Saturday, 10 May 2014

"THE ODDS! THE ODDS! BETTING!" - A Gambler's Guide to the ESC Grand Final

It's only blooming Eurovision final day! And once again, those of us who like to place a bet or two on Europe's premier music festival find ourselves faced with the knowledge that surprises can happen at any time. Not that everyone had Israel down as a safe qualifier, but Mei's fine failure on Thursday was predicted by relatively few - although I do find myself with a certain sense of déjà vu here, having said something similar about Moran Mazor at this point in last year's proceedings.

With that in mind, then, how best to navigate the many and varied betting markets for tonight's grand final? This blog aims to provide you with a modest overview of the available options - based, as always, on the comprehensive Oddschecker mini-site (which you can find here) and using the odds at the time this post was published, which could still change substantially between now and the winner being crowned in Copenhagen!

The winner market is where we begin, of course, since it's where comfortably the most money is placed by fans and non-fans alike. The semi-finals have led to some huge and unexpected movements, backing up a theory I and many observers have had for a while: namely that the early favourite status enjoyed by Armenia was merely the result of local and ex-pat money being placed, coupled with a sense that the market "needed" a clear favourite à la Loreen and Emmelie. Aram was overtaken by the Common Linnets almost as soon as the first semi was over, and Conchita Wurst has since joined the ranks of the favourites too. The Dutch and Austrian entries are generally trading at a price of around 4.5 right now, just behind favourite Sweden at a best price 3.75 - with Armenia having slipped as far as 11 with some bookmakers following the announcement of the final running order.

As for where to place your money, you don't need me to tell you who to tip for the win tonight, but Denmark is surely an interesting each-way candidate at generous odds of 41 with Coral, while a best price of 14 for the UK is one of the more realistic appraisals of a British entry for some time (assuming you don't buy into the theory that the last starting position in a 26-song field is automatically fatal - which, in turn, might depend on whether you're a Ryan Dolan fan or a member of Team #HiPasha).

The rank outsiders according to the bookmakers are Slovenia, Montenegro, Belarus and San Marino, with odds ranging from 201 to 501 depending on who you ask. Two of those have pretty nice starting positions, granted, but now is probably not the time to be betting the house on a trip to Ljubljana in May 2015.

Most interesting of all might be Hungary at 26 with Bwin or at 17 with various sites that allow each-way bets. Tonight may (and probably will) prove me wrong, but I still have a general sense that Hungary is a little underrated: one of the few truly contemporary pop songs in the competition and with an effective visual performance, if you want to apply broad stereotypes (and they can be useful sometimes), it has a darkness that should play well with the "east" married with an urban sensibility that could fly in more northern/western parts of the continent.

That's why, with its healthy spot in the running order as an additional factor, I think 3.5 for Hungary to finish in the top four is a tempting bet. There's a similar if less persuasive case to be made for the friendly entry from Malta, which might catch fire and return you a tidy sum from its current odds of 9 for a top four finish. On the other hand, if you're versed in the ways of Betfair, you might want to consider "laying" (i.e. betting against) Sweden, Austria or the Netherlands for a top four finish - with Conchita in particular, there's a distinct sense that people are betting so heavily on the entry because they want it to do well and because it's being talked about, but talk isn't the same thing as cold, hard votes. In any case, you can more than double your money with a successful bet against any of the current "big three" in the betting.

You might want to save your Maltese pennies for the top ten finish market, where Firelight look very good value at odds of 3.25 to approximately repeat Gianluca's impressive result from last year. Alternatively, if you believe in the chances of the lady who kindly donated her lyric to the title of this post, you can get 3.25 for Spain's Ruth Lorenzo to repeat the Pastora Soler trick and squeeze into the top ten. Other interesting nibbles include seasoned professionals Paula and Ovi from Romania (4) and the charmer of the second semi-final, Switzerland's Sebalter (4.33), who also benefits from an optimal starting position.

Or if you're willing to play the shorter odds, you can get 1.6 and 1.7 respectively for near-permanent top tenners Greece and actually-permanent top tenners Azerbaijan, both of whom are probably trading at a higher than expected prices because of their early positions in the running order. On the flip side, if you really don't believe that Sweden's Sanna Nielsen will end up in the top ten, Bwin will give you odds of 9 or so for her to miss out, and similar markets and prices are available elsewhere. Never be afraid to make "negative" bets - they're often my biggest money-spinners, simply because sometimes it's easier to say what won't happen than what will!

Unlike in the semi-finals, there's no shortage of niche markets when it comes to the Eurovision final. Most interesting of all might be the geographical markets, where the bookmakers offer odds on the country that will finish the highest among a certain subset of countries. Take the so-called "top Balkan" market, for example: Montenegro and Slovenia (each 13) are the understandable outsiders here, but the short price on Greece (1.44) means that you might be interested in the only other country in the group, Romania, which currently has odds of 4.33.

Hungary again seems to be the value bet in "Central Europe", effectively being offered at 3.75 to beat Austria (OK, OK, and the others in its group too - namely Switzerland, Germany and Poland). The "Nordic" market is as you might expect, with Sweden clearly leading the way, while the "Southern Europe" betting is split quite evenly between Spain, Malta and Italy - so if you're a firm believer in the chances of one of those entries in particular, that might be an easy way to make a few euros. Finally, I have to highlight what's being called the "Eastern Europe" market, where the perceived strength of Armenia (1.53), Ukraine (2.75) and, to a lesser extent, Azerbaijan (7) means that the country with easily the most favourable draw of the group and arguably the most reliable "neighbourly voting" strength - Russia - is currently trading at a remarkable 19. I'm not saying they will come out on top of that particular battle, but they've got to be worth a look at that price...

A further category is the top big five entry, and Molly from the UK is the clear, clear favourite here at odds of 1.67. Again, this means big money if you're a backer of one of the other nations that are considered to be indispensable to the event, whether that's Emma from Italy (10) or Elaiza from Germany (21). Alternatively, if you believe in the overall strength of the big five plus Denmark but you don't want to pin yourself down to a single country, Bwin will currently give you odds of 9.00 for any of the automatic finalists to win. If nothing else, if you're planning on betting on the UK for victory at odds of 12, you might as well take this bet instead - it's almost the same price and you get bets on Basim, Ruth, Emma and co. as a safety net!

At the other end of the scale, we all enjoy a glorious failure, but at the time of writing only a few sites are offering odds on last place. Perhaps understandably, the field is headed by San Marino at 5, followed by Germany (6), Belarus (6) and France (10). By contrast, you can currently get odds of 2501 (!) at Boylesports for Sweden, Austria or the Netherlands to finish last. It won't happen, of course, but it's notable for being the largest price I've seen for any single Eurovision-related outcome for a while!

What the market for last place doesn't tell us is whether the last-placer will score nul points. As usual, and as recent history tells us, the simple answer here is that it's highly unlikely: you'll get odds of 6.5 for there to be a zero-scorer in tonight's final, with just 1.14 available if you're sure that everyone will get points.

Bwin also offer numerous head-to-heads. These allow you to bet specifically on one country beating another one, irrespective of where they end up on the scoreboard generally. For example, you can get 2.10 for the intimacy of the Netherlands to beat the carefully crafted impact of Sweden, while 3.00 says that Greece will "rise up" and finish higher than Armenia. Denmark is generally a little underrated for a mainstream pop song with an excellent draw, trading at 3.00 to beat the Netherlands and 4.00 to beat neighbour Sweden. For me, though, the outstanding head-to-head is Azerbaijan vs. Ukraine - both have unfavourable early draws, yet somehow last year's runner-up Azerbaijan with its reliable voting friends is considered the clear outsider, and you can currently get odds of 2.70 for "Start A Fire" to finish ahead of "Tick Tock". That must be worth a little look regardless of whatever sympathy votes may flow Mariya's way.

The final question we'll address here is one that might determine whether tonight's voting sequence is a thriller or an hour of relative boredom: namely the winning margin. Several sites are offering odds on this key question - but as you'll see, the categories they use for carving up the figures are all slightly different, making it more or less impossible to compare them directly. Nevertheless, take a look for yourself at Oddschecker and see if anything jumps out at you!

Believe it or not, even at the end of this long and rambling post, we've really only scratched the surface of the countless ways there are for you to both win and lose money tonight. Still, this has hopefully made things a little clearer, and the aforementioned Oddschecker will help you to navigate your way around the various markets. However you choose to spend your time and your hard-earned cash, may you have a wonderful Eurovision night, may the best song win (hah!), and may your betting account be a little fuller at the end of it all. Have fun!

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