What Is Sports Handicapping?

Sports Handicapping

To level the playing field and ensure that bets backing favorites and underdogs have equal chances of winning, bookmakers handicap matchups. But handicap betting is one of the trickiest betting markets, and winning handicap stakes can be challenging.

What Is Sports Handicapping?

The term handicap comes from “hand-in-cap,” which refers to players placing money into the cap of neutral arbiters so everyone can agree on the relative values of items to be traded.

In sports, handicapping means giving bets on all teams equal chances of winning by assigning advantage through points or handicapping practices.

Handicapping puts better participants or teams at a disadvantage. It also gives the less capable participants of a specific sport more advantages so that bets on them also have a chance of winning.

Handicapping services from professional handicappers are legal. But not all of these people give free picks. Some professional bettors provide predictions for a fee through picks services, which are professional handicapping companies.

These services require that you be a subscriber to buy predictions on matchups from different sports associations.

These organizations include the NFL (National Football League), NBA (National Basketball Association), NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), MLB (Major League Baseball), NHL (National Hockey League), UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), and other leagues and competitions.

Handicapping can also refer to spectators' or sports gambling bettors' practice in predicting and quantifying a sports match's results. If you do the right amount of research and make the right pick, you can profit from handicapping.

Think Like a Pro Handicapper: How to Handicap Lines

Handicapping happens in college basketball, college football, or more professional sports. Some of the best sports handicappers subscribe to these methods:

Go Against the Public Betting Action

An easy way to handicap a match is to determine which side most of the bettors are on, watch the betting percentages, and go against the public's bets. If you follow this approach, the stakes would usually be on the underdogs or on “under” for totals betting.

Despite being a straightforward method, this approach, also known as fading the public, is tricky and doesn’t guarantee instant success.

Analyze Matchups

This method is effective but very time-consuming. With matchup analysis, you break down the odds of matches and participating teams. Note that this approach is tricky because oddsmakers usually have already taken everything into account.

Going this route means you should be willing to commit a lot of time and effort. When analyzing matches, you should research these details:

  • Winning or losing streaks
  • Coaching and game changes
  • Referee and officiating calls
  • Match history
  • Stats (players and teams)
  • Against the spread records
  • Home-away data
  • Individual positional matchups

Check for matchup advantages. This means looking at the offense and defense of the teams that will go head-to-head.

Does a football team struggle with its defense? Will the injury of a basketball star player have a huge impact on the team? The more extensive your research, the more likely you are to win.

Check the Trends

Some handicappers update themselves on the latest sports betting trends before making a pick. If you go with this method, you just have to ensure that the trend isn’t just a fluctuation and will last long enough to profit from your sports pick.

Observe Line Movements

This handicap method entails determining the line moves backed by the public and wagering in the opposite direction.

Whether it’s the moneyline or point spread, check if there are changes in the betting lines. Some bettors believe that line shifts happen when sharp money is involved. This pertains to large bets made by pro-bettors, not the recreational ones.

Choose Value Bets

If you go with this approach, you should observe the line and if it moves in favor of the public action. If it’s moved far enough and starts to have value, you then stake on the opposite side.

This approach is like betting against the public, except you rely on line movement variation.

Understand the Opening Odds

The opening odds of sporting events will give you an idea of probabilities and potential outcomes. They will also signal what the public sentiment is.

After these odds are released and the market has reacted, odds and lines start adjusting. Staking during this period can give you betting opportunities with high payouts.

Determine Home Field Advantage

It is believed that a team playing in its home court has an advantage over the visiting team. So, if the San Francisco 49ers are playing in Stanford Stadium during the Super Bowl, many sports bettors believe they have an advantage.

Home field advantage should be considered when handicapping games. But do note that some teams still perform exceptionally well on the road.

What’s essential is to find time to understand the performance of the teams in the matchup.

Examine Team Standings

Knowing the team’s form and its overall strength can help you with handicapping. This isn’t just about the favorites and underdogs as determined by the public, Las Vegas, online sportsbooks, and power rankings. You have to be able to identify which is the better team.

Go back to the teams’ recent play. Check what sports channels like ESPN are saying. Is the team suffering from a prolonged slump, or is it enjoying a streak?

A team’s recent performance can be indicative of its standing overall. If it’s playing excellently, it may have momentum, which has a carryover effect.

When you’re given a choice between paying an expert handicapper for their picks or doing your own research, weigh things down first. Is their advice worth the profit margins and percentages at risk, or are you better off building your own system and tweaking as you go?

Sports Handicappers: What Type Are You?

Before we discuss line handicapping further, we should first define what professional sports handicappers are.

There are many types of handicappers, including the following:

  • Basic or casual handicappers - these individuals have just begun handicapping or do not spend a lot of time researching before handicapping. Instead, they go for quick answers and quick bet selections.
  • Intermediate handicappers - they are more advanced and just need to be consistent in following a handicapping system that best suits them.
  • Advanced cappers - these handicappers are more experienced. They’ve also researched handicapping methods and have a system that works for them. Advanced handicappers are more research-driven and rely on technology, algorithms, and programs to organize data.

Some of the best handicappers include Jack Jones, Bobby Wing, and Kyle Hunter. The more experienced cappers can make profits over $20,000.

There are different types of handicappers. Some are more research-driven, while others find themselves more successful by sourcing others’ opinions and forming their own.

There is no single handicapping approach that can ensure consistent returns. What’s important is to have a basic system that you can build on when trying the different methods.

Handicapping Various Sports

Sports handicapping applies to all kinds of sports, from motorcycle speedway to polo.

For instance, a polo handicap estimates players’ worth to their teams. It may gauge their overall knowledge of the game, strategy, horsemanship, team play, and horses.

Handicaps may also be calculated. In motorcycle speedway, a calculated match average is computed for every motorcycle speedway rider.

Another way to handicap sports is to resort to result adjustment. In this method, the outcome is adjusted based on some factor determined by the handicap.

For instance, in yacht or car racing, the winner based on elapsed time may vary from the fastest competitor because the time has been adjusted for the different competitors’ handicaps.

Another sports handicap method is the pursuit style which involves clocking in the contestants in a time trial before the race. During race day, the participants don’t start at the same time.

Their starting time is staggered based on the handicaps done during the time trial. One example is to allow the slowest contestant to start first and the fastest participant to start last. Whoever beats their own time is the winner.

Aside from staggering time, handicappers can also change starting positions. In greyhound racing, for instance, the greyhounds begin from various positions based on their ability.

Here are some examples of how popular sports are handicapped:

Sailboat Racing

Sailboat racing handicaps differ depending on the country and the sailing organization. These methods have varied through time and exist all over the world in many places that have sailboat racing.

Factors that should be considered when handicapping sailing races are crew experience, vessel capacity, and the time it takes a vessel to finish the race.

Some organizations add time to the actual elapsed time of the faster boats. This means that race winners aren’t necessarily the first to finish in the match, but the sailboats that excel in relation to their design.


The sports betting industry allows gliding handicapping based on the gliders’ performance. Before the final scores of each pilot are announced, other factors are considered.

Glider competition classes, like the sports class, are held to ensure competition fairness. Their scoring systems are handicapped according to the glider type a pilot is flying.

With systems like these in place, pilots have a fairer playing field even if their gliders widely vary in performance.

Horse Racing

To ensure fairness during horse races, handicappers give faster horses extra weight based on their speed in their performances before the race.

Sometimes, cappers implement trotting, which involves starting the horses at different points. So the horse deemed to be the best is required to run farther than the others.

More skilled online sports bettors can determine which horse can overcome its handicap.


In golf, a golfer’s potential or average best is measured through a handicap. The better players are assigned the lowest handicaps. For instance, a specific number of uncounted strokes are given based on earlier performances.

Golf handicapping is similar to the point spread. You have to win by a specific number of points to win the match.


There are many ways to handicap chess, including these methods:

  • The odds-giver delivers checkmate through a particular piece
  • The stronger player surrenders certain chess pieces
  • The weaker player gets extra time on the chess clock
  • The weaker player is given additional moves when the game begins

In Japanese chess, stronger players surrender one or more pieces.

In the strategy game called go, the weaker player can place a certain number of stones before the stronger opponent plays. Handicappers can also adjust the final points.


To understand tennis handicap betting, you should think of it as spread betting because they are practically the same.

The more challenged tennis players get a positive handicap. This positive handicap is then added to their final score, and the bet results are based on the handicap score. Samples of positive handicaps include +2.5 and +3.5 games.

A negative handicap puts stronger players at a disadvantage. For instance, the stronger player is assigned a -2.5 handicap. These points are then subtracted from the player's total game win when the match ends.

So the result of the bet depends on this deduction.

Winning Handicap Bets

To win handicap bets, you need to remember the following:

Develop a Money Management Strategy

When handicap betting, be mindful of your bankroll. To determine how much you should stake, you should take 3% to 5% of your bankroll and allot that amount to every bet.

With that money management practice, you don’t lose your bankroll even if you experience a series of betting losses. Betting smartly means sticking to your money management strategy no matter how tempting it is to go all out.

Bet With a Clear Head

Drunken betting is a huge no-no. When staking, make sure you’re as sober as can be.

Keeping track of your bet and the action is already challenging enough when you’re sober; what more when your mind is in an altered state?

Don’t let alcohol affect your reasoning and get in the way of betting to your full potential.

Know When to Bet

Timing is everything when betting. More experienced handicap bettors will tell you that you should bet only when you’re confident. They may also advise that you stake when you’ve shopped around for more favorable odds and when you feel it’s the right time.

How exactly do you know the appropriate time to bet? When the lines have moved in your favor.

Don’t bet just for the sake of it. If things just aren’t going your way, be ready to call it a day, even if you haven’t filled out your betting slips yet.