How to Master Underdog Betting

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BetMGM @BETMGM Dec 08, 2020, 8:13 AM

Close-up of male hands making sports bets using a mobile gambling application

Whether you’re new to online sports betting or a grizzled veteran, a great place to start is with a simple two-way bet, such as betting on the favorite or underdog to win. While some people might call backing the underdog a novice move, there can be tremendous value in underdog bets, and the favorite isn’t always bound to win.

What is an underdog?

One thing that the best sports bettors all have in common is that they understand the value in betting on a good underdog, and they do it frequently.

It’s always good to start with the very basics, so let’s clarify what we mean when we say underdog. In any two-way handicap, there is both a favorite and a team or individual who plays opposite the favorite. A team or player can be considered the favorite for multiple reasons; they could be playing really well at the time, or maybe they’re truly the better team in the matchup. In some cases, it could even be something as simple as the favorite being more popular. Whatever the reason, that opposing team is considered an underdog and will be designated with plus (+) odds. You might bet on the underdog to keep the game within a certain margin (a point spread), or you might just bet on them to win outright at a more lucrative payout.

The favorite is called that for a reason – they’re expected to win. But everyone loves an underdog story, like the QB who was out for the season but is now back to lead his team to the Super Bowl, or the No.13 seed that knocked out a big favorite during the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

As much as people love to hear about the underdog snatching victory from the jaws of defeat,  though, most people don’t want to wager on the odds of that actually happening and are much more likely to back the favorite.

Your instincts might tell you to go along with the rest of the crowd and bet on a favorite that looks like a sure thing. But if you develop a few solid sports betting strategies for betting on underdogs, you will go from being good at online sports betting to being one of the best.

Finding value in backing the underdog

Mecole Hardman of Kansas City Chiefs against the New York Jets at Arrowhead Stadium, November 2020. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images.
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The outcome of any sports game is never 100 percent certain, despite what the bookmakers’ odds and the public’s opinion may say. The key is to find value in underdogs where it isn’t obvious, then take advantage of the good odds that you can only find with underdog betting.

When you look at underdogs in any matchup, remember that they can just win any match outright. Players from sports teams don’t care about the spread; they are usually trying to win, so they keep playing as hard as they can to the very end. This is a familiar path for many favorites don’t ultimately cover a spread – they get a big lead, but the opposition fights back until the end, even if a win is out of reach.

The key is to find value when underdog betting by using handicapping methods and simple calculations, then weigh the odds against the likelihood of the higher-risk bet paying off. Here’s a simple example of what that might look like.

Let’s say you’re looking at some football odds. In a specific match between the favorite and underdog, you calculate that in 100 iterations of the same matchup, the chances of the underdog winning are about 40 percent. In other words, this means the underdog would likely win about 40 of the 100 matches. Let’s say your underdog in this example has a moneyline of +200 — that means if you make a $100 bet and win, you’ll get $200 back, in addition to your initial $100 bet.

To find out if this bet is profitable, work out the costs and winnings of all those 100 matchups as if you’d actually bet on them. In this case, you’d pay $10,000 to bet on all 100 games, and you’d win $300 per game, which is a return of $12,000 on the 40 wins. If your calculations were correct, this would be a very profitable bet.

It is important to remember that moneyline wagers are very rarely this obvious and clear-cut, with most of them effectively being too close for you to confidently place a bet. If this happens, and you aren’t feeling too courageous, you should skip this game and keep looking for a more profitable matchup.

Different types of underdogs

Home underdogs

Home underdogs are far more popular than when they’re on the road, as players are more comfortable and tend to be better rested. Playing at home also means that teams can follow their normal routine leading up to the game.

Looking back at the history of upsets in major sports, you’ll find that an overwhelming majority of the underdogs in those situations were playing at home. When bettors do decide to bet on home underdogs, they often bet larger amounts compared to when they decide to go with the road underdog.

You do still need to do your homework to make sure you’re getting good value for the risk. Remember: these bets are not always so plain and simple.

Road underdogs

Betting on road underdogs can be dangerous, and if you don’t have solid methods for handicapping and calculation, it could end up costing you a lot of money. Road underdogs have everything stacked against them. They have to travel, which means they’re not as well-rested or prepared as they might be at home. From what we have seen in the past with matchups such as these, underdog teams lose far more often on the road than at home. What you want to consider when betting on a “road dog” is whether the online sportsbook has overcompensated for the favorite’s home advantage. The good news is that while sportsbooks take all of this into account when they set their lines, they’ll often adjust them leading up to the match. This is when the odds on your underdog will be at their best, and if you can keep from getting caught up in the hype for the favorite, you’re in a position to clean up nicely with your underdog bet.

Strategies and considerations when betting the underdog

Front view of jockeys storming down the homestretch at Santa Anita Park

The wonderful thing about online sports betting is that there is more than one way to win. Betting the underdog is only one of these ways and, while it can be quite risky, it can be incredibly profitable if you know what you’re doing. Here are a few last tips and tricks to get you on your way to becoming the underdog master!

Be patient

Even if you’ve done all your calculating and handicapping, and you’re convinced that betting the underdog is the smart move, it can be worthwhile to keep an eye on the odds, as they’ll likely change as the game draws nearer. This is even more true when your underdog is facing off against a strong fan favorite – the squares will file in to make their safe bets, and your odds will just keep improving. Don’t beat the rush… capitalize on it.

Don’t believe the hype

The way sports media and sports fans typically work is going to put a lot of focus and attention on the winning teams and biggest names in the game. This means that underdogs often fly under the radar leading up to a big game, and a potentially bigger upset.

When you can tell that the media is hyping up a big team or a star player, take a quick look at the odds for their opponent. It’s likely that the underdog in a matchup like this will get great odds, and if your calculations work out, this could be a great bet for you.

Become an underdog betting master with BetMGM

With these tips and strategies on sports betting explained, we hope that you know a bit more about how to bet on sports, and are feeling ready and confident to go out and start making some riskier bets. If you’re looking forward to trying out your new skills, then why not register with us at the absolute best online sportsbook? At BetMGM, we give you access to some of the best sports betting lines and odds for everything from NASCAR and MMA to the PGA Tour, as well as all major sports such as the NFL, MLB, and much more.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.