Everyone has an opinion when it comes to sports betting. All that is needed to start offering tips and advice is a Twitter account. Armchair experts are everywhere. But almost all of them fail to address the most important consideration in sports betting. The only question that really matters. Is the outcome under-priced?
This question is far more significant than ‘who do I think will win the game?’, ‘who do I believe will get the first booking?’, or any variant of ‘what is the most likely outcome?’. In fact, it’s the single most important question that every bettor should ask himself before placing a bet.
The Price Is Right
Let’s consider a theoretical example to explain what we mean. Chelsea are set to visit West Ham for a game in the Premier League where Chelsea are still struggling for form and West Ham are flying. We take a quick look around and some sportsbooks reveal the following best prices:
West Ham: 6.25
This suggests a probability of 64% for Chelsea to win. In other words, Chelsea should win this game two out of every three, while West Ham are only expected to win 16% of the time. Who do we think will win the game? Chelsea. But that doesn’t mean that we should back them. West Ham are an underdog – but not as big of an underdog as these odds suggest.
In this case we believe West Ham have a chance of victory that exceeds the 16% that some bookmakers are offering. In other words, West Ham are currently under-priced. So we bet on West Ham – even though I think Chelsea will win the game the vast majority of the time. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s not. It’s just good betting.
As sports bettors, we should be looking to find betting opportunities where an outcome is under-priced. Everything else is just noise. We’re not looking to win every bet, we’re looking to place bets at a price that means in the long run we win money. If we’re consistently betting on 2.0 outcomes that are priced at 3.0 then in the long run we’re going to win a lot of money.
Let’s explain this in very simple terms. If you are betting at odds of 3.0 that Arsenal will beat Everton at home when the real probability of this is close to 50% or 2.0, then over 6 bets the following will happen to level £1 stakes.
3 x Arsenal win.
You win £1 x 3.0 each time, which is £2 profit (plus your £1 stake back). So 3 x £3 = £6.
3 x Arsenal draw or lose.
You lose 3 x £1 = £3.
Overall you’ve won £6 – £3 = £3.
If the true probability was 33% or 3.0, then Arsenal would only win 1 out of every three games and your overall payout would look like this:
2 x Arsenal win.
You win £1 x 3.0 each time. So 2 x £2 = £4.
4 x Arsenal draw or lose.
You lose 4 x £1.
Overall you’ve won £4 – £4 = £0.
Simply focusing on a specific bet winning or losing can be deceptive as those two wins may come in succession leading you to believe you placed a good “value” bet. But in the long term the numbers won’t lie. Sports betting isn’t a science so we never know for sure if something was under-priced, but a good guide is if you’re up at the end of the year rather than the end of the game.
It’s vital to be flexible in your approach too. Taking our Chelsea example from earlier, let’s say the market agreed with us and the West Ham price got hammered in as people bet on it in their thousands. Eventually we end up with a market like this:
West Ham: 4.0
Now we no longer think West Ham are a good value bet as we feel 25% is about the right probability for them winning away from home against Chelsea. On the other hand, the Chelsea price may have moved too much and something close to evens presents the right bet. Our views on the most likely outcome of the game, Chelsea winning, haven’t changed, but our bet has. Why? Because we’re betting on the price not the result.
Why Getting the Best Price Is Everything
This is why you find the best sports bettors are so careful about getting the best possible price for every bet. For this game, at some sportsbooks West Ham are as short as 5.0, for a 20% probability of victory. Are West Ham still a good bet at that price? Perhaps – but it would be madness to back them at 5.0 when they are available elsewhere at 6.25.
Sports betting is not easy. Only a fraction of those who bet are consistently profitable. But many bettors make it even tougher for themselves. If they were looking for a new TV, they would spend countless hours online, hunting down the best value and playing off one price against the other. Yet when it comes to sports betting – something they might do on a daily or weekly basis – they fail to look after their own best interests.
The importance of securing the best price can hardly be overstated. Odds comparison websites are your friend. Don’t place a bet at a bad price simply because you have money in an account and don’t place a bet if you don’t think the selection is under-priced. That one crucial question is at the centre of profitable sports betting: ‘is the outcome currently under-priced?’. If you ask yourself this, instead of ‘who do I fancy to win?’, then you are well on the way towards becoming a winning sports bettor.