In-play soccer betting has become increasingly popular in recent years with the advancement of smart phones and other mobile devices. In-play odds fluctuate rapidly as the teams score goals or other events happen on the pitch (i.e. players get injured or sent off) and a professional bettor can fully take advantage of these changes based on his model and his read of the match. The more games you watch, the better your in-play match analysis will become. If you possess a good in-play match analysis, you will be able to calibrate your expected goals, corners, cards models to the current in-running market and be able to replicate and hedge bets to gain even more value.
There are two main styles of in-play betting: odds betting and spread betting. In odds betting, the amount that you lose or win is fixed based on your stake and the odds you have taken. In spread betting, the bets offered are such that the bettor can win or lose an arbitrary amount based on the value of the attribute in question. An example of spread betting is a market called “total goal minutes” which pays the sum of the minute time of each goals. In a nutshell, with spread betting the more right you are the more you win. Conversely, if a result were to go heavily against you, it is possible you could lose more.
Aggregate bookmakers’ odds
As we know, the bookmakers employ teams of data analysis to build IR forecast and odds compiling models in order to have the upper hand. All that is backed by companies such as Kambi and SBTech that hire traders to manage these matches during in-play. Still, all this organization is possible to beat with a better pre-match models and more knowledgeable in-running match analysis.
Analyzing live soccer matches or replays is essential if you want to build up your evaluation of in-running matches. When you watch enough games for a certain team or players, you will start noticing patterns of play and coach tactics that might change the dynamics of the match. When you have this experience, you will be able to notice the weakest links in attack and defense, battles between players from both teams and which team is more dangerous – the one having more possession or the one initiating quick counter-attacks. All this and more is possible if you commit the time to watch these matches and the simple fact is that, your betting results will be greatly improved. We have stressed the importance of match replays in another article: How to place an educated bet
A model for pre-match can be developed by exploiting the bookies’ aggregate odds to systematically take advantage of mispriced events. Bookmakers’ publicly available odds can be used as a proxy of the true probability of a game outcome. This results in a betting opportunity if you find the same game with odds offered above the fair estimated value (expected value).
Calculating the expected value of a trade is fundamental and it provides the measure of what a punter can expect to win or lose per bet placed on the same odds time and time again. The formula is shown below and is very simple.
(Amount won per bet * probability of winning) – (amount lost per bet * probability of losing)
A quick example here can be show with a coin toss, which has a probability of heads or tail of 50%. If you are offered odds of 2.15 for the coin to land on tails, this would be a value bet. The reason is that if we use the formula above (with a stake of 10), the calculated expected value will be 0.75.
(11.5 * 0.5) – (10 * 0.5) = 0.75
Positive expected value implies profit over time, while negative value implies a loss over time. This is an important method to use when you possess, on average, a better model than the bookies. If the bookmaker’s model produces the chances of an event where the expected value of a bet is 0, bookmakers will offer odds that are below that fair value. This allows them to earn a desired percentage of the total money bet at a game.
Building a model can be based on many attributes and methods. One concept is expected goals as mentioned in details here: Football modelling and expected goals. A model can be based on many different factors in order to predict the probability of an event and all this becomes an extremely complex challenge. A different approach is to build your model on the evidence that bookmakers already possess highly accurate models to predict the results of football games. As mentioned earlier, we can create a betting strategy on the assumption, that odds published by bookmakers allow us to obtain a highly accurate estimate of the actual probability of the outcome of an event.
For example, this can be applied to live betting in a very smooth way. If you take the average home, draw, away odds of a football event just before it starts, based on all the bookmakers, you will have, on average, very accurate probability on the three outcomes of that event. Following the match in-play and placing bets whenever the odds offered by bookmakers deviated from the closing odds average and were above fair value, would be a good betting strategy. Moreover, a bettor can take advantage of early match events and decide on a team’s handicap or total goals bet.
Bookmakers in-play features
Bookies keep coming up with new ideas in terms of betting features and markets that can attract and more importantly keep customers. The most famous feature is the “Cash-out” and nowadays, most European companies offer this feature as a function in their online platforms. The logic behind the “cash-out” is simple – bettors can withdraw their bets before the event has concluded, obtaining a smaller but guaranteed return if the selection is going their way or cutting down a possible loss. This feature has become very popular among punters that bet in-play as a way to increase the value on the bets they have made.
The “cash-out” feature has benefits for the bookmakers and it will be naive to think that bookmakers has developed this tool to help their customers win more money. One of that benefit is that the “cash-out” feature reduces the volatility of the operator’s revenue. It also increases the recycling of player returns, with more players banking smaller returns. It enables players to avoid the “near miss” frustration which, on the contrary, undervalues customers’ bets. The other bookmakers’ benefit is that customers constantly check their bets for the amount of the cash-out offer. For punters, the cash-out feature means cutting down the profit while being ahead but rarely reducing the loss when going behind. We can say that the bookmaker tricks you into taking a worse price than you originally went in for. Furthermore, there are operators such as bet365 that lets you to “partially cash out a bet” – you can choose how much of your bet you wish to cash out; and “auto cash out” – where you create a trigger(predefined value) and if that condition is reached the bet is automatically cashed out by the system.
Another feature available in bookmakers is the “Edit my Acca/Edit my Bet”. This allows you to unsettle accumulators before matches have started or whilst they are in-play. It also allows you to swap single bets with new bets.
There are another two new features that will interest bettors. One of these is the Add2Bet feature developed by SBTech and it allows punters to use their cash-out value and place another bet. The other new feature is the betting using GPS tracking. The UK betting providers are preparing the introduction of in-play horserace betting that includes the use of global positioning system technology. In a nutshell, bettors will have the chance to check the horse location during in-play and place a bet based on that information. The feature will have an average accuracy of the horse’s position within 0.1m and time lag will be of no more than 0.1s.
Reading a football match
If you are able to react to football in-running events accordingly and correctly, there is plenty of value to be had. When you have a look at closing odds (the match odds just before the event kicks off) you assume these are the most accurate, because they have been influenced by bookies betting models, professional traders and syndicates, news and the average bettors. Not always these are the correct odds and by watching the event live, you can spot differences in teams’ form, odds movements and bookmakers’ adjustments. When you watch a football match, the most important in-running event to guess is the number of goals. If you are experienced in watching and analyzing in-play games, you will know a number of indicators that can influence the match outcome and your betting decisions.
One of these indicators is motivation and it is vital to observe it in both teams when you need more goals scored. Ideally, you will want both teams to be going for the back of the net. In this way, open spaces are created on both ends and it is easier to be exploited by both teams. Therefore, if teams are motivated, on average, you can expect goals to be scored and the overs market is a reasonable choice. A problem here is when one of the teams’ attacks and looks motivated and eager to score goals, but the opposition’s decision is to defend and prevent goals. This is a tricky situation and your experience in watching the attacking team and how they cope with such teams will help you make the right betting decision.
Tempo in in-running football matches is equally important as motivation. A higher tempo will mean that match events and actions develop quicker and teams reach the end of the pitch faster and the chance of new goal opportunities increases. Higher tempo can also lead to more cards as players are more inclined to make a mistake.
When you watch a match with higher tempo, the teams’ will be taking free kicks, throw ins and corners quickly. The tempo decreases when players start acting in casual “settled” way around set pieces. Also, the noise of the crowd usually influences the tempo of the match and a loud crowd makes the home team run more. Commentator’s voice is another indicator for a high or low tempo game. If he sounds exciting there are chances created by both teams.
High tempo and motivation count for nothing if the quality of the teams is low and chances are not created. Shots on goals is another indicator and it is a good trading habit to start your in-play betting after the first shot on goal. The more shots are created, the better chance there is for a team to score.
Substitutions are always important to observe when in-play betting. Analyzing which players are going out and those going in, will help you guess the coach’s approach to the game and even his tactical intentions. If you see a striker going out for a defender, then it is very likely that the tempo will be lowered, and the team will be keeping the result, rather than attack. Adding additional strikers is always an indication that the coach is looking for goals.
These are important factors to make note of and consider when watching live games and making betting decisions.
Understanding teams’ tactics helps for in-play trades such as backing and laying under goals for a profit. If a team is determined to go man-for-man across the pitch, in order to shut down the opposition and prevent build up play from the back, then this is a good indication that for the moment, the chance of a goal is lower than usual.
A team playing higher up the final third and pressing his opponent is likely to get a goal from a counter-attack, especially if the opposing team looks familiar with exploiting open spaces.
if a team is playing two wide midfielders or wide full-backs, it allows for creation of width, which can force the opposition to stretch their defense line in order to cope with the threat down the wings.
Whether a team is focusing on counter-attacks, long balls or natural build ups, it is important to make a note of these when placing an in-running bet. A team’s playing patterns become obvious when you watch their last few games and concentrate entirely on them.
Another important part when making in-running betting decision is the movement of odds. You do need to consider that there are other professional traders and syndicates watching the match and placing bets based on their understanding of the current play. Sometimes, when there are substitutes or throw ins, you can spot large movement in odds for a certain team and handicap. This indicates (not always) that a professional player is applying a betting position on the market based on his model or understanding of the game. Usually odds drop instantly with more than 10 cents and this drop is then followed by automated betting scripts that look for such odds drops in certain leagues and place the same bets. Depending on the size of the first odds drop, the price for the market can drop even more. This doesn’t always mean that someone with an in-play model is placing a bet based on his model’s value. There are betting brokerages and bookmakers that are hedging their bets and minimizing their risk positions. This also might happen pre-match and for this reason odds movement should be looked at with caution.
In-play betting is much easier when you are prepared, have a trading plan and being patient for the right opportunities. Pre-match analysis and as we explained, the average closing home, draw, away odds are a vital indicator of the “true” probabilities of a match outcome.
As we have mentioned before, football is a low scoring contest and goals are the most important occurrence in the game. Having a good knowledge of players and teams and their behavior during different phases of a match will greatly improve your in-play betting results.
Georgie has been in the betting industry for over 11 years, working as a trader and a broker for some of the largest syndicates in the world. Georgie has focused his model development on international soccer leagues.