Value betting is wagering at odds that are bigger than probability would suggest is fair. It’s a relatively simple concept, but it’s an essential one for anyone who wants to try and make profits over the long term. In this article, we’ll explain how it works and how to bet on value yourself.

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Perhaps the easiest way to explain how value betting works is to give you a quick and simple example. Let’s imagine that a bookmaker has a market that requires you to bet on the toss of a coin. It’s a regular coin with one side being heads and the other side being tails. The bookie wants you to bet Heads or Tails. Simple.

We know that there are only two possible outcomes, so each one has a 50% probability of occurring. (Ripley’s have questioned that fact, but that’s a whole different topic.) If the bookmaker were to give us perfectly fair odds, he’d quote the following:

Heads | Tails |

1/1 | 1/1 |

In this scenario, if we were to make 10 x £1 bets on Heads and we got 5 winners (which is what we’d expect from a 50% probability, at least in theory) our profits would cancel out our losses. We’d get £2 back from each of 5 winning bets, and we’d lost £1 on each of our 5 losing bets. In other words, both we and the bookie would be in exactly the same position, financially speaking, as we were when we started.

But what if the bookmaker happened to be a bit absent-minded one day, or his finger slipped, and he quoted odds of 11/10 for Heads and 1/1 for tails? In that case, the odds being offered for heads would be more generous than the true 50% probability would suggest. And that would give us a chance to make a value bet.

Here we could make another 10 x £1 bets on Heads. Assuming we have 5 losers once again, those would lose us £1 each. But our 5 winners would each return £2.10. And that means we’d be £0.50 in front at the end of the series.

Note that the chances of us winning haven’t changed one bit. The only thing that changed was that the odds being offered were more generous than they should have been. By spotting those value odds and taking advantage of them, we automatically made a profit over the long term.

And that, essentially, is what value betting is all about. Being able to spot value odds that are more generous than the probability of the outcomes they represent, and making value bets accordingly.

Those who practice value betting tend to start by looking at the odds being offered by bookmakers about an event they are interested in. They then take those odds and convert them into something called ‘implied probabilities’. If they find that the implied probability of an outcome is lower than their own estimation of its chances, they strike a bet. Otherwise, they move on.

The easiest way to calculate implied probabilities is as follows:

Divide 1 by the decimal odds being offered, then multiply by 100

For example, if a bookmaker offers odds of 2.50 about your preferred player in a match when betting on tennis you would calculate:

1 divided by 2.50 = 0.40 x 100 = 40%

This bookie believes that your selected player has a 40% chance of winning. If you think that he has a better than 40% chance of winning, you’ve found a value betting opportunity. However, if you think that your favoured player only has a 35% chance of winning, you’d look for better odds elsewhere.

Note: This discussion of implied probability doesn’t take the bookmaker’s overround (profit margin) into consideration. For the vast majority of bettors, it isn’t necessary to do so. Simply assume that the bookmaker is at least as confident in the outcome as the implied probability suggests.

Let’s cement this value betting concept even more by taking you through a real-world football betting example. Here we’ll look at a 1st Half Over/Under 0.5 Goals market. This lets you bet on whether there will be under or over 0.5 goals in the first half of a match. In other words, on whether a goal will be scored in the first half. The available odds are as follows:

Under 0.5 | Over 0.5 |

3.25 | 1.33 |

We convert the available odds into implied probabilities:

For odds of 3.25 we calculate: 1 divided by 3.25 = 0.3076 x 100 = 30.76%

For odds of 1.33 we calculate: 1 divided by 1.33 = 0.7518 x 100 = 75.18%

Here we see that the bookie is 75% confident that at least 1 goal will be scored in the first half of the match.

Does that mean the odds of 1.33 are good value or not? Well, that depends on your personal view of the match. It could be that you’ve looked at the results of the last 6 matches of each team and seen that first-half goals have been scored in all of them. In that case, you might think the chances of an early goal are even higher than 75%, which means you could have found yourself some value odds. However, if you think there’s only a 60% chance of a first-half goal being scored, you’d be much better off taking 3.25 and betting Under.

The concept of value betting can be applied to any sport. You can find football value bets, tennis value bets, horse racing value bets, and so on. Here are some value betting tips and strategies to get you on your way:

As you’ve seen, it’s important to have your own opinion about an event so that you can determine whether or not you’re being offered value odds. It’s easy with known probabilities, as when tossing a coin. But when you’re considering who to side with when betting on golf or cricket, things are a lot more subjective.

Our advice here is to get into the habit of quantifying your form assessment in your favourite sports. Award points to each competitor based on their past performance, being careful to use the same criteria for each. This will allow you to make comparisons on a numerical basis and determine your own estimations of the probabilities involved.

Value betting is only effective if you bet in a logical and predetermined manner. It’s no good betting £5 on one value bet and then staking £10 on the next. If we’d done that when betting on a series of 10 tosses of the coin we’d likely be broke, even at odds of 11/10.

The best approach here is to bet with level stakes that don’t vary. If you think that’s too boring for you, consider increasing the stakes each month as your bankroll grows. But whatever you do, don’t bet random sums and expect value betting to save you, because it won’t.

We didn’t do the calculations featured in this article in our heads. We used a calculator, and you should, too. Use a calculator app on your computer or smartphone, or go old-school and get a physical calculator to put in your pocket. We’re all for increasing our mental agility, but when it comes to putting our money at risk, we’d much rather rely on silicone chips than our grey matter.

Value betting is terrific, but it isn’t a silver bullet that will help you take down every bookmaker you make a bet with. There are pros and cons to this approach, and here are the main ones:

- Value betting is a simple approach to betting for profit that’s easy to understand.
- When you bet on value consistently you will maximise your chances of making a profit over the long term. Making a profit betting on value is much easier than it is when betting without considering the odds.
- The value bettor is forced to take form study seriously. This in itself will improve his or her chances of making winning bets.
- Value betting can be made easier to some extent with value betting calculators or value betting software. Or, if you’re so inclined, you could create your own value spreadsheet to help you out.

- Finding value bets can often take longer than it does to make your selections.
- Some people find betting on value to be less interesting than casual betting.

Value betting might not sound very exciting, but it’s one of the best approaches to wagering on sports that you can take. Read through this article again so that you understand the concept fully, then make it a habit to look for value every time you bet. You’ll be glad you did.