Betting on Underdogs

Published: 01/07/2013

In every sports match-up between two teams or individuals, bookmakers designate one side as the favourite, expected to win, and the other as the underdog, expected to lose. The odds on the favourite will always be less than even money and lower than those on the underdog.

Of course, sports fans are conditioned to believe that winning is everything and losing is a cause for shame, so they are wired to root for the favourite. Aware of this tendency, oddsmakers shave the odds and tilt their spreads toward the favourite every time, which means there is always value in betting on underdogs.

In the case of evenly contested events, the difference in odds between the favourite and the underdog may be miniscule. But in supposedly lopsided match-ups, the payouts for upsets can be huge, making the underdog an attractive wager despite the high probability of losing. Also, for Asian handicaps or sports such as NFL football where spread betting is common, the points given mean the underdog may lose the event but the wager can still win, creating a tremendous advantage for those who are adept at handicapping.

Another factor to keep in mind when deciding to bet on underdogs is the vigorish—the commission charged by bookmakers on winning bets, which is typically on the order of a 5% margin or more. If two equal bets are made on favourites at odds of 1.80~1.85 and one wins and one loses, the net result will be a loss. Successful betting on favourites requires picking correctly more than half the time—on the order of 56~60%.

With underdogs, however, the opposite is true. Picking one of two underdogs correctly at odds of 2.05~2.10 results in a payout sufficient to cover not only the initial stake but also the vigorish plus a potential profit. Over the course of a season, a success rate of just 40~44% in choosing underdogs will cause a bankroll to grow.

Of special interest are “home dogs”—weaker teams with home field advantage that are frequently undervalued by oddsmakers. Home teams often rise to the occasion and win outright, and even when margins are big, they frequently play well enough to cover the spread.

Another consideration when looking for good underdogs to bet on is the anticipated “blow out,” when the favourite is expected to win by a very large margin. Particularly in professional sports, there is little benefit to running up the score. A one point win is just as good as a high-scoring one, so coaches and players tend to let up on their scoring efforts when victory is in hand, thereby allowing the underdog to cover the spread.

More than a few betting systems have been devised for wagering on underdogs. Some of them are based solely upon betting progressions, like Fibonacci or Labouchere, while others take into account handicapping data, such as home/away statistics, recent streaks, past history of match-ups and the like. It has been demonstrated for many sports that consistently betting only on underdogs will result in erosion of a bankroll but, oddly enough, the amount lost tends to be less than if one were to limit wagering strictly to favourites.

Apart from betting on underdogs match by match, they can also make lucrative picks for ante post or “futures” wagering. These bets are placed well in advance of an event, including bets on which team or individual will win a tournament involving numerous competitors or who will prevail as champions of a certain league, division or conference. Because the field of competitors is so broad, ante post bets are usually made at long odds—often double-digit or higher. For a relatively small wager, massive gains can be made by backing the right underdog.

Published on: 01/07/2013

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