One element of sports wagering that can be confusing for punters is the practice known as sports handicapping. It
comes from the old practice of placing bets in caps, typically held in the hand of an officiator. However, the
modern practice does not refer to the location of the bet but rather the relative abilities of players and the
need to equalize the odds.
Sports handicapping is employed to give all players an equal chance of winning the race or match. It is a
widespread practice, used in all kind of competitive sports. Some of the better known handicaps are the golf
handicap and the handicaps used in horse racing.
In horse racing, one way to ensure that all horses stand an equal chance of winning a given race is to vary the
amount of weight borne by each horse. While the jockey has a given weight, most racing saddles are also equipped
with special pockets where additional weight may be inserted. Typically, the weights are made from lead and the
amount of weight to be added is based on age, past performance, and the abilities of the other competitors.
In golf, individual players are given a handicap, which represents a number of strokes subtracted from the true
number of strokes played. This handicap is known as the Standard Scratch Score (SSS), and is balanced against
the Competition Scratch Score (CSS) to come up with the optimal number of subtracted strokes suitable for a given
player on a specific course. This subtraction allows players of different abilities to compete on somewhat equal
terms. Professional golfers such as Tiger Woods do not use golf handicapping; at that level it is not allowed.
Rather, golf handicaps are assigned by the various clubs where players are members and play rounds. Golf handicaps
do get something of a reputation, however. Players have been known to understate their abilities in order to
qualify for a larger handicap. This is considered bad form.
Understanding the principles of sports handicapping and how it is calculated for the different sports can provide
quite the advantage to a punter. Rather than being thrown by adjustments to a handicap for a given horse, the
punter can adjust the bet accordingly and avoid a loss. Polo, some track and field events, and a surprising
number of sports competitions in Australian employ handicapping in addition to horse racing and golf. Devoting a
few hours to study the way sports handicapping impacts outcomes will thus benefit the global bettor, and those
who are going for more complex combinations or arbitrage set ups should understand it quite well.
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