the outsider, assuming that it will start the match with a deliberate advantage.

Let’s see an example. Zenit and Tambov meet in the Russian Premier League. The odds for Zenit’s victory is 1.05, illustrating that it is the obvious favorite of the match. A fan, being confident that Tamov will be defeated, wagers on “Victory of Zenit Handicap (-3.5)” with a 2.1 coefficient. This means that St. Petersburg’s team will come to the game with a -3.5:0 score (a disadvantage). The match ends eventually with a score of 5-1 in favor of Zenit and so to calculate the bet we subtract the 3.5 from the total of the 5 goals scored by the team. The outcome is 1.5-1, which is still in favor of Zenit and so the bet is won. In real life such a score is not possible, but bookmakers accept this outcome when they offer handicap bets.

The most important concept in handicap betting

There are two things that you need to know in order to fully understand handicap bets: the minus and plus signs. A negative handicap, indicated by a minus sign (-), illustrates the final advantage that the team should have in order for the bet to win. A positive handicap, indicated by a plus sign (+), illustrates that the team at the end of the match should lose with a difference not exceeding the value. This value can vary depending on the sport – in football one goal difference is the most common, while in hockey matches end quite often with a difference of 2-3 goals and in basketball a difference of 6-8 points is not unexpected even in matches between equal rivals.

Let’s see a hypothetical match between Chelsea and Sunderland in the strongest league in England. Let’s see some options that a fan or a betting lover would find quite interesting:

  • “Chelsea’s win Handicap (-0.5)” – any Chelsea’s win is fine but if the match ends in a draw the bet will be lost;
  • “Chelsea’s win Handicap (-1.5)” – any Chelsea’s win with a difference of two or more goals (3 -1, 2-0 etc) would do;
  • “Chelsea’s win Handicap (-2.5) – any Chelsea’s win with a difference of three or more goals (4-1, 5-2 etc) would do.

The negative handicap, as mentioned earlier, means that you need to subtract its indicator from the total number of goals scored by the team you have bet on to win. If the final result is still a winning output for the team, then the bet is won.

  • Now, let’s see the alternative options of a positive handicap, in which the outsider of the match – Sunderland – has an advantage.
  • “Sunerland’s victory Handicap (+0.5)” – a draw wins the bet (1-1, 3-3 etc) but even with a minimal defeat the bet is lost;
  • “Sunderland’s victory Handicap (+1.5)” – any defeat with one goal difference  (0-1, 3-4) means that the bet is won;
  • “Sunderland’s victory Handicap (+2.5)” – any defeat with a difference of no more than two goals (2-4, 0-2) means that the bet is won.

So, in a positive handicap you just add the indicator to the number of goals scored by the outsider and if in the end the score is in favor of this team, the bet is won.

Zero Handicap and Handicap (+/-1)

Zero handicap (in the format “Victory of Team A Handicap (0)”) is also very popular in some cases, especially when there are two teams being rather at the same, equal level. This bet is called a safety net. Why is this? Let’s see: subtracting 0 from anything does not change the result. For example, if Barcelona wins Real Madrid with 2-0, then neither subtracting or adding the handicap will change the result; it will remain 2-0 and the bet will win. But if there is a draw, then you get your money returned – the team has neither won nor lost and thus, the bet is refunded.

So, a zero handicap lets you bet on a team’s victory, but secure your money if the match ends in a draw. It is quite similar to the “1X” or “2X” bets – the victory of one team or another or draw in the regular time. The difference, however, is that the zero handicap comes with higher odds – particularly as the only winning outcome is a victory. A draw here is not a win but neither a tragedy, since you don’t lose your money.

A Handicap of 1 is also a popular bet and it looks like this: “Team A’s victory Handicap (-1)” or “Team A’s victory Handicap (1)”) and all it takes is to subtract or add exactly one goal from the total goals scored by the team. There are three outcomes possible in the case of Handicap (-1):

  • Team A wins by at least two goals. This difference is added to the original minus score and Team A continues to have an advantage so the bet is won;
  • Team A wins with a difference of one goal (1-0, 2-1, 3-2 etc). In this case the money is returned to the account because subtracting one goal results in a draw;
  • Team A loses or draws. In both cases the bet is lost, because subtracting one goal results in a score not in favor of the team.

In the case of Handicap (1) everything remains the same only now it is in the opposite direction – the bet wins if the first team wins or draws, returns the money if it is defeated by one goal and is lost when it is defeated by two or more goals.

Let’s see an example. A fan wagers on F2 (1) in the European Championship match between Portugal and Hungary. This means that Hungary starts the match with an advantage of 1 goal. In the end of the match, Portugal defeats its opponent in a 3-0 score. The bet is lost since adding one goal to the total of Hungary does not result in a victory (the score is 3-1).

Difference between the European and the Asian Handicap

What has been described above is the classic or European handicap. It is always the same and its indicator is either an integer number (1,2,3,4) or half (1.5, 2.5, 3.5). But there is another type of handicap, besides the European, which is also quite popular – the Asian handicap.

It has a different record in that the indicator is a quarter more or less than the classic handicap and for this reason it is often called a quarter handicap. So, a typical Asian handicap looks like this:

  • “Team A’s victory Handicap (-2.75)”
  • “Team B’s victory Handicap (1.25)”

In an Asian handicap, the bet is automatically divided into two parts: one placed on the handicap which is 0.25 more than the indicator and one placed on the handicap which is 0.25 less than the indicator. Let’s see a simple example to illustrate how it works.

The “Chelsea win Handicap (-2.25)” bet is divided into two bets: “Chelsea win Handicap (-2)” and “Chelsea win Handicap (-2.5)”. So, any victory of Chelsea with a difference of three or more goals, the bet wins (3-0, 4-1, 5-2 etc). If the match ends with Chelsea’s victory with exactly two goals (2-0, 3-1) then half of the bet is lost (the handicap -2.5 was not reached) and half is returned.

Let’s see another example. In a match between Liverpool and Manchester United, a fan wagers on  “Liverpool win Handicap (-1.75) bet, which, as explained earlier, is divided into two bets: “Liverpool win Handicap (-1.5)” and “Liverpool win Handicap (-2). If Liverpool wins with a difference of exactly two goals, then half of the bet wins – the handicap (-1.5) – and half is returned to the account – the handicap (-2). If Liverpool wins by three goals or more, then the entire bet is won.

There are several handicap options, each used in specific cases and each being underlined by its own tactics. For more information you can see our  Betting School section.