Form is Temporary, Class is Permanent: How to Spot an Underdog With Potential

Types of Bets

Spotting value is a key tool in the punter’s armoury, and one of the few ways in which we can bite back against the bookmakers and their in-built profit margin safety net.

Of course, finding value in amongst the thousands of markets covering football, tennis, golf, horse racing, darts, rugby and every other sport each day can be a time consuming and dispiriting affair, but armed with a few choice skills we can narrow the timeframe required to find a ‘good bet’.

There is nothing better in sports betting than finding an underdog at a long price that goes on to win, but let’s also appreciate another important fact: even short-priced favourites can be good value bets too.

Identifying Value

There are two prescient examples of underdog spotting that have occurred recently (at the time of writing), and so these can be our handy guides. The first is this Premier League football fixture:

Arsenal (4/5), Draw (14/5), Leicester (4/1)

This is the perfect game for identifying a key knowledge gap among sports punters: what we think we know, and actual reality.

So here’s what we think we know:

  • Arsenal very rarely get beaten at home.
  • They are a stronger team than Leicester City.
  • Leicester are punching above their weight at the moment.
  • At first glance, these prices seem fair.

Now let’s explore the reality:

  • Arsenal are ninth in the form table, having won just two of their last six games.
  • They have won just seven of twelve games at home all season.
  • They score an average of 1.33 goals per game at home.
  • Leicester are, statistically, the best team in the league when playing away.
  • They’ve been beaten once in thirteen away games.
  • They score, on average, 2.00 goals per game on the road.

So now we have plugged the gap between our perception and our knowledge, maybe we have come to the conclusion that Leicester stand a very good chance of winning this game.

So why have the bookmakers laughably priced them at 4/1 then?

Well, this is a tough question to answer. Perhaps they are tapping into the misconception that Leicester are ‘punching above their weight’ or that their ‘bubble is about to burst’, but what we can say is that – statistically at least – this contest is a lot more even than the prices suggest.

And this, ultimately, is what spotting value is all about.

Let’s take a look at our second example which took place recently. This involved a tennis match between Steve Johnson and Taylor Fritz at the ATP Memphis event.

Here’s a fact file on the two players:

Name: Steve Johnson

World Ranking: 29

Seeded for the event: 2

Singles titles: Six

Odds for this match: 1/3

And then we have the underdog:

Name: Taylor Fritz

World Ranking: 145

Seeded for the event: No (had to qualify)

Singles Titles: Three

Odds: 16/5

Tennis is a funny old sport to bet on at the best of times, but a quick glance at the respective career paths of these two players suggests that Steve Johnson should, really, see off Taylor Fritz with ease, given that he has a much higher world ranking, has won more titles and is seeded for the event. The odds reflect this apparent disparity.

However, clued-up punters know to scratch a bit deeper beneath the surface.

When we do our research, we note that Steve Johnson has lost four of his last six matches on hard courts (where this event was being played). In 2016, he has lost more matches than he has won, and a quick flick through his resume reveals that he rarely seems to do well in tournaments in North America.

Meanwhile, Taylor Fritz has won two and reached the final of another of his last five Challenger events on hard courts, and took the highly–rated Jack Sock to a deciding set at the Australian Open. The 18-year-old has a huge serve and yet moves extremely well (essential for effective hard court play), and the reason his world ranking is so low is because he turned pro just last year. He was ranked 923 in the world at this time last year – so a leap of 800 places tells its own story. Fritz also wins 83% of his service games on average; a fantastic return.

So what was the outcome? As you can probably guess from our inference, Fritz triumphed 7-6 7-6.

And yet if we had just taken the time to research the two players we might have concluded that Fritz was far too long a price at 16/5, and put out money where our mouth is. Here was another underdog story with a happy ending for punters who got involved.

What to look for in a viable underdog

jamie vardy

The title of this piece is ‘Form is Temporary, Class is Permanent’, and while in the long run that often tends to be true, the heading was actually quite tongue-in-cheek and based on a fact that is sometimes criminally overlooked by both punters and bookmakers:

Statistically, form is the key determining factor over any other factor in sport.

There is ‘form within form’ of course – can a football team play well away and at home, can a tennis player mix it on the hard courts and the clay, can a horse do the business when the ground is heavy and good – but, ultimately, a football side that has won three games on the bounce will have more confidence than one that has lost three in a row. That’s just basic common sense.

That statement needs clarifying: a top four team going through a tough patch against a bottom three side in good form will still be expected to win, but where the proximity between the two is less pronounced form is often the key differentiator.

Take a look at any footballing form guide. How often do you see a team going W-L-W-L-W-L? Very rarely, simply because form is so important. Instead you’re likely to see teams with nice little unbeaten runs, or sides that haven’t won in a while. All good (and bad) things come to an end of course, but let form be your master when placing bets.

And we’ll leave you with the one philosophy, nay law, that all sports punters MUST abide by for long-term success: do your homework.