How to Interpret Odds in Betting

Interpretting odds is one of the most fundamental aspects of winning and losing in sports betting. There are many ambiguous terms and confusing statistical information that can lead to unexpected results, but with a little bit of knowledge you can ensure that you get the best possible odds for the games you are betting on.

Odds Are Always Confused

Most people are very familiar with betting odds and how they work, but few realize that the odds themselves are often confused and lead to misinterpretation. One of the primary reasons why this happens is that bookmakers and bettors are always comparing relative values, which leads to many inconsistencies and inefficiencies.

For example, if you were to place a $10 wager on the New York Islanders to win the Stanley Cup, the bookmaker would give you these “Odds” (also known as “The Line” or “The Field”):

  • Islanders +700
  • Stanley Cup Odds

Note that these are two separate items with a dash in between. The odds are always considered to be “plus-X” or “minus-X” where X is the amount of the wager (in this case, $10). In this case, the “plus” indicates that the Islanders are considered a “plus”-valued team (their win chance is greater than the average team), while the “minus” indicates that they are considered a “minus”-valued team (their win chance is less than the average team).

This is a crucial point because if you didn’t know that the odds were confusingly jumbled together you might think that the Islanders have a greater than average chance of winning the Stanley Cup and therefore, it would be a good idea to invest in them. But in reality, you are better off avoiding them and placing your wager on a different set of odds that more accurately reflect their actual chances of winning the Stanley Cup.

On the subject of odds, knowing how to interpret and act upon them correctly can make all the difference in your sports betting success.

Odds Are Subjective

Another common source of confusion when it comes to interpreting odds is that they are subjective. Subjectivity enters the picture when a bookmaker or analyst talks about the chances of a certain team winning or losing a particular game or tournament. But, when you are reading or hearing these odds, especially if they are not clearly defined, it is important to keep in mind that they are merely an opinion and can vary from one bookmaker to the next.

Consider the example above. The bookmaker is giving you the “Islanders +700” odds because they deem the Islanders to be a “plus”-valued team and therefore, they expect that the Islanders will win the game. Conversely, another bookmaker might list the odds at “Islanders -800” because they think the Islanders are a “minus”-valued team and therefore, they expect that the other team (also known as the “minus”-team) will win the game. In this case, the odds themselves are not necessarily subjective, but because there is disagreement about whether the Islanders are a plus or minus-valued team, the odds are inherently so.

In general, subjective odds are more accurate when it comes to predicting the future as they are more flexible and can vary based on the situation at hand. For example, the odds of an NBA team winning a particular game might be “Hawks +3.5” in one shop and “Trail Blazers -2.0” in another. But for the purposes of betting, these kinds of subjective odds can be very misleading as they don’t necessarily reflect the true likelihood of the event taking place.

Odds Are Inaccurate

Odds are not only subjective but they are also frequently erroneous. This is most certainly the case when it comes to sports betting. Professional bookmakers are not exactly known for being good at predicting games and tournaments, especially well-rounded games such as the NBA Finals or the World Cup. Inaccurate odds not only lead to misinterpretation but they can also leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth after you lose a wager because of it.

Consider the case of the 2017 NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors were a 13-point favorite over the Cleveland Cavaliers. But despite the bookmaker’s best efforts, the Warriors lost the series 4-2. This was largely due to the fact that the bookmaker’s odds for the series were incorrect. In reality, the Warriors should have been a 2.5-point underdog to start the series – which would have made more sense considering the series results (2-1 Golden State, 2-1 Cleveland).

Inaccurate odds can lead to all kinds of unforeseen consequences that have serious ramifications. It is therefore critical that you take the time to do some research and find the most reliable odds whenever possible, or, at the very least, make sure that the odds are as close to “true” as possible. This way, you can be relatively certain that even if your bets go wrong, it will be for reasons beyond your control and not simply due to inaccurate odds.

Subjective And Objective Together

One final point about subjective and objective odds is that they can work together. If you are aware of how each one separately functions and what advantages and disadvantages they have, you can often get a better idea of how they interact and the overall effect that they have on your betting experience.

Let’s say that you are presented with the following odds for the same NBA game:

  • Cavs -2.0
  • Warriors +3.5

In this case, the odds are listed in an objective manner (2.0 for the Cavaliers, 3.5 for the Warriors) but considering the fact that these are just opinions and can vary from bookmaker to bookmaker, they still have a subjective element to them (the Cavaliers are considered a minus-value team and the Warriors are considered a plus-value team).

In this situation, you would have to perform some sort of combination of the two to get an accurate representation of the chances that each team will win the game. Using both the objective and subjective elements can help you arrive at a probability that is more accurate than either one used individually.

With this information in mind, you can begin to make better-informed decisions about sports betting and how to approach it successfully. But, before you begin, it is important to remember that there are many pitfalls that can arise from ignoring or oversimplifying odds, so take some time to learn from the experts before you begin playing.