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In the battle between bookies and punters, odds are the crucial factor.

Back a long-odds winner and it’s drinks all round. Back a succession of losing short-priced favourites and it’s time to seek solace in the poor house.

In short, odds are possibly the most important component in sports betting. And once you get a firm grasp as to how they work, it can help tip the battle in your favour.

Yes, it can seem confusing at first. Odds of 17-2, 100-30 and 85-40 can make it baffling. But it really isn’t.

Honestly.

There are two ways of displaying odds — fractional or decimal. We’ll come to decimal later.

In the United Kingdom, fractional odds are prevalent. And all a punter has to do is divide the first number by the second number to work out your possible return. So with odds of 2-1, you divide 2 by 1 (to which the answer is obviously 2). Back a horse, football team or tennis player at 2-1 with a stake of £5 and it’s 5×2, which gives you a return of £10. And you get your fiver back.

With odds of 17-2, you divide 17 by 2, which is 8.5. So if you make a £1 bet on a horse at 17-2 and it wins, you win £8.50 (plus you get your £1 stake money back).

Decimal odds are arguably even easier. The punter simply needs to multiply whatever his stake is by the decimal odds on display to calculate their returns. For example, a bet of £25 at 1.85 would return £46.25.

Odds merely reflect the probability of an event occurring. The shorter the odds, the greater the chance of it happening.

Check today’s racing results. Chances are, a lot more horses prices between 2-1 and 8-1 have won races than horses priced 50-1 or above. The shorter the price, the greater chance of it happening.

But blindly backing favourites does not guarantee a life of champagne and Rolls Royces. They provide a lesser return and, in the long term, you actually lose money.

And while odds of 10-1 constitute a less likely outcome, there is also the lure of higher returns should the punter make an accurate prediction.

The trick is knowing when a horse or team is overpriced, which means bookmakers may be offering them at 12-1, when you have studied the form yourself and think it’s more like a 3-1 chance.

Shrewd punters understand the importance of odds and utilise them to their advantage.

And different bookmakers offer different odds, which is why it is sometimes necessary to search for value among the vast amounts of bookmakers available.