Despite their prominence across Asia, where they are absolutely the popular way to bet on football, it's not really a surprise that handicaps are still a mystery for many British gamblers.
Faced with the prospect of betting on teams with the seemingly nonsensical head start of a half or a quarter of a goal, and dealing with the complexities of terms like 'split balls', and concepts such as simultaneously winning and losing a bet (!) it's only natural that many football fans head straight back to the familiarity of the fixed-odds coupons.
Nonetheless, to dismiss this fascinating and often highly profitable form of gambling as too complex or merely the preserve of betting anoraks would be to brush aside a betting opportunity that many people would argue offers significantly better value than traditional forms of football betting.
So how does it work? The basic concept is very easy to understand. An Asian handicap market maker offers the team he thinks will lose, a head start, generally known as the 'handicap'. This handicap is expressed in goals or fractions of goals.
In every game there are two alernatives for punters - back the team with the handicap start, or the team conceding it. Here is an example.
In a game such as Liverpool versus Arsenal, Liverpool are considered the underdogs and receive a 0.5 goal head start or handicap (+0.5). Arsenal are favourites and concede a half goal head start (-0.5). The handicaps effectively eliminate the draw, so the proposition for the punter is as follows: will Arsenal win this match or will Liverpool avoid defeat?
Let's say it's a tight game, but the final score goes to form and Arsenal win 2-1. In this case, if you had gambled on Arsenal, your bet would have been successful because they beat Liverpool by more than 0.5 of a goal. If you had backed Liverpool, your bet would have been a loser because they lost by a larger amount than the head start or handicap allocated to them (+0.5 of a goal).
If the game had been a tie such as, 1-1 then those who had bet on Liverpool with a +0.5 goal head start would have been successful (as +0.5 of a goal head start meant they won the game on the handicap), while those who had bet on Arsenal would have lost their bet (as Arsenal had failed to overcome the -0.5 goal deficit).
In that game, those who thought that Liverpool would put up a good performance against Arsenal without being convinced that they would be able to win the match were able to place bet using Asian handicaps knowing that only in the event of a defeat for the Anfield men would their bet be a losing one. Asian Handicaps allowed them bet on Liverpool not losing the match.
Asian handicap betting also offers a far more practical betting option for punters in games where the teams are badly mismatched. Let's say Manchester United are playing Scunthorpe at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. The probable, traditional fixed-odds prices would be something like:
For most people, this would be a no-bet situation. With Asian handicaps, however, punters could take a view on how dominant Manchester United would be in the match. The likely Asian handicap betting would be:
The proposal for punters would be whether Manchester United could win by more than two goals or whether Scunthorpe will be able to avoid a thrashing and keep the deficit down to under three.
Whether you fancy a whitewash or a close game, with both options likely to be priced at just under even money, Asian handicap betting allows the opportunity to take a view on even the most one-sided of matches.
Asian handicaps also give a beneficial additional option on matches between more evenly-matched sides. For instance, if there was a game at Highbury between Arsenal and a decent Premiership team like Newcastle. The likely handicap would be:
In this match, if you wanted Newcastle to put up a decent display, without necessarily doing enough to win, there are plenty of non-Asian handicap options available. Fixed-odds gamblers should consider split stakes for instance, Newcastle winning and the draw, while exchange punters may consider laying Arsenal on the spreads.
Say the match finishes 1-0 to Arsenal. For those who had bet on any of the options above, it would be close, but not close enough. But for punters who had supported Newcastle on the Asian handicaps, an Arsenal win by just one goal would allow them to get their money back, as the match would be level on the handicap. Therefore, gamblers who think Newcastle will do better than anticipated are able to use Asian handicaps to support their opinion with the added sophistication of a return of stakes if they are nearly right, but Arsenal sneak a victory by a single goal.
The area where many punters start to scratch their heads is when it comes to what are known as 'split balls'. This is where the handicap appears, for example as:
What does this indicate? In truth, split balls are nothing more than a simple way of allowing market makers to produce more accurate handicaps. In some matches, the relative strengths of the teams concerned cannot be quantified on the handicap by either a whole or half goal, because the odds maker's opinion lies somewhere in between.
So with a handicap of 0,+0.5, half of your stake would be placed at 0 and half your stake would be placed at +0.5.
Let's take an example. In a match between Fulham and Aston Villa, Fulham are slight favourites, and so would be conceding a small handicap to Villa. But in the opinion of the market maker, their advantage is less than half a goal. The Asian handicap might therefore look like this:
(this means, half your bet on Fulham, half your bet on Fulham conceding 0.5 of a goal)
(this indicates, half your bet on Villa, half your bet on Villa receiving 0.5 of a goal)
This conveys that if you bet €100 on Fulham at 0,-0.5, and they won 2-0:
If, on the other hand you had bet €100 on Fulham and they drew 2-2:
Finally, if you bet €100 on Villa and they draw 2-2:
Winning half and losing half your wager is frequently a difficult concept for fixed odds punters to get to grips with. However, for the shrewd punter, the benefits of backing Fulham with the added bonus of receiving half your stake back in the event of a draw represents a considerable advantage over a traditional bet in what will clearly be a tight match.
Similarly, if you fancied Villa to do well, the only way you could support that view with a fixed-odds bet would be to back them for a win. An Asian handicap split ball will allow you a winning yield for half your stake, even if they only manage a draw.
Evidently, Asian handicap betting can provide a flexible and innovative alternative to the traditional, three-way pricing of fixed-odds betting.
With a much wider selection and flexibility for shrewd punters, additional options in one-sided matches and the safety net of returned stakes in others, it's no wonder that Asian handicaps have revolutionised the way people bet on football across the world. Punters in the UK should make it their mission to take more of this action for themselves.