TO a newcomer, it can be baffling. Out of nowhere, they are presented with a screen containing figures such as 85-40, 100-30 and 17-2 And who could blame them for being confused? It’s like walking into the numbers game on Countdown But it really isn’t as tricky as it looks. Honestly, it’s not.
In the battle between bookies and punters, odds are the crucial factor. Back a long-odds winner and it’s drinks all round. Back a succession of losing short-priced favourites and it’s time to ask if there’s room in the poor house. In simple terms, odds are a set of numbers used to interpret the chance of something happening. And the smaller the number, the more chance there is (there is more chance of a 2-1 chance happening than a 100-1).
Across the world, there are several different ways of expressing the returns from a winning bet, though in Britain it’s usually done in fractional or decimal form. But the principle behind all types of odds is the same – they express probability. They are possibly the most important component in sports betting. And once you get a firm grasp as to how they work, it can help tip the battle in your favour.
There are two ways of displaying odds – fractional or decimal. We’ll come to decimal later.
In the UK, fractional odds are prevalent. And all a punter has to do is divide the first number by the second number to work out your possible return. So with odds of 2/1, you divide 2 by 1 (to which the answer is obviously 2). Back a horse, football team or tennis player at 2-1 with a stake of £5 and it’s 5 x 2, which gives you a return of £10. And you get your stake back on top (£5). With odds of 17-2, you divide 17 by 2, which is 8.5. So if you make a £1 bet on a horse at 17-2 and it wins, you win £8.50 (plus you get your £1 stake money back).
Decimal odds are arguably even easier. The punter simply needs to multiply whatever their stake is by the decimal odds on display to calculate their returns. For example, a bet of £25 at 1.85 would return £46.25 (£25 x 0.85 = £21.25, plus your £25 stake). A bet of £50 at 2.0 would see a return of £100. If you are using decimal odds, you need to subtract 1 to work out what it equates to in fractional odds. So if you see odds of 3.0, take 1 away from the 3 (3-1=2), so the odds are 2-1. If it’s 4.5, again subtract 1, so the fractional odds are 3.5/1 (or as we know it, 7/2).
Odds merely reflect the probability of an event occurring. And the shorter the odds, the greater the chance of it happening. Check today’s racing results. Chances are, a lot more horses priced between 2-1 and 8-1 have won races than horses priced 50-1 or above. The shorter the price, the greater chance of it happening. But blindly backing favourites does not guarantee a life of champagne and Rolls Royces. They provide a lesser return and, in the long term, you actually lose money. And while odds of 10-1 constitute a less likely outcome, there is also the lure of higher returns should the punter make an accurate prediction.
The trick is knowing when a horse or team is overpriced, which means bookmakers may be offering them at 12-1, when you have studied the form yourself and think it’s more like a 3-1 chance. Shrewd punters understand the importance of odds and utilise them to their advantage.