How to Go Pro in Reading Soccer Odds

Published: 2023-03-14 By: The Guru

What exactly are soccer betting odds? They are a lot more than just numbers on the screen that a punter is looking at. Different bookmakers offer different odds - you can see that by scanning a bookmaker's site or reading an expert review like, for instance, a 22bet review where professionals evaluate some mportant parameters including odds. Anyway, all the odds represent a degree of probability.

The odds presented in a sportsbook for football betting reflect what the bookmaker’s traders think the likelihood of any given outcome is going to be. There are many factors involved in such a process behind the scene.

A football match outright market, for example, has to factor in the likelihood of all three possible outcomes. For bigger markets like the World Cup winner, there suddenly becomes a lot more to be factored in with many more outcomes on the table.

The Quick Basics

Reading any betting markets will be done in a fractional or decimal format. You can flip between the two and the price would be the same.

Fractional Odds Example: 2/1 - For every 1 unit stake, the punter would receive 2 back, plus the return of the 1 unit stake.

Decimal Odds Example: 3.00 - The same as 2/1, but a single unit stake is calculated into the number, so 1 x 3.00 = 3.00 which is 2 profit, 1 stake


Let’s start with the bookmaker margin. This is a big factor of football betting odds that you will see, but not see. It’s sort of a hidden fee that a customer will pay to the bookmaker. Why? Because the bookmaker wants to mitigate as much risk as they can and also make money. That’s the reason why they are in business.

Let’s return to the match outright scenario for an individual football match. There are three outcomes, a home win, a draw or an away win. So you would expect the probability of the different outcomes combined to tally up to 100%.

But if you go by the implied probability of odds presented for that match, then they won’t. There will be extra work into the odds, which is called the ‘overround’.

Implied Probability

To get a deeper understanding of football odds, let’s look at Implied Probability. There is no way that a bookmaker knows what the outcome of a football match is going to be. However, they assess the risk of the outcomes, crunch all the numbers and give a quote.

Here are the odds from a Premier League match:

  • Liverpool 4/5
  • Draw 11/4
  • Chelsea 13/5

When those odds are converted to Implied Probability the numbers read like this:

  • Liverpool 55.6%
  • Draw 26.7%
  • Chelsea 27.8%
  • = 110.1%

So the numbers don’t stack up. Somewhere worked into all the odds is the bookmaker not giving the exact true numbers. They have worked profit margins into the odds to the tune of 10.1%.

If the heavily backed favourites Liverpool win, the bookmaker won’t give a full payout because the real probability may be closer to a 50% chance, but the 4/5 market quote is less than that.

It’s more easily understood on a 2-way market, let’s say a coin flip, where for example, Heads is a 10/11 option (which is common). For every 100 units of stake a bookmaker takes on that option, they would only in total pay out 90.91 in winnings on that market from the 100 units of stake. The rest is profit (plus all the losing stakes placed on Tails!).

Is it fair? Well, the thing to consider is that bookmakers provide a service, have costs to run their business and take on a lot of risk across their many sportsbook markets.

Difference of Odds

The pre-match odds that you get for football betting are all based on analysis done before a match. They are fixed and will not vary, or at least very little before the kick-off. But it’s a different story for live in-play odds.

Live in-play odds are affected by the time left in a match and the current circumstances. Backing Both Teams to Score in a match that is still 0-0 after 75 minutes, will return much higher odds than the option was pre-match. That’s simply because of the reduced time that goals could happen.

The benefit for the punter is that late scenarios like that can work perfectly for betting strategy if you still expect a late flurry of goals to happen in the match. The live odds would be much longer because of the higher risk.

Why Does Any of It Matter?

For the average, day-to-day punter, things like implied probability and bookmaker margins are not likely to come onto the radar. The bettor will likely see a 2/1 quote on Newcastle to Win and rightly factor in that they will double their stake with profit if the bet wins.

But understanding really the depth of how football odds work, and how to read them has its advantages. They are important at the end of the day because it dictates what ‘fair value’ you are getting.

Odds comparisons will allow punters to look for better quotes on football markets, and finding markets where lower bookmakers are in operation means that the prices quoted are ‘fairer’.

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