One of the hardest things to explain to people with only a casual (and often stubborn) understanding of betting, is the concept of value.
Understanding value is the key to long term betting success. It might seem like common sense to a seasoned betting veteran but to the inexperienced, it can be a difficult concept to adjust to. Learning to bet hard earned money on teams that nobody thinks are a chance to win can feel a little like learning to repel down the outside of a building. At some point you just have to let go and have faith in your preparation.
The task is of course, developing a sense of betting value you can have confidence in. And it’s not an easy thing to develop, but there are things you can do, to start developing your own intuitive sense for value.
Jump to section
Being a successful bettor is in understanding the difference between a team’s chances of winning and the chances of that team winning in comparison to the betting odds on offer. Success in betting is continually finding value bets and patiently betting on these value bets coupled with a staking plan that makes the most of the value identified, regardless of how improbable the particular outcome may seem.
Sometimes it takes seeing it with your own eyes. Think of all those times when there was a major upset. You’ll often think to yourself, who would have bet on that team to win that? Well, shrewd experienced bettors, that’s who.
Understanding value betting and finding value bets is the key to long term betting success. To an experienced bettor, it might seem like common sense but for someone new to betting, making the shift from sports fan to serious bettor with an understanding of betting value can be a difficult task.
It’s not easy feeling comfortable betting hard earned money on a team that absolutely nobody thinks has a realistic chance to win. But becoming a successful sports bettor requires just this. Finding value bets and consistently backing them, no matter how uncomfortable it may make you feel, is what makes a successful sports bettor.
Before we discuss the methods for developing a sense for betting value, let’s first briefly discuss the concept of value betting itself. In particular, how to calculate value bets..
What is a value bet? A value bet is simply a bet where the likelihood of a given outcome is greater than what the odds on offer reflect. Let’s consider a coin toss. When tossing a coin, there is a 50% chance that it will land on heads. Let’s say that a bookmaker is offering odds of 2.10 for the coin to land on heads. This is a value bet. Why? This is how we calculate a value bet:
- Value = (Probability * Decimal Odds) – 1
- Value = 1.05 – 1
- If the value is greater than 0, then we have found a value bet
- So in our example, do we have a value bet?
- Value = 0.05
So betting on the coin to land on heads at odds of 2.10 is a value bet. Betting on sports however is a little trickier. Unlike a coin toss, we do not know the precise probability for a given outcome. We may give our best estimate on who may win an upcoming Premier League match between West Brom and Manchester City, but it can only ever be out best estimate. And this is the task of successful sports betting. A successful sports bettor finds value bets by estimating the likelihood of given outcomes better than a bookmaker does.
Developing a sense for betting value you can have confidence in is no easy thing to achieve. Like all good things, it takes time and effort. Here’s how to improve your chances of finding value bets.
When you first start betting on sports, it’s a good idea to specialise. In particular, it’s a good idea to specialise in leagues and tournaments you are already familiar with. After you have developed your sense for betting value by focusing on leagues you know well, you will then be able to apply what you have learned to other leagues and tournaments. Bet on what you know best first before you begin to expand your field of expertise.
At least in the beginning of your betting career, it’s a good idea to specialise in particular sports or leagues. And it’s a good idea to do so in a sport or league you already know well. Start with the leagues you know best in terms of team performance and history. Once you begin to investigate the leagues you know well, you can then apply what you have learnt to other leagues you don’t know as well.
Yes, baseball offers a tremendous number of betting opportunities each season. But if you know little about the sport, you’re wasting your time and it’s doubtful you will quickly develop a sense of for value. Bet what you know best first before you begin to expand your field of expertise.
You don’t need to be a maths wiz to find value bets. But what you do need is to understand probability. Why? Simply because betting odds represent the probability of a particular outcome occurring. This is known as their ‘implied probability’ and is calculated as:
- Implied Probability = 1 / decimal odds
- So if we use our coin toss example, the implied probability for the odds of 2.10, is:
- Implied Probability = 1 / 2.101
- Implied Probability = 47.62%
So the odds being offered suggest the chance of the coin landing heads is 47.62%. But we estimate (well, in this example, we know) that the probability for a coin landing heads is 50%. This is what makes this a value bet, because the chances of the coin landing on heads is greater than the probability reflected in the odds on offer.
This is a great exercise and will help you develop your ability to find value bets. You sit down and look at the upcoming fixtures in the leagues or tournaments you bet on and come up with what you think the odds should be for each match. You do this without looking at any bookmaker odds. It’s just your opinion, nobody else’s.
What you want to come up with is what we refer to as ‘the uncomfortable compromise’. You’re not setting the odds you would like to see the bookmakers offer, you are setting odds that you would not feel comfortable betting on yourself. So if for example you are betting on the Asian Handicap market for the match between West Brom and Manchester City, you want to come up with a handicap that if the bookmakers themselves set as the handicap for the match, you would not feel comfortable betting on either side of that handicap, whether it be Manchester City -1 goal or West Brom +1 goal, or whatever you feel a fair handicap for that match should be. In this task, you are essentially playing the role of the bookmaker.
We can’t emphasise how helpful this task can be to a punter who just starting out in sports betting. Setting your own odds gets you thinking in terms of probabilities and by checking the results of your own odds, it allows you to pit your betting wits against the experienced bookmakers. It takes time to do. Yes. Think of it like going to the betting gym. There are days you may not want to do it, but in the long run, your betting fitness will only improve.
This is key to developing an intuitive sense for value. The task is to come to what we refer to as ‘the uncomfortable compromise’. You’re not composing the odds you would like to see the bookmakers post, you are composing odds that you would not feel comfortable taking yourself. We can’t emphasise how helpful this task can be to an aspiring punter just starting out. It gets your head thinking in terms of probabilities and by checking the results of your own prices, it allows you to pit yourself against the shrewd and experienced bookmakers.
It takes time to do. It takes effort. There can be weeks where you can’t be bothered doing it. But doing this religiously each week of the season for the sport or league you plan to specialise in can quickly sharpen your nose for value.
Don’t ever forget that it’s a betting market. The pull and sway of general opinion is going to set the odds. Making this a habitual way of thinking is not only hard to do, but can at times reduce the sport you love so much, to a matter of mere economics.
Sometimes you might wish you could just watch a football match and not be wondering about how the outcome may impact next week’s odds or how the overwhelming number of casual punters might persuade the odds for an upcoming match in a particular direction based on what they have seen in this match. Will that persuasion offer value in the opposite direction? Will the market over-react?
Once your head gets wired in this way, it’s very hard to undo. It might mean an end to your romantic notions of the noble purity of sport. But for understanding and identifying value betting, that’s a good thing.
You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Much of the work in developing a mindset for value is in reviewing how your previous assessments have performed. Where did you get it right? Where did you get it wrong? When you start out pricing up matches, you’re prone to exhibit pre-conceived biases. Some may be accurate. Many will not.
You can remedy this by reviewing your assessments at the conclusion of matches as well as undertaking analysis of how your sport or league has performed in recent years. For example, what is home-field advantage worth in real terms? Does the market over-value it? Does the market have a general and long-term bias for or against particular clubs or clubs playing in particular situations? All of this can help you tune your mind to value.
Yes, it’s work. What else did you expect it to be? Never think you know it all and always be prepared to reassess. It’s this kind of study, review and analysis that will keep you one step ahead of the market.
Like developing any kind of skill or talent, developing your ability to find value bets takes time. The development of an intuitive sense for betting value and ‘gut feel’ for the betting markets will often provide the basis for any success going forward, even if you plan a more abstract approach such as the development of a betting model. Knowledge is power and the greatest knowledge comes through experience. And experience worth anything is experience well earned.
Finally, recognise that it takes time. It’s like developing any kind of craft. Even if you intend to develop sophisticated betting models for predicting the probable outcomes of matches, the development of an intuitive sense for value and ‘gut feel’ for the betting markets will often provide the basis for even such an abstract approach.
Knowledge is power and the greatest knowledge is experience. Essentially, this is the task when developing a sense for value. In the end, it’s a matter of developing rich and deep experience for the betting markets and experience worth anything is experience well earned.