What is a European Handicap?

European Handicap

When it comes to handicap betting on football, there are two main types of markets for this.

There’s the Asian Handicap market and the European one and if you think their name comes from where they were invented, you’d be right.

The concept is roughly the same with both: making any football match a tightly fought contest by applying a sensible handicap. But there are crucial differences between the two which we’ll explain now and a few other important things you should know about the European Handicap market.

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How Does the European Handicap Work?

Picture a regular 1×2 market or match winner market, as it’s sometimes called.

It has three different outcomes, right? The European Handicap also has three, but they work in a different way. So, it’s not about Team A winning, Team B winning or a draw but rather about how the three options stand up once we know the final result and the relevant handicap has been applied to them.

The European Handicap is also sometimes known as a ‘Single Handicap’ or a ‘3-way handicap’.

A handicap is given to both sides. A negative one to the favourite, a positive one to the outsider and a draw handicap is there as well. So that’s the first difference between the two types of handicap. The Asian one has two runners, the European one has three.

The second difference is that an Asian Handicap can have quarter goals, half goals, three-quarter goals and full goals making it up. Sometimes it’s just a 0 handicap which is the same as the Draw/No Bet market. You can read about all these types of handicaps used in Asian Handicap markets in other sections of the site.

The European Handicap market only uses integers, or whole numbers, if you prefer.

A third difference is that in some cases on an Asian Handicap your bet could push, which means you just get refunded because you neither win, nor lose. This would never happen on a European Handicap market because the third outcome (the draw handicap) is specifically there to make sure that there’s no chance of a push. The example below will illustrate this.

European Handicap Example

It’s Argentina v Bolivia at the World Cup. Argentina, the hot favourites, are given a -2 handicap, Bolivia a +2 goal start and the draw +2, completes the market.

What the European Handicap market has done is made this an interesting betting heat rather than the lop-sided one on the 1×2 market where Lionel Messi and co are prohibitively short odds, the draw is a big price and the Bolivia win a huge one.

So, the question is: will Argentina play a bit better than expected and win by three goals or more? Will Bolivia perform better than the odds suggest and manage to win, draw or only lose by one goal?

Or will Argentina win by exactly two goals, which would be a winner on the Draw +2 betting option? This one is always the bigger-priced of the three because it is the hardest to predict. After all, there’s absolutely no margin for error here because you need to be spot on in terms of predicting the margin of victory. A real case of risk v reward because as stated already, that (the draw handicap) will be available at the biggest odds of the three.

Once the match is over, it’s now time to sort the winner from the two losers on the market after we’ve applied the respective handicaps to the game’s final score. See below.

European Handicap Structure Explained

To use the example above let’s make Argentina Team A, Bolivia Team B and the -2 Draw completes the market.
European handicap bets usually appear like this.

Team A (-2) – Draw (-2) – Team B (+2)

So, what would happen to the bets once we know the final score?

  • Team A (-2): If you back this option, you win when Team A wins by three or more goals.
  • Draw (-2): Here you win if the match favorite wins by exactly two goals.
  • Team B (+2): A win for Team B, a draw or a defeat by just one goal gives you a winner on this option.

European Handicap Structure Explained

Difference of “draw” bets

You will have noticed that in the examples above, there is no chance of the bet ever pushing. Irrespective of what the handicaps are and what the final score is, you can never have a push bet.

When to Bet on European Handicap?

The first obvious example is the one we’ve illustrated already. When a match pairs a big favourite against a big underdog and by playing the European Handicap market, you’ll have a market where any of the three outcomes have a real chance of winning.

A second case would be where you fancy a favourite to win but are in search of bigger odds. Yeah, Man City should beat Bournemouth at home but odds of 1.25 won’t be for everyone. Take Man City -1, hope they win by at least two and the odds at which you’ll be paid out will be much greater. Of course, the same applies to outsiders. An underdog doesn’t need to avoid defeat necessarily for you to win; sometimes losing by just two goals is more than enough.

A good reason to play the European Handicap rather than the Asian one is that your bet will never push. This will favour the more daring punters, as opposed to the more conservative ones.

What to Watch when Choosing European Handicap?

Preparing a bet on the European Handicap market is pretty similar to researching one for a wager on the 1×2 market. After all, the European Handicap market is just an extension of the 1×2 market with the handicap market asking the question: by how many goals will the favourite win by?

Here are some tips to follow before placing a European Handicap bet.

  • Recent form: Has the favourite been playing well? Even if they’ve been winning, maybe a lot of those wins have been 2-1 and 1-0 victories. That could provide you with a chance to go with the underdog on the +2 market and hope that if they lose, it will only be by one goal again.
  • Head-to-head: Some teams raise their game against others for no particularly good reason. So the odds may suggest that Brescia are going to get thumped by Juventus but maybe results between them show that Brescia put in that little bit more effort than usual against the Turin side; so you should take Brescia +2 on the handicap, based on your knowledge of head to head results between the two.
  • Motivation: The inverse may be true where a favourite loves beating a particular team by as many goals as possible, especially if they’re city rivals. So maybe in this case the favourite will go in search of more goals even if they don’t need them and that’s a game where you want to be with the favourites to overcome their handicap.

Other factors to consider are: the venue, injuries and suspensions, the importance of the game in the context of the competition and even weather conditions.

It’s arguably harder for a favourite to win by lots of goals if it’s rainy and muddy because it’s harder to play good football in those conditions.

European Handicap Strategy

Different people will have their own strategies for this market.

One good one is to look for teams who never give up. A side like Sheffield United is a good example of that. Whether they’re drawing the game or losing 2-0, they’ll always keep on going till the end. So they generally rate a good bet when given a +2 start on the handicap because they almost never lose by more than one goal, due to their motivation levels.

It’s also worth looking out for sides who tend to win by exactly one goal. Portugal are a good example of that because they don’t seem that interested in scoring more when they’re in the lead. So when they’re in action, you might consider playing the +1 draw on the handicap at good odds because a Portugal win by exactly one goal happens quite often when they’re favourites.

In the opposite corner are a team like Man City. They have a bit of a habit of either not winning or winning comfortably. So if you think they will win this time, you might as well back them to win by two clear goals (City -1) than just winning. The odds are much greater.

European Handicap in other sports

This isn’t a market just reserved for football. You could apply it to almost any sport including basketball, baseball, volleyball or handball.

After all, betting on how many points a team will win by in those sports just mentioned is no different to betting on how many goals a team will win by in football.

handicap european other sports


The best reason to play this market is that it makes any football match an even contest because of the presence of the handicap. That’s good for punters who want to bet on something priced at around the 2.0 or 3.0 mark rather than betting on odds-on shots or big outsiders.

The other advantage to punters is that they can get better odds on a favourite than they would normally get on the match winner market because they’ll always need to win by at least two clear goals. It’s tougher to do than to win by any means, but the rewards on offer are far greater if you get it right, because the odds are greater.

Playing this market also allows for each punter to develop their own strategies. Some customers may decide that they like to find good betting opportunities when it comes to siding with the outsiders rather than favourites, whereas other punters may become experts in knowing when to bet on the draw handicap.

Lots of interesting options for whoever wants to play this market.

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