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Can an underdog betting system be profitable?
An underdog betting system sounds easy to understand, but it’s likely to be more difficult to profit.
Published on 11 December 2018
Updated on 11 December 2018
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It could be argued that an underdog betting system asks you to defy logic. If a football team is an underdog then – by the very definition of the word – they’re less likely to win… and you’re supposed to be betting money on them.
Of course, in reality there’s a lot more nuance to it than that. Often, some of the best value can be found in teams who aren’t expected to win, and savvy bettors can exploit these opportunities for financial gain.
Are these people just getting lucky… or is sports betting underdog system viable? That will be the main question I seek to answer in this piece. On the way, I’ll outline how to pick a good underdog, the associated risks of this strategy, and much more.
Let’s get started.
How to recognise underdogs
The basics of recognising an underdog are obviously pretty simple. In any football match, there will be three outcomes: Home Win, Draw and Away Win. Whichever side has the higher odds to win is the favourite. Whichever has the lower odds it the underdog.
In the context of actual underdog betting, though, this definition is generally too literal. If the home team is 2/1 to win, and the away team is 5/2… it’s not like you’re exploiting a massive price difference! Your big wins are usually going to come in games where you’re really going against the bookie, and/or the general betting public, and taking teams that are clear underdogs.
Also, you should be aware that bookies will usually bake a home advantage into their odds recipe. In the aforementioned example, whilst the away team is technically the “underdog”… when you consider that the home team has an automatic advantage, the odds difference is effectively wiped out. Remember to take this into account when you go hunting for ‘dogs.
Why would you want to bet them?
Or, to give this section its longer title, “why on earth would you want to bet a team that’s probably going to lose?!”
Well, taking underdogs isn’t actually as crazy as it sounds. The main thinking behind this system is that the odds are mistaken, in the sense that they don’t reflect the actual probability of the result. There are two main reasons why this might happen.
Firstly, the bookie might have simply made a mistake and put the underdog’s odds too high. This happens more often than you might think, and in extreme cases (e.g. Leicester City winning the Premier League) can even make national news. Whilst you might think of bookies as enormous, faceless corporate behemoths, in reality they’re still vulnerable to human error.
Secondly, the betting public might have swayed the odds. Bookies initially set odds based mostly on hard data. If the betting public piles onto the favourite, then the bookie will subsequently raise the odds on the underdog, thus making them more attractive and inviting action.
Either way, this presents an opportunity for the underdog bettor. Either they think that the current odds no longer reflect reality, or they believe that the current odds represent a level of value that’s simply irresistible.
As an example, let’s say Chelsea are playing Burnley at home. Chelsea start off as 1/1 favourites on William Hill, with Burnley at 4/1. The public piles onto Chelsea, and – in response – William Hill raise Burnley to 6/1 underdogs. Nothing has happened on the football pitch yet. Burnley are no less likely to win than they were to begin with. All that’s changed is the betting odds. This would present a tantalising target for an underdog bettor.
Betting on underdogs
So, now you know the basics of spotting an underdog. Time to get into the nitty-gritty of how you should actually bet on them.
One important thing you should know about underdog betting is that there’s no single, defined “system”. It’s not like arbitrage betting, for example, in which every step is clearly outlined for you.
Getting the best odds
Whilst the specifics vary, all the approaches have certain things in common. One of those things, as you might expect, is getting the best possible price! Once you’ve settled on an underdog, you obviously want the highest odds you can get.
If you’re using bookmakers, make sure you have accounts with a variety of different sites. Then, once you’ve selected an underdog, use a website like Oddschecker to find the best odds.
Alternatively, many underdog bettors prefer to use a betting exchange, like Betfair. The benefit to this approach is that you’ll almost certainly find higher odds than you would with a bookie. The downside is that exchanges charge commissions, so you have to make sure those superior odds are enough to balance out this additional charge.
Given that there’s no set, defined approach to underdog betting, you can essentially get as complex with it as you like.
At the most basic level, you could simply bet on every underdog you find.
Needless to say, I do not recommend this strategy. You do need to exercise at least a little judgement. If Lincoln City travel to the Etihad to play Man City… well, you’ll probably get good odds on them to win! The chances of them actually doing so are almost non-existent, however, so you’d simply be throwing your money away.
A better basic strategy is to take underdogs playing at home.
Home ‘dogs are far less common than those playing away, because – as I mentioned earlier – bookies automatically add in “home field advantage”. You can certainly find them, however, and they actually win at a rate of over 15%. If you can get odds reflecting a probability of less than 15%, therefore, you’re in with a chance at making a long-term profit.
More advanced approaches
Let’s look at something a little more complex. There are few safer gambling systems than arbitrage betting and some smart cookies like to blend underdog betting with the hedging elements of arbing.
Arbitrage betting is usually done pre-match, but this is difficult to do with underdogs, simply because you’re highly unlikely to be able to make the odds balance out. A far better way to do it is by waiting for the game to begin, watching the odds, and striking with an in-play bet when you see an opportunity. Given the volatile nature of live odds, these opportunities come around more often than you might think.
The most common method for doing this is to bet the underdog pre-match, as you normally would, then take the favourite if their odds start to go up. Whilst you’re not guaranteeing yourself a profit here, as you would with regular arbing, you are helping to minimize potential losses by hedging your bets.
Finally, you can simply sign up for a service that does all the hard work for you. There are plenty of websites out there which calculate their own probabilities for a match, based on all manner of stats and algorithms. Find one you like (preferably one which has a proven track record), and look for games where the site’s probability of an underdog win is substantially higher than what the bookies’ odds suggest.
As I mentioned in my introduction, when you bet an underdog you’re flying in the face of basic logic. Herein lies the biggest risk.
A bookie’s number one priority is to make money. Their odds are carefully calculated to do just that. Whilst of course they want to invite action, their focus is on limiting their own exposure. Basically, the odds are what they are for a reason. The bookie hasn’t picked one team as the favourite, and the other as the underdog, to trick you. They’ve done it because one team is simply more likely to win, and the other to lose.
Given their size and expertise, you have to assume the bookies have arrived at this conclusion through using statistics, historical data, and so on. You’re going against all of that by taking the underdog.
Quite simply, when you take the underdog, the chances are you’re going to lose. I’d say that’s a pretty big risk.
Following on from that, the biggest specific risk – on a practical level – is that you’ll blow up your betting account. Again, that’s… not exactly ideal!
Primarily, this is because you’re far more prone to runs of losing bets. When you’re taking safer picks, you should ideally be aiming for a winning percentage of at least 50%. The chances of you going on a prolonged losing run are highly unlikely (though not impossible).
With underdog betting, every bet you take has a probability of substantially less than 50% of coming in. If you’re going for big underdogs, you’ll be looking at chances of around 15% or less. In this case, the chances of you putting together a string of losses are obviously far higher. You either need to be happy accepting this risk, or have a big enough bankroll to ride out these bumpy patches.
Final thoughts on underdog betting
The extent to which underdog betting is suited to you depends entirely on your own betting preferences.
If you like a little risk in your gambling, or prefer a home run strategy compared to a slow-and-steady plan, then this should be your kind of thing. If you prefer something safer, with a better chance of and long-term returns and success… I’d steer well clear of underdog betting.
Overall, it’s simply not a reliable method for making a profit. Personally, whilst I like the idea of exploiting the betting public’s tendencies, and the bookies’ pricing mistakes, there’s simply too much risk here for me. If you’re a braver bettor than I, though, then I wish you all the luck in the world!
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