What Is Head-To-Head Betting?

For many sports bettors, staying in the lane they are most familiar with is the preferred approach. Those who fall into this category have a select few sports that they know inside and out, and their wagering strategy revolves around them as a result.

While there’s nothing wrong with focusing on what works best for you, there’s also a lot to be said for expanding the horizons. After all, that can open up even more doors and lead you on the road to additional profits.

For an example, consider the bettor whose main focus is on team-based sports. Many in that camp will shy away from the individual sports as they automatically assume it’s a completely different style of betting.

That’s the case to an extent, but there’s also a way you can get going in individual sports while leaning on the same set of skills you have already amassed. It’s called head-to-head betting, and we have the scoop on how you can use it to your advantage.

What are head-to-head bets?

In a nutshell, a head-to-head sports bet is very similar to placing a standard bet on a team-based sport. As opposed to choosing which team will win, you’re simply picking which of a pair of individual athletes will perform the best.

When it comes to tennis, the pairings are set based on the matches in a tournament, such as these two contests that may come up on the men’s and women’s sides.

  • Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic
  • Ashleigh Barty vs. Simona Halep

Odds will be installed on both sides, and bettors then decide which player they think will win, just as they would do in a moneyline bet for one of the team sports.

For sports such as NASCAR and golf, the pairings are set by the books. They’ll take two of the drivers or golfers scheduled to compete and pit them in a head-to-head matchup. Bettors then make the call for which one they think will perform the best.

In NASCAR, that could result in a matchup like this:

  • Joey Logano vs. Jimmie Johnson

For golf, you could see a pairing such as this one:

  • Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson

For each of the aforementioned sports, lots of betting attention is given to which athlete will win the tournament or event at hand. While that’s a great area to focus on, head-to-head betting opens up even more possibilities.

In short, it helps to up the enjoyment level for the competition as a whole while potentially opening up even more chances to profit.

Head-to-head vs. team-based bets

As mentioned, there are similarities to be found between these two types of bets. That includes the approach you can take from a handicapping perspective.

Let’s consider a random NFL game between the Denver Broncos and the Los Angeles Chargers. After glancing at the odds, you can begin breaking down the game by looking at some key factors.

  • The strengths and weaknesses of the two teams
  • Overall and recent play of the two teams
  • Matchup advantages and disadvantages

You can take a similar approach with a head-to-head bet while customizing it to the sport itself. For example, when digging into a tennis match between Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem, you can begin by asking yourself the following questions.

  • Which of the two is the stronger overall player?
  • Who has performed the best for the season-to-date and in recent matches?
  • How do they match up in terms of playing style?

Once you’ve covered the basics, you can begin exploring in even more detail. For the NFL game, you’d consider things such as home-field advantage and past meetings.

It’s similar for tennis, as you would want to look at how the players fare on the surface they’ll be playing on and what the results have been in the past when they’ve squared off.

The basics of handicapping correlate well from team-based betting over to head-to-head. However, be sure to keep in mind the distinct nuances for each sport you plan to wager on, as there are sport-specific circumstances that need to be factored into your thinking.

When should you pass on head-to-head bets?

If you handicap an NBA game between the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz and walk away feeling that you can’t make heads or tails of it, that makes for a good time to pass on betting.

After all, the idea is to win more often than you lose, so the disciplined approach to betting says you should only be wagering when you have a level of confidence in your selections.

It’s the same thing for head-to-head betting. There are matchups that are just too close to call. That effectively makes any bet the equivalent of a coin flip, and it should be treated as such.

Additionally, you should always be mindful of the odds listed and any movements since the initial release. If you spot what looks to be an unfair price — or come across a set of odds that look too good to be true — treat it as a red flag and dig even deeper before making a decision one way or the other.

Which sports offer head-to-head betting?

Head-to-head betting is the domain of the main individual sports. While the main focus for these competitions is who will ultimately win the tournament or event, head-to-head bets open the door for “game within the game” scenarios to consider.

Head-to-head betting on NASCAR

The average NASCAR race features 43 drivers. In the run-up to the race, the conversation is centered around which ones will separate themselves from the pack to be the top finishers.

Well-timed bets on the outcome can be quite lucrative if all goes well, so there’s plenty of action placed in this regard.

That’s enough for some folks, but others may look for additional chances to profit off the races. Enter head-to-head betting, which kicks the options for NASCAR betting into another gear.

Colorado sportsbooks will match up drivers scheduled to compete in the race and list odds for both sides.

  • Kevin Harvick -115
  • Chase Elliott +105

Bettors can make their pick on which of these two drivers they think will finish the best. In this case, these are two of the top drivers in NASCAR, so the odds are pretty tight. However, there can be a much wider range when the matchup is of drivers at opposite ends of the standings.

  • Alex Bowman -160
  • Ryan Preece +140

The mismatch in odds can make this matchup seem like a no-brainer, but remember that anything can happen during the course of a race. As such, each of the listed head-to-head matchups is worthy of your time and consideration to pick out the most appealing opportunities.


  • Additional betting opportunities for the race.
  • Further engagement in the event.
  • Helps to improve your understanding of individual drivers.


  • Extra time needed for handicapping.
  • Matchups for the race may be devoid of appealing options.
  • Need to move quickly for most attractive prices.

Head-to-head betting on golf

The average PGA Tour event attracts plenty of betting action, and the interest level ratchets up enormously when the major tournaments roll around.

There’s an active golf futures market for the biggest events to boot, so golf bettors have plenty of chances to profit. By the time a tournament gets set to tee off, the betting public has had its say, and the favorites to win are readily apparent.

Head-to-head betting opens up even more opportunities to predict what’s going to happen, just on a smaller scale.

  • Rory McIlroy -110
  • Brooks Koepka +100

When the top pros on the tour are matched up in head-to-head pairings, the odds are going to be tight as in the example up above. The further the range between the golfers involved, the wider the set of odds will be.

  • Jon Rahm -130
  • Billy Horschel +120 

Regardless of the odds, the goal remains the same: picking which of the two golfers will finish up the best when all is said and done. To figure that out, bettors need to handicap the matchup while considering things such as recent form and course history.


  • More chances to profit.
  • Keeps you further engaged for a four-day tournament.
  • Improve overall handicapping by understanding individual golfers even better.


  • Weather and withdrawals can impact any matchup on the board.
  • Have to choose from matchups chosen by oddsmakers.
  • Time-consuming to research golfers you may be unfamiliar with.

Head-to-head betting on tennis

Tennis is a similar story to golf: the average tournament attracts plenty of attention, but it’s nothing compared to one of the majors.

The futures market on both the men’s and women’s side is really active for the biggest events, and plenty of bets will be placed on the winner of the smaller tournaments, as well.

Head-to-head betting has also become quite popular with tennis. The matchups are already set and not subject to being chosen by the oddsmakers.

In the early going of a tournament, there will be lots of paper mismatches on the board between players on opposite ends of the bracket.

  • Daniil Medvedev -250
  • Nicolas Jarry +190

As the tournament moves along, the action on the court gets much tighter and competitive, as will the odds offered by sportsbooks.

  • Bianca Andreescu -115
  • Naomi Osaka -105

No matter what the odds board says, bettors still need to handicap the matchup while considering things such as playing surface and any head-to-head history.


  • Matchups set as the tournament plays out.
  • Popular and active market for all tournaments.
  • Increase knowledge base of both the men’s and women’s circuits.


  • Many mismatches to comb through.
  • Odds can fluctuate due to popularity.
  • Time considerations for handicapping and locating opportunities.

Prop betting for head-to-head matchups

Just like with team-based sports, you may find opportunities for additional wagers within the head-to-head matchups themselves. Offerings will vary depending on the sportsbook, but here are some of the bets you may see for each sport.


  • Which driver will record the fastest lap?
  • Will either driver lead the other wire-to-wire?
  • Will both drivers finish the race?


  • Which golfer will record the most birdies?
  • Will either golfer finish in the top five?
  • Which golfer will card the lowest score in round one?


  • How many sets will the match go?
  • What will be the winning margin of games?
  • Will either player win in straight sets?

As with the head-to-head matchups themselves, you’ll need to handicap the individual prop bets you find most appealing. From there, remember to only bet on the ones you feel most confident about.

Calculating head-to-head bet payouts

So what kind of return can you expect for winning head-to-head bets? That all depends on the odds being offered.

When you’re placing a bet on the underdog side, you can expect to double your money or more for correct bets. Here are some examples of payouts on plus odds based on a $100 bet amount.

  • Odds of +100: $100 profit
  • Odds of +110: $110 profit
  • Odds of +120: $120 profit

If you’re betting on the favorite, then the return will be less than double. That’s courtesy of the vigorish — or juice — charged by sportsbooks, which is their fee for facilitating the bet. Here’s a few examples for profits on winning $100 bets.

  • Odds of -110: $90.90 profit
  • Odds of -120: $83.30 profit
  • Odds of -130: $76.90 profit

For payouts on the favorite side, the lower the absolute value of the odds, the greater the potential profit. It’s different for underdogs, as the potential return rises right along as the odds increase.

Head-to-head odds and line movements

Once head-to-head matchups are listed, the betting market has its chance to weigh in. From that point, there could be some movement in the odds being offered.

If one side sees more action than the other, then sportsbooks can tweak things in a bid to attract more wagers to the other side.

Tracking the line moves can be a valuable step to take as this can point you toward which side is seeing the most betting action.

For team-based sports, this is pretty easy to track as there are a number of sites that will list opening odds for comparison purposes to where they currently stand.

The information isn’t as easy to come by for head-to-head odds, but there is a workaround. Check out the odds board soon after matchups are released and pick out the ones you want to dig deeper on.

You can then track movements on just those matchups until you’re ready to place your bets. Once you get used to doing it, you’ll find that this is actually a very important piece of intel to consider for each of your head-to-head wagers.

Key takeaways on head-to-head betting

Head-to-head betting opens up additional wagering opportunities for the major individual sports. Sportsbooks will list odds for pairings from NASCAR races, golf tournaments and tennis matches.

Bettors can then break down those matchups while following similar handicapping principles as they would for breaking down a team-based bet. However, sport-specific nuances need to be factored into the thinking.

Head-to-heads are potentially profitable, and they also help to enhance engagement and increase the enjoyment level as the event itself plays out.