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Sports Handicapping

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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