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The Hunt for Value in Sports Betting

Value betting is when you identify a betting opportunity that is more likely to happen than the betting odds suggest. For example, Manchester United may be priced at odds of 4.00 to defeat Leeds United. If you think the true odds are nearer 3.00, then this can be classed as a value bet.

A value bet won’t win every time – it may not even provide a profit over a given week or month – but if you can identify value and have it in your favour, your long-term profits will be proof of your ability to find value when betting on sports.

Read on to learn how to master finding value bets.

How to Identify Value Bets

Man looking through magnifying glass with bet slip in background

In a previous article, we looked at probability, odds and the overround (see here). This gave the basics that you need to consider to fully get to grips with the topic of finding ‘value’ in sports betting.

As a summary, bookmakers use odds to represent the probability of an outcome happening within an event. For example, the majority of bookmakers had Teaforthree priced at decimal odds of 9.00 – or 8/1 in fractional odds – to win The Grand National, which equates to a 11.11% chance of the horse winning at Aintree.

However, bookmakers are in the business of making money, so give punters a disadvantage by giving reduced rates (actual odds rather than true odds) to ensure that they have an edge – or overround – which gives them the best chance of taking your money.

When bookmakers set unfair prices, employ hundreds of intelligent mathematicians and have very deep pockets, we could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve got no hope of making profit in the long-term. All is not lost though. An opportunity does exist if we are able to more accurately predict the outcome of an event compared to the bookmakers, particularly as the outcome of most sporting events do not have a set probability like casino games such as roulette.

We don’t need to be able to out-predict the bookies’ on everything, but if we can find a niche and spot where we think the bookies’ have mispriced based on their probabilities compared to ours, then there may be a chance of making money over the long-term.

This is the crux of value betting – looking for opportunities where you feel that the bookies’ are offering higher odds than you’d expect in any market and on any sport.

If you’ve ever looked at odds and thought “10.00 looks a good price for Judd Trump to win the World Snooker Championship” or “Groves to beat Froch is massive at 2.30”, then this is value betting in its simplest of guises. Essentially, you are identifying where you think the odds are too high based on your own perception.

There are many ways of trying to identify value in sports betting – this can range from the simplest of methods, like above, which is based on gut feel and knowledge of a sport, through to complex mathematical models using power ratings, Poission distribution, Elo ratings, multinomial probit model and Pythagorean theorem – all of which will be looked at in more detail in future articles.

you need to ensure that you are very structured and disciplined in your approach and have an exceptional knowledge of the markets

There are many arguments that surround value betting, with some people living by the concept religiously whilst others disregard it. Personally, value betting is at the centre of my betting behaviour and I ‘try’ to ensure that every bet I place represents value based on my own compiled odds.

I say ‘try’, because sometimes it is easy to get caught up in a tip to bet on something you don’t know or if you decide to venture into a different sport due to hype and global reach. As such, if you are to take value betting seriously, you need to ensure that you are very structured and disciplined in your approach and have an exceptional knowledge of the markets, which unfortunately does require time and effort to get it right.

Value Betting Myths and Misconceptions

There are a few myths and misconceptions when it comes to value betting, which often adds to the confusion about whether value betting is beneficial or not.

  • Low odds don’t offer value – some people claim that you need high odds to get value, however this is not true. Value is value, regardless of how low the odds. If bookmakers offer odds of 1.15 but you think that the odds should be 1.10 based on your projected probability, then this is still value as you are getting a better price than you should be entitled to. Granted, you aren’t going to see your betting bank increase rapidly after each bet, but your focus should be on long term profit, not just the return from each bet.
  • The bigger the odds, the better value – similarly to above, you may find that some people say that you get more value with bigger odds. Again, this is not true as value should be measured as the difference between your expected odds and those of the bookmakers. Getting odds of 1.90 (53% probability) on a bet which you think has a 70% chance of winning (odds should be 1.43) is better value than placing a bet on odds of 5.00 (20% probability) when the chance of it happening is 21% (odds of 4.77). Yes, the return on the higher odds is greater, but doesn’t necessarily represent the better value.
  • Accumulators don’t offer value – bets with multiple selections are a bit of a mug’s game. With every bet you add to an accumulator, your chance of actually winning the bet decreases. Even though you might be on an acca with 25.00 odds and think it sounds very tempting, the actual probability of winning the bet will usually be considerably less than the odds on offer. However, this isn’t to say that accumulators don’t offer value – they do, but only if each leg of your accumulator is a value bet.

Even when you find value though, sometimes the bookies can use their carefully worded terms and conditions to wriggle out of paying. Bookmakers reserve the right to void a bet if they decide that they have made a palpable or obvious error.

This is a somewhat unknown rule which is in place as a safe guard to protect the bookies if they make a mistake with their odds – for example, if a trader accidently gives Michael van Gerwen odds of 25.00 rather than 2.50 to retain the PDC World Darts Championship.

Columns and rows of decimal betting odds

Examples of Bookmakers Making Mistakes With Their Odds

A quick Google search shows some of the positive and negative consequences of bookmakers making mistakes with their odds which have hit the newspapers over the past years, including:

  • A punter lost out on more than £8,000 after 888sport game him the wrong odds on a winning bet, meaning his £100 football accumulator pocketed £1,217 rather than the expected £9,250.
  • A golf fan was given a £66 good-will gesture by 888sport rather than the £1,250 he expected on his £1 each-way bet for Bubba Watson to win the US Masters – he was given Tom Watson’s 1000/1 odds rather than Bubba Watson’s 40/1.
  • A punter pocketed £760 on a £2 ‘correct score and anytime goalscorer’ bet at odds of 380/1, despite a William Hill employee making an error as the bookies did not offer this market – the 380/1 odds should have been on ‘correct score and first goalscorer’ rather than anytime, however the bookies decided to pay out despite their error and the fact that the odds should have been much lower.
  • Many eagle-eyed punters correctly backed Slovenian ski jumper Primoz Peterka to win the opening ski jumping World Cup competition of the 2002/03 season – Peterka had previously been the double World Champion and had won the qualifying competition the night before, however William Hill offered odds of 200/1 when other bookies’ offered 10/1.
  • A man who bet £50 on the Queen to wear a white hat at Royal Ascott was left annoyed when 888sport decided they had made a mistake with the odds – after the punter attempted to claim his winnings, the bookmaker changed the odds from 10/1 to evens citing an error, which meant that he pocketed £100 instead of £550.

The examples above are obviously extreme instances of bookmakers giving incorrect odds. However, it is worthwhile knowing about palpable errors when hunting for value. It is also important to differentiate palpable error from any kind of sportbook scam.

If you get van Gerwen at odds of 25.0 when every other bookmaker is offering 2.50, then yes you’re getting value, but it is due to a major error?

Chances are that your bet will be voided, in which case you’ll either receive your stake back, receive winnings at the ‘correct’ odds or be given a good-will gesture rather than drastically improve your ROI through one bet.

This does raise questions about what constitutes a palpable error and whether it gives bookmakers the option of screwing over the punter whenever they lose heavily, but we’ll leave that for another time!

Win More by Changing Your Betting Mentality

Hunting for value may also mean a slight change in your betting mentality too – if you normally just bet with Ladbrokes “because that’s where I have money deposited” or “because they had decent sign-up bonuses”, then shame on you!

By utilising all of the best betting sites listed here you can quickly and easily see all the odds on offer for a particular bet and therefore find the highest price. You may find that van Gerwen’s Championship odds range from 2.40 to 2.60 with different bookmakers, in which case it makes sense to go with the higher odds as long as it represents value in your eyes.

If you can get just that little bit more on the price, then this will dramatically help you in the long run as those additional 0.1’s add up – that is if your bets win though!

Value Betting Conclusion

Value betting can be time consuming and can take the fun out of betting for some people – if you like your six-fold football accumulators or going to the dogs for a night out, then chances are that value betting isn’t for you. However, searching for value can be a very sensible approach to betting if you are serious about making long term profit and can identify that much searched for edge over our bookmaker friends.

On the subject of value, we used a statistical approach to calculate the true value of football players. You’ll be surprised to discover the most cost-effective players in the Premier League.