Alun Bowden
2 years ago - 8 minute read

The five biggest mistakes in handicap betting

Handicap betting is one of the purest ways to bet on sport, but it can be one of the toughest markets to make a profit from. It’s a type of betting that relies on small edges and one where some simple errors can make the difference between being a winner and a loser.

We asked two leading football and NFL handicap bettors and Matchbook regulars, Mark Stinchcombe and Brad Allen, their thoughts on where most handicap bettors go wrong and broke it down into five key bits of advice. Read on and find your profits shooting up in no time.

1. Betting a price you have missed

How often have you looked at a betting market and seen what looks like a wrong looking handicap line, gone away to do your research and then come back to find it’s moved and kicked yourself for missing the value? Too many times to mention we’d imagine. But one of the biggest mistakes you can make in gambling is to try and chase that missed line.

One of the clearest examples of this is on the over 2.5 goals market in football. In games where the overwhelming market wisdom suggests a low scoring game, it can be tempting to bet under 2.25 when you’ve missed under 2.5 as you think it can’t possibly miss. But in this situation, you should be stopping and reassessing if the new line provides value.

Matchbook offers a huge range of alternative handicaps on football and the NFL so you can pick and choose how and where you bet rather than be dictated to by the sportsbooks. But each new line presents a new value calculation and to forget this is a huge mistake. Don’t make it!

2. Not understanding key numbers

This is a huge factor that many inexperienced bettors miss on the NFL in particular. There are certain key numbers that make a huge difference to the implied probability and these are 3 and 7 and multiples thereof. As many as 15% of games will end up being decided by a three point margin and as many as 7% by seven points. As NFL betting expert Brad Allen says:

“The move from a true 3 to 2.5 is pretty huge.”

Say you’ve looked at an NFL game where the Patriots are -2.5 at home to the Steelers. You feel instinctively this is wrong but after doing your sums you come back to find it’s moved to -3. You instinct this time is it was a good bet at -2.5 so you should just suck it up and bet the -3 anyway. But this way the poorhouse lies.

Every number matters when betting handicaps but some matter more than others.

The same is true, but more obviously so, in other sports. Rugby is a great example, but in football (soccer) moves on the goal lines from 2.5 to 2.25 or 2.0 should not be taken lightly and any quarter point move on the Asian Handicap line is a significant shift so buyer beware!

3. Paying more to get the number you want

While it is very important to get the number you think represents value, particularly in the NFL, you shouldn’t be paying over the odds to get it. A -6 line on the Dallas Cowboys may give you an edge but if you are paying 1.6 instead of 1.9 to get it then you are probably handing all the value back before you’ve even started.

Brad Allen, who bets the NFL semi-professionally and regularly blogs on Matchbook, says this is a key mistake bettors make:

“People get too fixated on those key numbers and pay extra juice to get them, which is unprofitable in the long run,”

But it’s a careful path to tread and one where you need a more subtle understanding of the value curve.

If the line on the Denver Broncos at home to the Chicago Bears moves from -4.0 to -5.0 then you might not consider it worth paying 1.7 just to get the -4.0 on the Matchbook alternative handicaps. If on the other hand that price move is from -3.0 to -4.0 and you can still get -3.0 at 1.8 it may enter your considerations. There are very few absolutes in gambling and every betting decision should be considered on its own merits.

4. Not betting enough

Make sure you bet to correct stakes. The foundation of any good betting strategy is staking correctly and good bankroll management and you can read plenty about this on Matchbook Insights. Not all bets are created equally and while the odds will usually be the same the value in each bet can wildly differ.

But that’s a more general lesson and the point here is a much more subtle one. We will let Mark Stinchcombe explain:

 “Betting Asian Handicaps requires a bit of adjustment to take into account the fact not all bets are winners or losers,”
It’s a subtle shift in thinking from betting on the 1X2 and requires a similarly subtle change in how you bet on it.

“When backing the 0 handicap in matches involving draws, people don’t stake enough. In reality, 25-30% of the time those bets are voided, so in order to extract the right amount of value, you should be staking slightly more.”

5. Not betting the money line

Professional bettor Mark Stinchcombe says one of the biggest mistakes he sees is people focusing too heavily on the handicap line and missing the value that exists on the moneyline or 1X2 market. In particular with short-priced favourites he says the correct move can be to simply oppose the favs by backing on the outright market instead.

“More often than not, that selection will fail to win rather than fail to cover the handicap. So long term you will profit more opposing the team in the match odds at much bigger odds than backing the handicap around even money. Backing the handicap you would need the side to fail to cover the spread generally more than 50% of the time and it would be difficult to regularly justify the market being wrong that often.”

Brad Allen agrees. “if you’re backing a dog with the points, back the moneyline as well.” This clearly doesn’t apply in every situation and there are many times where the handicap line is clearly the only value bet, but always look for reasons to bring the moneyline or 1X2 line into play as well. It could be the most profitable move you make.