A handicap is a system of betting which basically tries to level the playing field in games that appear to be a bit one-sided. It’s a popular type of betting across a variety of sports, from football, rugby and NFL.
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What is a Handicap bet?
Why would a bookmaker set a handicap? If you are looking at a football match of Manchester United v Rotherham in the FA Cup, for example, you would assume the Red Devils would be very strong odds-on favourites to win the game. There would be little value in backing them to win outright.
However, if Manchester United were backed at a -1 handicap, that involves them winning the game still. In the handicap scenario of -1, United would be trailing by a virtual 0-1 scoreline at kick-off. That’s the condition that the handicap sets.
So think of a handicap as a virtual deficit for a favourite. The reverse of that is backing the underdogs at +1 which means in order for the bet to win, they would have to lose by no more than one goal.
How does a Handicap bet work?
A handicap bet will be presented with the team involved along with either a – (minus) or + (plus) numerical value next to it. For example Manchester United -1 handicap, but this number can actually be anything. A bookmaker will present plenty of different handicap options for a single game.
If United started the match in the virtual position of being 0-1 down at kick off, the minimum they would have to do to win the game from there is score two unanswered goals. In reality the score on the day would be United 2-0, with the handicap that’s a 2-1 win.
That means the -1 United handicap bet won. What happens if, in the example above if United were to win by a one-goal margin? Well if they had won 1-0, in accordance to the handicap the result would be 1-1. That causes the bet to not win because the handicap of -1 wasn’t covered.
You will see a wider variety of handicap margins in Rugby, because of the points scoring system in rugby matches. Here you will see something like a -6 handicap, requiring that backed team to win the match starting from a negative six points difference.
What is a 3-way and 2-way Handicap?
A 2-way handicap is backing a handicap selection in a match where the bookmaker has only options on either team winning. This ignores a draw as an outcome. However, if the result causes a draw with the handicap, the stake is refunded.
2-Way Handicap example
Gloucester 4/9 to win with a -6 point handicap
Harlequins 7/4 to win with a + 6 handicap
A 3-way handicap brings in that option of being able to back a draw as a handicap option. In the below example, the Draw is set at that +6 margin, which means that if Gloucester won 30-24, you add on the +6 handicap for Harlequins and the match is a draw. If you had backed the Handicap Draw, it would have won.
3-Way Handicap example
Gloucester are 4/9 to win with a -6 point handicap.
Harlequins are 7/4 to win with a +6 point advantage.
The draw is 22/1 +6 points.
Types of Handicap bets
The regular handicap is the one as described above, where you have the option of backing a team either to overcome a minus handicap or defend a positive handicap in a match to win the fixture.
Alternative handicaps add in half points in rugby matches, for example. So you may see Gloucester -7.5 handicap. That half point eliminates the possibility of a draw, so Gloucester would have to win by at least eight points for the bet to be successful.
You can also do a split handicap. This is when your stake can be split over two different handicap options, such 0 and -0.5 in one bet. It’s a useful option available on games where there isn’t much quality difference between the participating teams and could, therefore, be a close match. In this instance, if the game produced a draw, the 0 handicap part would be refunded, the -0.5 wasn’t covered so would be lost.
A level handicap is when the bookmaker can’t really see any noticeable difference in the quality of the two teams, so may offer both starting at a level 0 handicap. So basically then it’s a matter of picking the winning team. This is essentially the same as Draw No bet as if the game is drawn, the stake is refunded.
Winning example of a Handicap bet in football
Going back to our FA Cup example of Manchester United v Rotherham, here are some handicap options.
In the match outright, Manchester United are 8/13 odds-on favourites, the draw at 3/1 and Rotherham at 21/4. So take a look at the handicap options:
|Rotherham +1||13/10||Rotherham not to lose by more than one goal|
|Man Utd -1||7/5||Man Utd to win by at least two goals|
|Rotherham +2||1/2||Rotherham not to lose by more than two goals|
|Man Utd -2||7/2||Man Utd to win by at least three goals|
|Rotherham +3||1/7||Rotherham not to lose by more than three goals|
|Man Utd -3||17/2||Man Utd to win by at least four goals|
The full list of handicap options would be a lot bigger. But you can see how the odds shift to be more favourable in backing United. As a punter you expect Man Utd to win, but that 8/13 outright winner odds does not have great appeal. Backing the same scenario of still expecting Manchester United to win, but by at least a two-goal margin, a Man Utd -1 handicap is better value at 7/5.
Note that the scoreline in the game doesn’t matter. It could be 6-2 to Man Utd, or 2-0 or 3-1, as long as their margin of victory was by at least two goals, the handicap bet of -1 would win.
Losing example of a Handicap bet in rugby
A top rugby Premiership clash between Saracens and Exeter would present punters with a tough call in such a tight game. Exeter are away from home but they are top of the league and have great form behind them. But Saracens are a formidable team on home soil.
After weighing up the options you think that Exeter could easily defend a +6 point handicap for 10/11 odds. That means that Exeter could lose the match and your bet would still win, as long as they didn’t lose by a margin of more than six points.
For example if they lost 21-19 on the pitch, add on their six points from the handicap and they are the match winners.
In the game however, Exeter give a good account of themselves, but in the end, they are no match for the power of Saracens. Saracens outscore Exeter 21-12 in the game, a difference in favour of Saracens of nine points.
If you added the virtual +6 points awarded to Exeter through the handicap to their physical score in the match of 12, 12+6 = 18 which is three points short of them avoiding defeat. The handicap result would be 21-18 in favour of Saracens.
Handicap betting strategy
Focusing on football betting, you will be able to track how well a team is covering handicaps throughout the course of season. For example, you could study Liverpool’s home form and determine how often they are beating teams from the bottom half of the table by more than a one-goal margin.
Next time Liverpool are at home against a lower ranked team, it could be worth pushing the handicap margin on the Reds.
How to place a Handicap bet on bet365?
There are different ways to look at rugby handicap betting at bet365. If you visit their rugby section you will see under the Main menu, key markets for things like Game betting 3-way, Alternative Handicap 2-Way and Alternative Handicap 3-Way.
For example, if you click Game Betting 3-way, this will bring up a list of the main handicap options for upcoming games from different leagues. That means it’s easy to grab a few different handicap options from a variety of games.
If you want to focus on one game and its handicap options, browse to an individual game. You will see a grid of options for the handicap and the respective odds.