In-play betting explained – what is in-play betting?

A Beginner's Guide to In-Play Betting: When, Where and How

Types of Bets

Thanks to this digital age we now find ourselves in, technology has advanced to the extent that we are able to perform many tasks using our mobile phones and tablets; as opposed to having to dig out the raincoat and head into town on a drizzly Saturday morning.

One industry that has benefitted to a remarkable extent from this phenomenon is sports betting. Now, punters can place their bets from the comfort of their own armchair courtesy of mobile sites and apps. This proliferation of new technologies has even given rise to a whole new sub-industry: in-play betting.

What is In-Play Betting?

Football stadium

In a nutshell, in-play betting is placing a bet on a sporting event AFTER it has started. In the past, punters had to get their money on prior to start, otherwise their bet was considered null and void. Now, thanks to the enhancement of bookmakers’ activities online, a whole host of markets are opened up once the game has begun.

It makes sense, really. So often things can happen within a sports match that can change the result completely – whether this can be anticipated or comes completely out of the blue. A red card to a key player in a football game, for example, can lead many to backing the opposition. A player who appears to be injured in a tennis match elicits a similar response.

If you bet in-play you will notice that the various market odds fluctuate and change on a minute-by-minute basis to reflect the ever-changing nature of live sport. These prices are calculated by sophisticated software and algorithms in exactly the same way as traditional betting odds, but even so there are opportunities to take advantage of unusual pricing, as we will see later in this guide.

The most popular in-play betting markets, in the UK certainly, are football and tennis. You only need to flick on a televised football match and see the amount of adverts at half-time beckoning the viewer to place an in-play bet on a particular scoreline or event to know that that’s true.

And in tennis, the punter is able to undertake something we might call ‘micro in-play betting’, which is literally betting on each point in the match. This means they could be placing five or six bets every minute, and this is one method of accumulating profit should there be two strong servers playing.

Advantages of In-Play Betting


So why get involved with in-play betting, when you can have a flutter before the event start, sit back and watch the action unfold?

Well, that, really. How often have you placed a bet, something unexpected has happened and you have ended up losing your stake for good?

Now, courtesy of in-play betting, you can right those wrongs. This is a great way to cover your losses or minimise your risk. If you have bet on Team A to win the match before it has began, settled in to watch it unfold and Team B are winning at half-time, now you can back Team B to win, or the draw, to cover your losses and ensure you walk away from the match with something.

It is unforeseen circumstances that are so often the earnest punter’s downfall. When it comes to football, we can look at the league table, study the form guides, check out the head-to-head records, but really that can all be undone in a few mad moments. What if your team’s goalkeeper is sent off? What if their playmaker gets injured?

Actually, it is moments like these that make in-play betting so enticing. The betting algorithm will take into account certain factors within games, and alter odds to reflect these. But, these don’t always represent the unique intricacies of the individual event.

A great example of this came in the very first game of the 2014/15 Premier League season. Manchester United were hosting Swansea at Old Trafford in Louis Van Gaal’s first match as manager. As you’d expect, the Red Devils were hot odds-on favourites to win. But Swansea took the lead, and were still 1-0 to the good at half-time.

A quick look at the in-play odds reveals that Swansea could still be backed at 11/10 – the bookies still think that Man United would win this match. But having watched the game, we know differently. We know that the United players were struggling to adapt to Van Gaal’s new formation and tactics, and we know that Swansea could and perhaps should have been more than 1-0 up. And so a bet on Swansea to win in-play would have made the punter very happy. The Swans won 2-1, by the way!

Of course, another useful benefit is that in-play betting is available on your preferred device 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without needing to worry about time zone differences etc. So whether it’s football in the USA or tennis in China, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

How To Bet In-Play

Most, if not all, of the major bookmakers worldwide now have either a mobile site or an app through which you can bet in-play. Just navigate to the relevant section and away you go!

You will notice that football and tennis are the most popular in-play sports, and for this guide we will concentrate mostly on football.

You can, in essence, bet on pretty much any outcome in-play that is available pre-match, but with the added bonus of having seen part of the game elapse. The most popular in-play markets are:

  • Win-Draw-Win
  • Next Team to Score
  • Handicaps
  • Correct Score
  • Over/Under Goals

There are an almost infinite amount of markets available with in-play, and it really does depend how deeply you want to ‘drill down’ with your betting. You can predict the next team to win a corner, pick up a card or score a goal, and you can even pick windows of time in which each of these will happen.

In the bigger fixtures you can even bet on specific player-based markets too. From the next player to score to the next to be booked or sent off, there are plenty of markets available.

Many sites offer ‘live streaming’ to help you make the most informed decisions when betting in-play. Often this isn’t live video coverage, but instead a module with an array of stats including possession, cards, corners, shots on goal etc. So even if the game is not available to watch on television, you can still get a flavour of the action and bet smart online.

The In’s and Out’s of In-Play

It is students of the beautiful game who will get the most from in-play betting, and if you do know your stuff then there is money to be made.

With in-play betting, timing is everything. Being able to foresee when a certain event is likely to occur will stand you in incredibly good stead. For example, being able to predict who will score next – and when – can reap great dividends. You may know that one team is very good from set pieces, and they have just won a corner or free kick in a dangerous position. Here is where the in-players earn their corn.

Knowing that when Team A is pushing for a late equalizer, they are more susceptible to conceding a goal on the counter attack is again great insight to have. A team seemingly on the back foot is usually reflected in lengthening odds to score next, and vice versa.

Half-Time Heroes

football betting

The next time there’s a full set of fixtures in your country, try this: note down how many of them are goalless at half-time, particularly at the top level. You’ll be amazed at how many are, but it’s not something you notice until it’s been mentioned to you!

Then note down how many of these are still goalless at full-time. The answer, generally, is not very many. And so we have a pattern to work with, and it’s one that makes in-play betting from half-time onwards a particularly profitable pastime.

Why are so many games goalless at half-time? It’s hard to say, but by the law of mathematics a better team’s class will show more over a 90 minute period than it does in half that time. Also, the players’ fitness levels will yet to have been affected, and teams noticeably take fewer chances – i.e. committing more players in attack, during the first half. It’s the business end of football matches when the most action happens.

We can apply some statistics from the 2014/15 Premier League season to help us. For instance, we know that 31% of all games during that season were goalless at half-time. And yet there were more than 1.5 goals in 72% of matches. We’d also know that the time bracket per game, on average, where the most goals are scored is 76-90.

As you’d expect, at half-time the odds on a football match are likely to be different to those prior to when the game began. If the game is goalless after 45 minutes, then the odds on either team will lengthen, while the odds on a draw will naturally shorten. But when we consider the stats above, there’s really no need to panic, is there? Backing the favourite at half-time when the match is 0-0 is a classic betting tactic that yields greater returns than doing so before the referee blows his whistle for the first time.

Tennis In-Play Betting

tennis betting

A slight change of tact now to discuss the second most popular sport on which to bet in-play: tennis.

An innate understanding of the unique ebbs and flows of tennis will help massively here, as will knowing a bit about the players. If you have an insight already then tennis in-play betting can be a real money maker.


Here are some of the markets that are available:

  • Next Point Winner
  • Set Winner
  • Match Winner
  • Game Handicap
  • Total Games

Now, we know that the server will win the vast majority of points in any one match, especially where it is two big units serving down absolute monsters at one another. So already we have a good feel for the Next Point Winner market. We won’t be successful every time, but over the course of a match we’re likely to yield profit.

The set winner market is an interesting one too. Generally speaking, serving first is an advantage, but only if the player in question has a good first serve percentage. Knowing when to pull the trigger on an in-play in tennis is crucial: if a big server (Player A) manages to break the serve of their opponent (Player B), then we would expect Player A to keep that lead and win the set thanks to their ability to close out their own service games. On the flipside, if Player B breaks the serve of Player A then we think, okay, he or she isn’t on the money today. Then we’d back Player B to win.

There are plenty of real-life examples of brilliant in-play betting on the tennis. A good one is at the Wimbledon Championships this year, when the rank outsider Kevin Anderson took a 2-0 set lead in a best-of-five match against the hot favourite Novak Djokovic. A quick look at the Match Winner market revealed that Djokovic was now priced at 2/1.

Was backing him a bit crazy? Probably. But you would never have got that price before the match began on the world number one and two-time Wimbledon champion.

What happened? Djokovic won 3-2, of course.

And that’s the key to in-play sports betting of any kind: being able to second guess and predict what is about to happen next. We can use stats and research to minimise our risk – and you should do this, naturally, but often gut instinct and intuition are your key weapons when betting in-play.

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