In sports betting, most bettors look to favourites when making their decisions. Betting on underdogs is considered something only novice bettors indulge in - a short, sharp thrill that rarely yields results, because underdogs don't win. Or do they? Here are four reasons why betting on the underdog might not be such a bad punt.
Sports betting is often just one big popularity contest. A named favourite, whether it's in boxing, football or horse racing, will always get more publicity and hype than their competitor. For this reason, it's easy for bookmakers – and the betting public – to ignore the underdog. If a pundit tells the public that a certain team is going to win because of X, Y or Z, the public believes it and will jump on the bandwagon, narrowing that team/individual's odds, even if their form is comparable to their competitor. Spotting when this happens, can help you identify a good underdog bet.
A successful football team, a seeded tennis player, a Formula 1 race driver on a winning streak: they will all often get over-confident, which makes the underdog perfectly placed to deliver an upset. In football betting, the FA Cup is famous for this, because the games are (for the most part) one-off fixtures that will never be repeated. A lower club being drawn against Premiership opposition is never expected to win. Because of this, there is no pressure on the underdog, no expectation, and therefore they have nothing to lose. Bookmakers will always decide odds on stats, facts and form. Magic, chance, serendipity and, most importantly, the psychological arrogance of the favourite, have nothing to do with deciding odds, but everything to do with a result.
Researching the psychological, as well as statistical, parameters of a sporting event, will help identify a good underdog bet. Knowing the head-to-head history of two competitors can give you an edge in identifying a possible upset scenario. For instance, in snooker betting, if World No.2 Mark Williams is drawn against World No.40 Jamie Burnett, the odds would naturally favour Williams. But say Williams had never beaten Burnett in any of their previous meetings, then this would give Burnett a valuable psychological edge - something bookmakers rarely consider.
Live, in-play betting makes your bet more exciting. It can also help you salvage a bad underdog bet, or exploit a slip-up by a favourite. For example, in tennis in-play betting, Andy Murray might start a US Open match with Tommy Haas as 1/2 favourite, with Haas at 4/1. The bettor places £10 on a Haas win, knowing Haas has beaten Murray before. Haas breaks Murray early, and Murray's odds go to 3/2. The bettor then places a £10 back bet on Murray, to back up his initial underdog bet. So, if Haas goes on to win, the punter's profit is £30, but if Murray turns things around and wins, the punter still profits by £5, thus covering both bets. The key to 'safe' underdog in-play betting is knowing when to back bet at odds to cover your outlay, should your underdog forget to bite.
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