Gambling with no risks is an inherent contradiction and, in fact, impossible. However, if you're betting on sports with smart “value bets” and “sure bets” you are limiting risk as much possible and increase your likelihood of winning.
Jump straight to our infographic on how to calculate a value bet.
Sports betting is mostly a matter of calculated risk, i.e., making likely predictions that seem realistic and that offer the highest payoff. Good betting strategies can help in reducing the risk by analyzing the lines you are betting on. When faithfully implemented, value bets and sure bets can reliably allow you to win and build up a stack of cash over time.
But how do you identify good value bets and sure bets?
Value bets explained
In a nutshell, a value bet is when a bookmaker under-estimates the likelihood of an event happening. When this is the case, the odds suggest that the event is less likely to happen than it is in reality.
If you're trying to identify a value bet, you need to ask yourself the question, “Do I have good reason to believe that an upset here is possible?” It's important to know why bookmakers have set their odds the way they have and to recognize why outcomes you think are likely haven't been reflected in the bookmakers' lines. If in your analysis of a game you predict that Team A is likely to upset Team B but the bookmakers' lines are favoring Team B, you might have a good value bet on your hands by betting on the underdog.
Continue reading for detailed examples of how to identify this betting opportunity in an online sportsbook.
A brief reminder on odds and probabilities
When a bookmaker assigns odds to a specific event, they are, in fact, expressing the probability of that particular event happening and the price he is willing to pay out to a bettor wagering on it. Therefore, odds are the price associated with a particular probability and the less probable the event you are betting on, the greater the reward.
A bookmaker, therefore, aims to keep odds high, to attract bettors, but not too high so as to not pay out too many winnings should bettors win. This calculation can be somewhat tricky, and in certain cases, the inaccuracy of the bookmakers' lines can leave bettors with a “value bet”, or a bet where the potential winnings are higher than the actual risk you are taking.
Keep reading here for further information on odds and how they work.
How to calculate a value bet
In order to spot a so-called value bet, you should first estimate the probability of the event yourself. Calculating a value bet in practice can prove a little bit tricky as it relies on your own opinion and subjective interpretation of possibilities associated with a particular competition.
To come up with a realistic probability, it is important to distinguish between your “gut feeling” and reality, meaning that you should analyze the factors one by one, weigh up their importance, and conclude with a realistic probability of all of the possible outcomes.
Once you have formulated an estimated probability, you can use the formulas below to determine whether you have found a value bet.
Favorites (negative odds)
Apply the following formula if the odds are positive (favorite) and if the result is greater than 100, you have spotted a value bet:
((100/absolute value of odds) +1) × estimated probability > 100
Example: if you were to want to place a bet on the NFL game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Redskins and the money line odds for the Seahawks was -315 and you consider that they have an 80% chance of winning the game, you apply the formula above:
((100/315) +1) × 80 = 105.4 > 100
Because the result is greater than 100, you can assert that betting on the Seahawks with odds of -315 for their game against the Redskins is a value bet.
Underdogs (positive odds)
If the odds you are scanning are for an underdog (negative), then use the formula below. Results greater than 100 correspond to a value bet:
((odds/100) + 1) × estimated probability > 100
Example: to re-use the same fixture as above, assuming this time that you wish to bet on the Redskins whose odds are +265 and whose probability of winning you estimate at 30%, you use the underdog formula:
((265/100) + 1) × 30 = 109.5 > 100
The result is higher than 100, betting on the Redskins with moneyline odds of +265 is a value-bet considering your estimate of 30% chance of victory.
The examples for value bets used above are for sports betting, but the principle is the same for horse racing. The use of the term in poker, however, denotes a different concept altogether.
A winning strategy?
Value betting is first and foremost a long-term strategy. The fact that the bookmaker has under-estimated the odds of a certain event occurring does not mean it will necessarily happen. In the long run, however, a bettor employing this strategy will grow his bankroll artificially fast.
Ultimately, finding a value bet depends to some extent on your subjective appreciation of probabilities associated with a given outcome. This means that what you have identified as a value bet will not necessarily be the case for another player and vice versa.
However, as you grow more accustomed to playing the role of the bookie and defining probabilities for events, your predictions skills and those of a similarly experienced bettor will often concur when you have spotted a value bet. You might also find that, as your predicting skills grow more precise, value bets become more difficult to find. As an experienced bettor, you will then naturally move to less known sports where finding value bets will be easier as bookmakers themselves sometimes don't know the sport or follow it carefully enough to formulate coherent odds.
Sure bet: definition and meaning
If the betting strategy of value bets claims to grow your betting account artificially fast, the sure bet strategy claims to yield consistent returns, although at a slower rate. A sure bet aims to remove the uncertainty out of betting. The reasoning itself is quite simple: if you bet on all of the possible outcomes of a sporting event, at least one of your bets will win. It's safer betting for your wallet.
However, players need to be cautious when using this strategy. Indeed, it only works if any given bet that you have made is sufficient to cover the costs of all of the wagers that you have placed on the event. To do so requires:
- Placing different amounts on all of the outcomes possible for a certain event
- Placing wagers with different bookmakers to ensure that you have obtained the highest odds for every outcome
- Calculating in advance to make sure that it is, in fact, a sure bet
Adopting this type of thinking requires moving away from a gambling strategy into a small-return investment placement. Indeed, the quality of your bets will no longer take into account the risk factor, as you are sure to win, but only the expected returns and looking closely to make sure that these are in fact positive.
How to make a sure bet
To make a sure bet, you shouldn't consider an event in particular. Instead, you should be looking primarily at the odds. Once you have identified an event that has the odds spread required to place a sure bet, you should place a wager for the optimal amount on each of the possible outcomes.
For sports betting it is quite self-explanatory, it means that you should calculate which spread of wagers will ensure the highest rate of return, then bet on all of the possible outcomes:
- Victory of Team A
- Victory of Team B
- In certain cases, depending on the sport and the competition, betting on a draw.
Similarly, for horse racing, a sure bet requires you to pick a race, then bet on the victory of every participant in order to end up with a positive balance no matter which horse finished in first place. In a race with 7 horses, that means betting on all 7 horses to win.
How to calculate a sure bet
It is not sufficient to bet on all possible outcomes to ensure a win. It could be the case that a win may not cover the stakes you have placed in all of your separate bets.
In order to have a sure bet, you should bet on all possible outcomes and be certain to profit from it no matter which outcome. This could mean picking odds from different sportsbooks, and therefore having accounts with multiple bookmakers from which to place your bets.
Suppose you are trying to make a sure bet on horse racing and have identified an event in which 5 purebreds are due to compete. With a budget of $1,000, you would place your bets on each horse to win because this ensures that you always manage to make a profit. The odds above are taken from different bookmakers at the start of the race:
|Horse||Amount of wager||Odds||Win|
Note: The odds above are taken from different bookmakers at the start of the race.
Thus, to ensure that you are able to obtain a profit on the race, no matter what the result is, you have to bet on all horses and wager more on the favorite (horse A in this example) and progressively less as you get to the underdogs (horse E in this example). The odds above are taken from different bookmakers at the start of the race:
Considering the $1,000 initial budget in bets, the lowest net gain you can achieve in this example would be $20 (2%) which would be on the higher end of the typical rate of return you would obtain using a sure bet strategy (normally between 1% and 2% return).
The added difficulty, of course, is finding the odds that allow this type of betting as they would have to be taken with multiple bookmakers. Indeed, bookmakers never offer bets on an event whose odds could add up to a sure bet. By doing so they would create an incentive for users to rely on this type of tactic as well as cancel their eventual profit margin on bettors who did not.
Odds calculators and comparators
Many tools claim to assist bettors in finding sure bets. This is one of the many promises of bet calculators and odds comparison websites, not to mention specialized “sure bet guide” schemes which assert that it is possible to rely exclusively on this tactic to earn money in a fast, easy and 100% guaranteed way.
However, the fact remains that odds calculators and comparators are a supplemental tool and to be used in conjunction with other betting assessments. There are several reasons for this:
- The odds in horse racing, for example, are variable and the final odds taken into account on all bets will be the final odds when the race starts.
- The other caveat as that as odds are often fluctuating, it is necessary to rely on the most up to date information in order to ensure that your bet is, in fact, a sure bet.
- The last caveat is that bookmakers are aware of this tactic, and odds are always calculated at any given point in time to not offer the possibility to bet in this manner. Even from one bookmaker to the next, it is extremely rare that the opportunity for a sure bet presents itself.
Ultimately, the time and energy spent trying to beat the system defeats the purpose of sports betting, namely, that betting is not an investment, it is a leisure activity to be enjoyed – win or lose. Value bets retain this element of fun and uncertainty while allowing players to reap higher rewards for their risks. Sure bets do not.
If you are looking for opportunities to bet on a “sure thing”, this could be a sign of problem gambling, refer to our article on gambling addiction if you fear you might be developing addictive behavior.