Handicap Betting: a beginner’s guide

Handicap betting is a system where virtual advantages/disadvantages are given to teams in a match. The purpose of that is to try and create a more even betting field for punters to face. For example, if Brazil were playing South Africa in a soccer match, the South Americans would be heavy favourites.

In such a one-sided game, Brazil may be 1.25 odds only to win. But if they were carrying a -1 handicap, the odds on Brazil may be 1.73 and a lot more favourable for the punter. The bigger the handicap for a team to overcome, that is what determines the value of the higher odds.

How handicaps work

In the fictional Brazil v South Africa game, the Selecao are huge favourites in the regular match outright.

Brazil Outright


South Africa Outright




Anyone betting on them would have to bet R4 to win R1 in return. While the bet looks something of a certainty (Brazil winning), the fact that such a big stake would have to be played to get any notable return, means that the risk goes up. An R100 stake, for example, would only return R25 profit from a 1.25 odds wager.

In the handicap market, some options exist 

Brazil -1

Brazil - 2

Brazil -3




The bettor picks a Brazil -2 handicap. That means the bookmaker is giving a 1.73 price on Brazil essentially starting the game two goals behind. So for that bet to win, Brazil would have to win by at least a three-goal margin to have covered that handicap against them. This is called a European handicap, but more often than not, just referred to as a handicap

The positive handicap

The other way to play a handicap would be to back a team, in this case, South Africa, not to get beaten by a certain margin of goals. Back in the handicap market these options exist:

South Africa +1

South Africa +2

South Africa +3




The first thing to notice is that the smaller handicap margins are the ones with better prices. If a bettor picks South Africa +2, then that is, for all intents and purposes of the bet, giving South Africa a two-goal lead. So they could lose the match, and as long as it wasn’t by more than a two-goal margin, the wager would win. 

The push

In the previous example of South Africa +2, what if Brazil had won the fixture by a 4-2 scoreline? Once you added South Africa’s positive handicap of two, that would leave the virtual score at 4-4. 

This is a situation where a push is created.

The +2 Handicap bet on South Africa in this case, wins still. That’s because South Africa didn't lose by more than two goals. However, if Brazil had been picked at -2 and the game ended at 4-4 after the handicap adjustment, the bet would have lost as they didn’t beat the handicap. 

So the rule for European handicaps is: The favourite has to win by a bigger margin than their minus handicap figure for the bet to be successful. An underdog can’t lose by more than their set positive handicap for the bet to be successful. 

Three-Way Handicaps

For a soccer match, you can include the draw as an actual handicap result.

Brazil -1


South Africa +1




To back the draw as a Brazil -1 selection, then you need the final score, following the handicap adjustment, to be level. So if you backed the Handicap Draw and Brazil were to win 1-0, 2-1, 6-5 or by any scoreline of just a one goal margin, the bet wins because the handicap score ends level. 

If you bet the Handicap Draw and Brazil were to win 3-1 for example, then final handicap-adjusted score would be 2-1, so no draw and the bet loses. 

No Draw Handicap Match

Some punters just want a definite outcome without the possibility of a push to happen in handicap betting. So this is achieved in the No Draw Handicap Match. In it, there will simply be handicap lines set with half points.

If South Africa were +6.5 points for a rugby match against New Zealand, on the day, no team can physically score half a point. So even if New Zealand won by six points, the bet on South Africa would be won because the handicap draw can’t happen. No draw can happen.

Asian Handicaps

Another variant of handicap betting is alternative lines such as with Asian Handicaps. Heavily used on soccer betting primarily, Asian Handicap, in principle follows the same as straight European handicaps. However, the key difference is that you get situations of a split handicap. 

There are quarter and half handicap lines involved. In Asian Handicap betting, a -1 whole goal handicap on Brazil to beat South Africa would return the stake if Brazil only won by a 1 goal margin. So in the case of a push, the stake is refunded. In a regular handicap. The stake would have been lost.

A stake on an option, such as -1.25 Asian Handicap means that half of the stake is going on a -1 Handicap and the other on a 1.50 Asian Handicap line. So going back to Brazil and picking them at a 1.5 Asian Handicap, if the Brazilians   win by two goals then both parts of the bet are won. That’s because the two-goal margin is bigger than both the individual -1 and -1.5 options included in the bet. 

However, if Brazil won by a 1 goal margin on the pitch, the -1.5 handicap part Brazil didn’t beat, so that part of the stake would be lost. But as a stake refund is paid on a whole goal handicap draw, you would end up getting half of your overall stake back. Or, another way to  look at it would be a half stake loss.

R10 stake

-1.25 Asian Handicap = R5 at -1 and R5 at -1.50)

Brazil win by 1 goal

R5 stake on - 1.50 losses

R5 stake on - 1 is a push, the stake is refunded

Total Stake R10, Return R5 

Handicap betting initially developed in Indonesia and is a great dynamic to try and add to sports betting. It creates scenarios where there is not such a big discrepancy between favourites and underdogs, and therefore value is brought to the table. 

Handicapping in sports betting is a definite skill that may take some time to pick up. It’s not as confusing as it may first appear, however. It’s a skill worth looking at and understanding, because reading a handicap line successfully in a game, can lead to excellent wagering opportunities.

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