Handicap betting involves giving one selection a deficit to overcome in order to even out a sporting context. If the bettor's selection's score is greater than the opponents after the handicap has been applied, then this chosen selection is deemed the winner.
The aim of a handicap is to even up a market by giving an outcome deemed inferior a greater chance of winning. Bookies assign the more likely outcome a handicap to make this outcome's chance of success more difficult and consequently make a one sided event a more attractive prospect to bet on.
For example, if Manchester City were playing Port Vale, Manchester City would be considered heavy favourites. A Manchester City win would be assigned very short odds and would offer very small returns as this would be regarded as highly likely. As a result, this would not be a very attractive fixture to bet on.
In order to make the fixture more interesting, a bookmaker would add a handicap to Manchester City - such as that they have a three goal deficit to overcome and must beat Port Vale by four goals in order to win - and therefore offer longer odds.
Types of handicap
A variety of handicaps can be applied to teams in single matches or across full season.
Also referred to as a single handicap or a 3-way handicap, a European handicap gives one side a virtual handicap to overcome and/or one side a virtual lead.
Selections are given a whole number handicap and a draw remains a possible outcome. This is how European handicapping differs from other forms of handicap.
Liverpool (-1) Draw (-1) Everton (+2)
If you bet on Liverpool, this selection is successful if they win by a two-goal margin or more as their handicap of -1 effectively means they have started the game 1-0 down.
If you bet on a draw, this selection is successful if Liverpool win by a single goal, as a draw has a handicap of -1 and Liverpool have effectively started the game 1-0 down.
If you bet on Everton, this selection is successful if they win, draw or lose by only one goal, as the +2 handicap effectively means they begin the game 2-0 up.
Asian handicapping again consists of a deficit to overcome for one selection, but the handicap can be either a whole-goal handicap or a half-goal handicap. An Asian handicap bet also eliminates the possibility of a draw.
Liverpool (-1) Everton (+2)
Like with European handicapping, the numbers by each team are applied to their final score in the fixture.
If you bet on Liverpool, this selection is successful if they win by two or more goals, as they are starting the game a goal down thanks to the -1 handicap.
If you bet on Everton, this selection is successful if they win, draw or lose by one goal, as they are starting the match 2-0 up thanks to the +2 handicap.
If you bet on Liverpool and they win by one goal or you bet on Everton and Liverpool win by two goals, you will receive your stake back, as the handicaps would cancel these scores out and result in a draw. A whole-goal handicap offers the safety net of your stake being returned.
A half-goal handicap completely eliminates the possibility of a draw, by giving teams a 0.5 goal handicap.
Liverpool (-1.5) Everton (+1.5)
If you bet on Liverpool, this selection is successful if they win by a two-goal margin or more, as the handicap of -1.5 means they are starting the match trailing by 1.5 goals.
If you bet on Everton, this selection is successful if they lose by one goal, draw or win, as they +1.5 handicap means they are starting the game 1.5-0 up.
Handicap league betting
Handicap league betting spans the entire season of a competition. It is only available at the start of the season, and consists of every team in the division being given a handicap prior to the campaign kicking off.
The team considered the favourite for the league title starts with a handicap of 0, and every other team is given a virtual head start with a handicap points score.
For example in the Premier League, regular top four sides such as Chelsea and Manchester United would be given smaller handicaps such as +6 or +10, whereas newly promoted teams and sides considered favourites for relegation would be given considerably bigger handicaps, such as +48.
At the end of the season, every team's individual points score would be added to their handicap, and the team with the most points collectively would be the winner of the market.
How to use handicapping in betting
An effective way to use handicapping in betting is by using implied probability to look for handicap bets that offer value.
For example, if odds of 2.00 were offered for Manchester United (-2.5) to beat West Brom, this would give an implied probability of 50% of United beating West Brom by three goals or more. However, you may consider the actual probability of United beating West Brom by three goals or more closer to 60% - perhaps due to United's form, recent goal scoring record, injuries to West Brom's backline or West Brom's poor away form - meaning this bet would have value and would be a handicap bet worth making.