Everything you need to know about Handicap betting

Handicap betting allows you to back outcomes at bigger or shorter odds than advertised in a match odds market, but what are the different types of handicap markets and how do they work? We explain all here...

  • Everything you need to know about handicap betting

  • Traditional, Alternative and No Draw handicaps explained

  • How Asian (split) handicap betting works

What is Handicap Betting?

Handicap betting is a popular form of wagering on points-based sports like football, rugby and tennis, and especially US Sports like American football, basketball and baseball.

Handicap betting effectively changes the odds on an eventuality, whether that be longer odds because it's more difficult to cover the handicap or shorter odds because it's easier to cover the handicap.

In its early form, handicap betting was introduced to give a more even look to a betting market when an event had an extremely strong favourite, but today you can place a bet on a handicap market on almost every points-based sport regardless of how close the betting is.

How does a Handicap market work?

The easiest way to describe how handicap betting works is to say that the team or person that you back must win by more goals, games or points than what the handicap allows.

In football for example, if you back a team to win on the -1 handicap, then that team must win be at least two clear goals because the -1 means that the opposing team has a mythical one-goal start (-2 would mean the opposing team has a mythical two-goal start and so on).

So if you back a football team to win on the -1 handicap and the final score is 1-0 to the team that you backed then your bet is a loser because the mythical result would be 1-1. If your team wins 2-0 then your bet is a winner because the mythical result is 2-1 once the handicap is applied.

Using tennis as an example, backing a player to win on the -3.5 game handicap means your selection must win by at least four games because the opposing player has been given a mythical 3.5 games start.

If the tennis match finishes 6-4 6-4 to the player that you backed then your bet is a winner because the total score in games is 12-8, and the mythical score is 12-11.5 (8 + 3.5 handicap).

So in summary, as long as the team or player you back 'covers the handicap' (wins by more goals, games or points than the handicap allows) then your bet is a winner.

How are Handicap odds displayed?

Using a Premier League game between Brentford and Manchester City, the below image shows an example of a traditional Handicap Match Result market on the Betfair Sportsbook, and how the odds and handicap marks are displayed.

In the Match Odds market Manchester City are strong favourites at 4/111.36 to win the game with Brentford at 13/27.50 and the Draw at 4/15.00. So the betting suggests the game will be won quite comfortably by Man City.

So Betfair use a handicap market to make the odds more even between the three options, and the handicap mark applied is -1 for Man City meaning the other two options - Brentford and Draw - get a mythical +1 goal start.

As you can see below the odds are now much closer together with Brentford +1 at 15/82.88, the Draw +1 at 5/23.50 and Man City -1 at 11/102.11.


If you use this market to place a bet, and your selection is Man City -1 then that means Man City must win by at least two clear goals so that they cover the handicap.

If you back Brentford +1 and they win the game then obviously your bet is a winner, but your bet will also be a winner if the game ends in a draw. For example, if the game ends in a 1-1 draw then Brentford win on the +1 handicap because the mythical score is 2-1 once the handicap is applied.

Alternative Handicaps to enhance or shorten odds

Using the same Brentford v Manchester City game as an example, you can wager on Alternative Handicaps which work in exactly the same way as the traditional Handicap Match Result market.

The key difference however is that you can use the Alternative Handicaps to massively enhance or shorten the odds on an eventuality.

Looking at the example below, you can enhance Man City's 4/111.36 win odds to 3/14.00 by backing them -2 on the handicap. This means that Brentford get a mythical +2 goal start, so City would need to win the game by at least three goals for your bet to be successful.

Alternatively, if you don't fancy Brentford to win the game at 13/27.50 but you want to back them to keep the score respectful, then you can bet on them with a mythical +2 goal start at 8/131.61.

This means that for your bet to be successful then Brentford need to either win or draw the game, or they can lose the game by just a single goal and you will still collect, that's because if Man City win the game 0-1, then when you apply Brentford's +2 handicap then the mythical score is 2-1.


No Draw Handicap Betting

Whenever you see a handicap market with -1.5 or +2.5 for example, then this is commonly known as a 'no draw' handicap market because whatever the actual result of a match, when the handicap is applied then it's impossible for the mythical result to be a draw.

Take a snooker match for example. You back Judd Trump on the -2.5 handicap to beat Mark Selby in a first to six frames match.

No matter what the result of the match is it is impossible for Betfair to settle the market as a draw. This is because if Trump wins 6-3 then the mythical result is 6-5.5 because Selby was given a +2.5 frames start (and it also means you win your bet). If Trump wins the match 6-4 then the mythical result is 6-6.5 meaning your bet is a loser.

Asian Handicap

A variant of handicap betting that was popularised in Asia involves handicaps with whole and half numbers, so that no draws are possible, similar to no draw handicap betting.

The key difference with Asian handicap betting is the possibility of split handicaps, whereby your selection can have one handicap that is a whole number, and one that is a half number.

For example: Brentford (+1, +1.5) v Manchester City (-1, -1.5)

In this example, Man City need to win the match by two clear goals in order to win the market, due to the handicaps applied.

But if Man City win by only one goal, then the whole number handicap (the -1 part) results in a draw, while the half number handicap (the -1.5 part) gives Brentford the victory.

You would stand to receive half your stake back if you bet on Man City to win but you would lose the other half. Anyone who bet on Brentford to win would receive half their stake returned, but the other half would be paid back as winnings at the odds stated when you placed your bet.

Now read more Betfair Education articles here.

Prices quoted in copy are correct at time of publication but liable to change.

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