What is Contrarian Betting? Does Contrarian Betting work?

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What is Contrarian Betting? Does Contrarian Betting work?

What is football-based Contrarian Betting? How to use more information to make better betting decisions.



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Updated on 13 November 2018
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If you’ve spent any time at all researching betting strategies, one thing will have become instantly clear – there are a whole lot of them out there. These cover a wide variety of approaches, in terms of their risks, stakes, longevity, and so on.


In this article, I’m going to discuss a rather unusual betting strategy – contrarian betting. I’ll describe how it works, how you can carry it out yourself, and the associated risks.


Let’s get started.

What is contrarian betting?


Contrarian betting is actually more popular with North American sports bettors, particularly those who wager on the NFL. There’s absolutely no reason, however, why it can’t be applied to football too.


In short, contrarian betting involves finding markets where there’s a lot of action on one outcome… and then betting the opposite outcome.


In some ways, it’s a bet on basic human psychology. In betting, there can often be a herd mentality. If a wager becomes popular, it automatically attracts more and more action, and becomes even more popular. The actual probability of the bet winning hasn’t changed! All that’s changed is the action.


One of a bookmaker’s biggest priorities is to create equal action. If there’s a massive amount of action on one bet, and that bet does come in, then the bookie loses a lot of money. Obviously, they don’t want that to happen.


How do they avoid this scenario, and limit their exposure? When one bet is proving incredibly popular, bookies will artificially inflate the odds on the opposite bet, to invite action on it. These odds create excellent value, and this is exactly the opportunity contrarian bettors are looking for.


How do you do perform contrarian betting?


So, that’s what contrarian betting is. Now, I’ll explain how you can do it yourself.


The first and most important thing you must do, of course, is to identify contrarian betting opportunities. You need to find out which bets the public are piling into, so that you can take the other side.


The unscientific way to do this would be to scour the odds yourself, and find some which seem artificially inflated. This requires having an excellent  grasp of the sport, though. You’d need to be a real expert to calculate the “correct” odds for yourself, based on actual probability, and subsequently identify odds that are “incorrect”.


Fortunately, there is a better way. There are quite a few websites out there where you can find data on betting volume. This will usually be shown as a percentage – i.e. if Chelsea are playing Everton, 75% of the public might be betting on Chelsea to win.


BetExplorer is one well-respected option. It shows you the popularity of each bet, based on the percentage of users who’ve clicked on it.


At the time of writing, for example, Brest are soon to play Nancy in Ligue 2. A whopping 88% of users have clicked on Brest to win, implying they will then commit to betting on that result.


This is a classic example of a situation in which a contrarian bettor would take Nancy to either draw or win. The average odds for those markets are a hefty 3.91 and 6.93 respectively, compared to 1.48 for a Brest win.


Another excellent resource is Odds Scanner. This handy tool constantly scans the odds for basically every professional game in the world, and automatically identifies which are rising or falling substantially.


If odds are rising dramatically, this implies the bookies are juicing them up in order to invite action to balance their exposure. Again, this would present a good opportunity for a contrarian bettor to strike.


In terms of an exact number, you want to look for around 70-75% of the betting public to be backing one outcome before you strike. That might sound like a lot, but you see these kinds of percentages all the time.


Once you’ve identified an opportunity which fulfils these criteria, all you have to do is place the bet.  

Does contrarian betting work?


The simple answer is “yes”.


Again, contrarian betting is a popular strategy in North America. If it didn’t work, then people wouldn’t follow it. It makes logical sense, and has been statistically proven to be successful.


Logically, well… there’s a reason why bookmakers stay in business. It’s because most bettors lose money in the long term. Basically, why would you want to follow the wisdom of the crowd when “the crowd” loses money?!


For this same reason, the contrarian approach is popular in other walks of life too. Many investors will specifically invest in assets that most people don’t want any part of, or short those which everybody seems to love.


As in sports betting, they believe that the public has significantly overreacted in one direction, and that there’s money to be made taking the opposite side. Ever seen the movie “The Big Short?” That’s basically contrarian betting!


As I mentioned, this is also a betting strategy which has been statistically proven to work. In the past 10 years in the NFL, for example, contrarian bets have won 55% of the time going against popular public markets.


Other studies have that percentage to even higher, at up to 60%. Either way, that’s definitely a good enough winning percentage to make a healthy profit.

What are the Contrarian Betting drawbacks?


There’s no such thing as a perfect betting strategy, of course. And, like all other plans, contrarian betting does have its risks.


Firstly, there’s no guarantee of success here. Plans like matched betting and arbitrage betting – if they’re executed correctly – will always make you money. They’re specifically designed to.


By contrast, contrarian betting exposes you to the same major risk as many other plans out there. Namely that if you go on a cold streak (which is always a possibility), you could blow up your account.


Secondly, there isn’t a tremendous amount of structure with contrarian betting. Again, with something like matched betting, you have everything laid out for you. It’s simply a case of following the process step-by-step.


With contrarian betting, however, the only real guideline is that you should bet against the public. There are no established rules on things like the odds you should be looking for, or the size of your stakes (though a staking plan could help with this, of course).


Finally, you must also remember that – whilst inviting action is one of a bookie’s motivations for setting its odds – it isn’t the only one. It might be overrated as a factor, but sheer probability still needs to be taken into account.


If Chelsea are playing a League Two side in the FA Cup, for example, you might see 90% of the money going on a Chelsea win. If you bet on the underdog, then obviously you stand to make money while everyone else loses.

But… the chances of that actually happening are incredibly slim. Realistically, you’ll probably just lose your stake.

Who is this form of betting best suited to?


Contrarian betting is not (suited to people who are entirely risk-averse. As I’ve outlined above, this is not a “sure thing”- style betting strategy. There’s no guarantee of success or profits, while there is a possibility you could lose money.


Contrarian betting is suited for people who don’t mind doing a bit of research
. If you’re reading this article, then you are literally doing betting research right now… so you probably fit into this category!


Seriously though, you need to be willing to commit time to scouring betting volume on a number of games, and subsequently analysing the markets.


You also do need to have a good, up-to-date understanding of football in general. As I touched on in the last section, contrarian betting isn’t as simple as looking at betting volumes, seeing one bet is being hammered by 80% of punters, and taking the opposite side.


Really, it’s part science and part art. Once you’ve found a potential candidate, you still need to analyse whether or not it’s a smart bet. You’re looking for value, remember. A League Two side playing against Chelsea are rarely going to offer good value.


Let’s say there are two Premier League teams playing, though. One of them has simply hit a bad run of form, so everybody’s taking the other team. That might be an opportunity to find some value.


Finally, as with a lot of betting plans, patience is vital. You will lose some bets. You’ll probably have hot streaks and cold streaks. Remember, though, that you need to let contrarian betting play out over the long term.

Final thoughts...


On a personal level, I think contrarian betting is an interesting strategy. I certainly like the logic behind it. The house always wins, eventually, and in this case you’re betting with the house.


It’s not my favourite betting strategy, though. As mentioned in the Drawbacks section, there’s not a huge amount of structure to it. Also, it very much leaves you open to the kinds of cold streaks that can blow up your account.


Overall, I wouldn’t recommend committing real money to a contrarian betting strategy straight away.


Instead, create a spreadsheet, start identifying contrarian positions which you’re interested in, note down a fake stake in the spreadsheet, and start recording your results. After a while, you should start to gain an idea as to whether contrarian betting works for you or not.


Good luck!


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