When we talk about underdog betting, we are referring to the pick that has the least chance of winning. Generally, this term is applied to markets that have two selections (home/away win, over/under points total, etc.) and is a way to highlight the bet with the lowest implied probability.
In this article, we’re going to address how underdog betting works and provide extensive real-world examples to do so. We’ve also added in how these bets differ depending on sports and markets, as well as including strategies as to when to bet on the underdog.
What is Underdog Betting?
Underdog betting refers to placing a wager on the team or player that is considered less likely to win according to the odds set by online sportsbooks. In this type of betting, the underdog is perceived as having a lower chance of winning, but if they do, the payout can be higher. It involves taking a risk by betting on the less-favored pick.
For example, let’s consider a basketball game between Team A and Team B. The odds are set as follows:
- Team A: -150 (Favorite)
- Team B: +200 (Underdog)
In this scenario, Team A is considered the favorite, indicated by the negative odds (-150), while Team B is the underdog with positive odds (+200). If you place a $100 bet on Team A and they win, you will receive a payout of $166.67 ($100 initial stake + $66.67 profit). However, if you place a $100 bet on Team B and they win, you will receive a higher payout of $300 ($100 initial stake + $200 profit).
Underdog betting can be attractive to bettors seeking higher potential returns, but it’s important to carefully assess the probabilities and factors influencing the match outcome before placing a wager.
What Constitutes an “Underdog” and How to Identify One?
Identifying an underdog typically involves analyzing the odds set by bookmakers, as they reflect the perceived strength or weakness of each participant.
To identify an underdog, you can look for the following indicators:
- Positive Odds – An underdog is often represented by positive odds, such as +150, +200, or higher. Positive odds indicate a higher potential payout if the underdog wins, reflecting the lower expectations of their success.
- Point Spreads – In sports like football or basketball, point spreads are used to level the playing field. If a team is assigned a larger point spread (e.g., +7), it suggests that they are considered the underdog, as they need to outperform the spread to win the bet.
- Recent Performance – Analyzing a team or player’s recent performance can provide insights into their current form. If they have been consistently performing below expectations or facing tougher opponents, they are more likely to be labeled as the underdog.
- Team Strengths and Weaknesses – Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor can help identify the underdog. If a team or player is facing a formidable opponent or lacks certain key attributes compared to their opponent, they are more likely to be considered the underdog.
Underdog Betting by Bet Type
The best underdog bets will vary based on the market and sports you’re wagering on. In this section, we’ve outlined how they might look covering a range of popular US-based betting markets.
The moneyline is where we bet on the outcome of the game without any handicaps or points spread applied. The bet is simple, and the result of the game determines which team wins. It’s generally the most popular market to take on an underdog.
An underdog is the team that is the longest odds out of the two. For example, let’s take an upcoming game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Minnesota Twins.
For this bet, the moneyline market is highlighted simply as “money” and you can see that the odds for the Brewers to win are priced at +135 and the Twins to win at odds of -160.
As we’ve stated previously, the higher odds state the underdog and, in this example, +135 are higher odds than -160, meaning that the Brewers are the underdogs to win this game.
To get a true reflection of the gap between the two teams, we can apply implied probability to convert the odds. Implied probability is simply the chance each team has of winning represented as a percentage.
- Brewers to win @ +135 = 42.6% implied probability
- Twins to win @ -160 = 61.5% implied probability
You may note from this that total probability comes to more than 100% (104.1% in fact) and this is because the odds include the betting sites’ commission, often referred to as “juice” or the “over round”. You don’t need to worry too much about this at this point, but you do need to be aware of how this is applied.
The spread is a handicap that is applied to both teams to remove the underdog result from the moneyline. Points will be added or removed based on which is favorite and as a result, you will get much more competitive odds.
The example above is from an upcoming WNBA game between the LA Sparks and the Dallas Wings. If you jump to the moneyline first you will see that the Wings are a lower price (-190) than the Sparks (+155), meaning that the latter are underdogs.
If you jump back to the spread, a handicap of +/-4.5 points has been applied. With these bets, points are added for the underdog and removed from the favorite.
If you were to bet on the Sparks (underdog) at +4.5 then you would need them to either win the game outright or not lose by more than 5 points. If you were to bet on the Wings, then you would need them to win by 5 or more points.
Totals bets move away from the result of the game and instead, concentrate on the total number of points or runs that are scored. This total is cumulative for both teams and the market requires bettors to choose the over or the under for the line.
Betting sites do their best to create lines where the odds are the same on each side, but it’s rare that this occurs, and you usually find that one result will be a slight underdog over the other.
The example above is from an MLB game between the San Francisco Giants and the St Louis Cardinals. The totals line is set at O/U 8.5 runs for the game, but as you can see, the odds for the over are slightly shorter (-120) than the odds for the under (+100). For this bet, the “under” bet is the underdog.
Underdog Betting Example by Sport
In this section, we’ve included a look at some examples by sport to see how underdogs fair and how they might be highlighted as per betting odds.
Let’s consider an NFL matchup between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs. The moneyline odds are as follows:
- New England Patriots: +250 (Underdog)
- Kansas City Chiefs: -300 (Favorite)
The Patriots are considered the underdog with a moneyline of +250. This means that if you place a $100 bet on the Patriots and they win the game, you will receive a total payout of $350 ($100 initial stake + $250 profit). Since the Patriots have positive odds, their victory would result in a higher payout compared to the initial wager.
The Chiefs are the favorite with a moneyline of -300. If you place a $100 bet on the Chiefs and they win, you will receive a payout of $133.33 ($100 initial stake + $33.33 profit). The negative odds indicate that a larger wager is required on the Chiefs to yield a similar return as the underdog.
In this scenario, betting on the Patriots as the underdog offers the potential for a higher payout if they manage to win the game, reflecting the lower implied probability placed on them by the sportsbook.
For this example, we will look at an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets. The moneyline odds are as follows:
- Los Angeles Lakers: +180 (Underdog)
- Brooklyn Nets: -220 (Favorite)
The Lakers are considered the underdog with a moneyline of +180. Conversely, the Nets are the favorite with a moneyline of -220.
For NHL, we will use the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins as our underdog examples. The moneyline odds are as follows:
- Toronto Maple Leafs: +150 (Underdog)
- Boston Bruins: -180 (Favorite)
The Maple Leafs have a longer price at odds of +150 to win the game, which as a result, makes them the underdog for this bet. The Bruins, priced at -180, would have a smaller return per $100 wagered, meaning that they are the favorites for the game.
For MLB, we are using a game between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. The moneyline odds are as follows:
- New York Yankees: +140 (Underdog)
- Tampa Bay Rays: -160 (Favorite)
As you can see, the shorter odds here are with the Rays to win, where you would need to wager $160 to make a $100 profit. The Yankees, priced at +140 mean that you will win $140 for every $100 wagered. As a result, the Yankees are the underdog for this bet.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Underdog Betting
This section looks at the advantages and disadvantages of underdog betting. Like all bets, these types of wagers will have a time and place, but at the end of the day, we are looking for value, whether that be on an underdog or a favorite.
- Higher Potential Returns – Betting on the underdog offers the opportunity for higher payouts since they are considered less likely to win. If they pull off an upset, the odds are more favorable, resulting in a greater profit.
- Value Betting Opportunities – Underdogs are often undervalued by bookmakers, leading to potentially lucrative betting opportunities. If you can identify instances where the underdog has a higher chance of winning than the odds suggest (implied probability), you can capitalize on favorable odds.
- Emotional Thrill – Betting on the underdog can enhance the excitement and thrill of watching a game. Supporting the perceived “underdog” team or player can make the viewing experience more engaging and enjoyable.
- Psychological Advantage – Underdogs often have less pressure and expectations compared to the favored side. This can sometimes lead to them performing better than anticipated, capitalizing on the lack of pressure, and playing with a “nothing to lose” mindset.
- Upset Potential – Sports are inherently unpredictable, and upsets happen regularly. Betting on the underdog allows you to capitalize on these unexpected outcomes and potentially profit from unanticipated victories.
- Lower Winning Probability – Underdogs are considered less likely to win for a reason. They often face stronger opponents or have other disadvantages that make winning more challenging. These bets mean you are accepting a lower probability of your wager being successful.
- Less Consistency – Underdogs will have inconsistent performances, making it harder to accurately predict their outcomes. This unpredictability can make it challenging to consistently win bets on underdogs.
- Limited Market Options – In some cases, bookmakers may offer limited prop bets or alternative markets for underdogs, focusing more on the favorites.
- Research Intensity – Successfully betting on underdogs often requires thorough research, analysis, and an understanding of the specific factors influencing the game. It can be more time-consuming to identify opportunities and make informed underdog betting decisions.
How to Find Value in the Underdog
Sports betting is all about finding value, regardless of if you’re betting on the underdog or the favorite. The principles in finding value remain the same for all bet types and in this section, we’ve included some tips on the best way to go about that.
Conduct thorough research on the underdog team or player. Look for any recent developments, injuries, or changes in strategy that could impact their performance. Analyze their past performances, head-to-head matchups, and overall statistics to identify potential areas of strength.
Overreacting to Public Perception
Public sentiment and media hype can often lead to inflated odds for favored teams. If the public perception doesn’t align with the actual capabilities of the underdog, there may be value in betting against popular opinion.
Line Movement Analysis
Monitor the movement of betting lines. If the line shifts in favor of the underdog, it could indicate sharp bettors or professional gamblers recognizing the value in the underdog. Taking advantage of line movement can help you identify potentially profitable opportunities.
Look for historical trends or patterns where underdogs tend to outperform expectations. Certain teams or players may have a track record of performing well as underdogs or in specific situations.
Alternative Markets and Prop Bets
Sometimes, the value lies not in the outcome of the game itself but in alternative markets and prop bets. Look for unique betting options such as player performances, specific game scenarios, or individual matchups where the underdog may have an advantage.