A lot of bettors – most, I would even say – don’t like betting heavy underdogs on the moneyline. They equate the large potential payouts with a high amount of risk and a low chance of paying off, and they look elsewhere – often with the heavy favorites. In many cases that makes sense – there are usually good reasons why a team is a heavy underdog with little chance of winning the game. Sometimes, though, ignoring those heavy underdogs means you are just leaving serious profit potential on the table.
The power of heavy underdogs is easy to understand – they pay off so well that they don’t have to win very often to make a profit. A +200 underdog only has to win one-third of the time for your to break even, and at +300 the required winning rate is just 25 percent. The problem, though, is that teams often aren’t capable of winning at a high enough rate to create a profit, so you slowly go broke by betting on them. The trick, then, is to be able to assess when a heavy underdog is a sound bet, and when it is not. Here are three situations where a heavy underdogs can be worth a closer look:
Over-hyped favorites – Underdogs are more attractive the more value they offer – in other words, the bigger the gap between their chances of winning and the risk you are taking by making the bet. One of the best ways to find value is when the public doesn’t give a team nearly enough credit. For underdogs that happens most often when the favorite is getting more attention when they deserved. I’m not suggesting that you should just blindly bet on the underdog every time the public enthusiastically and heavily backs a favorite. What you can be reasonably sure of, though, is that when the public is heavily on a favorite then the books will adjust the odds accordingly to make that favorite less attractive to minimize their risk. When the favorite is less attractive then it would be in a normal circumstance, then it stands to reason that the odds for the underdog are going to be more attractive than they normally would be. The better those odds are for the underdogs the easier it is for the underdogs to present value, and the better the chances you will find one worth betting.
Quietly favorable matchups – The odds are set primarily based on what the public perception of a game is expected to be. The public relies more on perceptions and obvious signs of performance than on subtleties. That means that it’s very possible that the public won’t take note of a matchup that is actually quite favorable for the underdogs. For example, maybe an underdog in baseball is playing a far superior team, but they have been hitting left handed pitchers well as a team recently while the favorite has been struggling against lefties. If both teams is starting lefties then you could have an opportunity for value. Or perhaps a football favorite has a very strong defense, but they have been less impressive when they have seen an option-oriented favorite like they will face in the game in question. The public likely wouldn’t clue into either situation, and that could make the underdogs more attractive than they should be.
Differences in motivation – If a game has a heavy favorite then chances are pretty good that if both teams were playing their absolute best then the favorite would win. If you watch a lot of sports, though, then you know that teams sometimes don’t play anything close to their best game. Sometimes those games come as a total surprise – an unfortunate one if you have bet on them. Other times, though, you can make a guess before the game starts that one team will be significantly more motivated than the other. The most common example of this would be late in the season when the favorite has clinched a playoff spot or is all but certain to do so. They would definitely be favored – and probably significantly – if they were playing against a team at the bottom of the league. That cellar-dweller might be playing with a modified roster, though – using young players instead of their usual ones in an attempt to see where they are at for the next season. Those young players could be playing at full intensity in an attempt to prove themselves and earn a job, and they could be especially motivated because they are playing against a good team. If that enthusiasm is matched up against a playoff-bound team that has no real incentive to win the game, and which has no goal greater than staying healthy for the playoffs, then the underdog could have a better than expected chance of winning. That could mean that their line could be packed with value.