What is Handicap Betting in Football? Meaning & Strategy

How to Make Handicap Betting Markets Work For You

Types of Bets

Handicap betting is an extremely popular way to place a wager as it essentially ‘evens up’ what would otherwise be one-sided games of football, tennis, basketball and rugby.

You can bet on the handicapped team or the team that has been aided by the handicap, and this is a great way to create betting value in matches that would otherwise offer unattractive odds to the punter.

What is Handicap Betting in Football?

The handicap is essentially a virtual head start for one of the teams. In its simplest format, a ‘Manchester United -2’ handicap means that they need to win by three clear goals for your bet to be successful.

There are two general types of handicap bet – traditional and Asian – and we will look at both in more depth below.

Some Examples:

The easiest way to explain handicapping clearly is with a few working examples. Here is the first:

Manchester United -2.0 (11/10) v Watford +2.0 (4/5)

Football Match Betting

In this fictional example, the bookmaker is offering odds of 11/10 that Manchester United can overcome a virtual two goal deficit at home to Watford. On the other hand, you can back Watford to ‘win’ the match, backed by their two goal enhancement, at odds of 4/5. The choice is yours.

You can even bet on a tie occurring after the handicap has been added, so if Manchester United were to beat Watford 2-0 the handicap would then alter this to a 0-0 stalemate.

If Manchester United were to win the match by three goals, then anybody backing them with a -2 handicap would be a winner. If they only won the match by a single goal, then those backing Watford with their two goal enhancement would come up trumps.

This is a good example as it shows the value on offer in a match that is otherwise one-sided – there would be no great value in backing Manchester United at home against Watford without a handicap employed. The best prices are usually witnessed in the bigger handicap margins, and where the difference in quality between the two sides is stark.

Chelsea -2.5 (21/10) v West Brom +2.5 (2/5)

In some handicap markets ‘halves’ are added into the mix. The idea behind this is that it eliminates the possibility of a draw after the deficit has been added at the end of the game. As a consequence of this the odds are slightly less generous, but this does give punters the opportunity to leverage more profit – you now have a 50% of winning, rather than 33% if the draw is in the equation.

In the example above, Chelsea need to win by three goals in order to overturn the deficit. If they were to win 2-0 then the adjusted scoreline would be Chelsea 2 v 2.5 West Brom, and your stake would be lost.

What does Asian Handicap betting mean?

Football Match Betting

Asian Handicaps was a term coined by a journalist, Joe Saumarez-Smith, to explain the Indonesian form of betting known locally as ‘Hang Cheng’. This form of betting has become increasingly popular in the Western world in recent times too, and works in essentially the same way as the traditional handicapping methods outlined above.

In the event of a tie in an Asian Handicap where full numbers are used it is called a ‘push’, and the punter’s stake is returned to them. So if your team won the match by a goal and you had a -1 handicap, you would secure a refund.

Then there are Double Asian Handicaps, where two sets of numbers act as the deficit/headstart. An example would look like this:

Liverpool (-1.0 & -1.5) v Sunderland (+1.0 & +1.5)

Here, your stake is split equally across the two handicaps listed. So if you stake £10, then £5 of your bet will go on Liverpool -1 and the other fiver will be placed on Liverpool -1.5.

The method of calculating the handicap is exactly the same – ideally we need Liverpool to win by two goals in order for our bet to be successful. If they win by one goal, then we would lose half of our bet (the -1.5 half) and the other half would be refunded (the -1 part). So here we would return £5 of our original £10 bet.

And so the idea behind an Asian Handicap is to hedge your bets slightly, with many punters preferring this method to a single handicap in order to minimise risk.

One last example to consider:

Manchester City (0.0 & -0.5) v West Ham (0.0 & -0.5)

In this scenario, if we backed Manchester City with these handicaps in place then our bet will be successful if they win by any margin. If the match were to end in a draw, then we would lose half of our stake (the -0.5 part) and the other half would be refunded (the 0.0 bit). Naturally, if West Ham were to win the game then our complete bet would be lost.

Handicap Betting Strategy

Football Match Betting

As previously mentioned, handicapping enables us to leverage profit from matches that we consider to be a foregone conclusion. By adding a virtual deficit to overcome, a touch of jeopardy is added into the mix; and our odds will lengthen accordingly.

And so taking a -1, -1.5 or -2 handicap against a team we expect to win comfortably is handicap betting strategy numero uno.

Of course, there can be occasions when we expect the underdog to perform well, and by backing them with a ‘+ handicap’ we can still get a good price but minimise our risk too. So picture the scene: Chelsea, who are in a bad run of form anyway, return after the international break with injury and suspension problems. They travel to Goodison Park to take on Everton, who have a clean bill of health. Here are the bookmakers’ prices:

Everton (16/5) v Chelsea (10/11)

Everton +1 (10/11) v Chelsea -1 (11/5)

Everton +1 & +1.5 (7/10) v Chelsea -1 & -1.5 (13/5)

As you can see, a whole world of potential opens up to us. Personally, we’d be tempted to take the Asian Handicap of +1 & +1.5 on Everton, because we are still getting a reasonable price but also hedging our bets a bit too in case Chelsea hit a rich vein of form.

And we also need to consider in-play handicap betting as well. We’ve spoken before about the profit potential this offers us, and many of the leading bookies do offer handicap markets in play. So take advantage of the ebbs and flows of the game, study the match stats and use these to leverage some advantage with a handicap bet or two.


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