All of the advertising hype, inducements, bonus offers, and marketing of accumulator bets give the impression that they are incredibly popular. Indeed, potential winning accumulators can seem like a small lottery win – a life-changing reward, just for picking the right outcomes of a few sporting events. And this is the attraction – potentially huge wins for a relatively small outlay.
But it should come as no surprise that bookmakers see accumulator bets as a major source of their income, mainly because most punters are literally unaware of their chances of winning, or are ignorant of how to make a profit from them.
This article, therefore, provides an essential guide to accumulators – what they are, how to calculate and place them, and tips and strategies to help you understand and profit from them.
What Is An Accumulator Bet?
Accumulator bets, or ACCAs as they are more colloquially known, are usually high risk, high return bundles of uncorrelated bets.
An ACCA is also known as a parlay bet or a combo bet and is a single investment comprising two or more individual wagers known as ‘legs’ or ‘folds’.
For example, a two-legged or two-fold accumulator (more popularly known as a ‘double’) consists of bets on the outcomes of two independent events; a three-legged or three-fold bet (a ‘treble’) is composed of bets on three outcomes, and so on.
Let’s examine what we have said so far.
An ACCA is a High Risk, High Return Venture
An ACCA is a high-risk venture because its success depends upon the correct prediction of all outcomes in the bet-bundle – One wrong prediction forfeits the entire stake.
But ACCAs are particularly popular with punters because a comparatively small starting stake can be converted into an exponential win through sheer weight of the multiplied set of odds contained within the bet-bundle.
The following mantra rings true of ACCA bets:
Higher Number of Legs = More Risk Involved = Higher Potential Returns
The level of risk is obviously reduced with fewer legs but, of course, as is the case with any financial investment, a lower risk goes hand-in-hand with lower returns.
An ACCA is a Bundle of Bets
The returns from an ACCA are far higher than splitting a stake of the same size and placing a series of individual bets on the same outcomes.
Think of winning a spin on ‘black’ at roulette and then leaving the original stake together with the winnings riding on ‘red’ for the next spin – planning to do this, say, four times in a row is the same accumulative investment process as a four-fold bet.
Both exhibit a form of progressive staking, which continues until either the bet is let-down by the failure of any particular leg (spin), or all legs (spins) win. Both wagers are literally ‘all or nothing’ propositions.
The whole of the ACCA stake, therefore, rides on the first leg and, if it wins, the amount won plus the original stake forms a running total to be staked on the second leg. After each leg, the running total is passed onto the next bet in the list until a conclusion is reached.
Bets in an ACCA Must be Uncorrelated
The bundle can contain bets from a range of sports – it does not necessarily have to be limited to bets from any particular sport or any one league. In this way, the scope for different styles of bets contained within a single ACCA is almost limitless.
But bets chosen for the ACCA from the same sporting fixture (i.e. the same match) must be independent of each other.
For example, it is okay to include team X winning the first half of a game and to have a different leg of the ACCA predicting team Y to win the match outright. However, it is not possible to include team X to win the first half and score the first goal of the game.
For beginners, this logic may be hard to follow, but see it from a bookmaker perspective: team X scoring the first goal in the match makes it more likely that they will win the first half, and this will be reflected in the in-play or in-running price for the half-time result, which will immediately drop. One bet has already won (team X scored first), and the other bet is now winning by default. Both bets are, therefore, related to team X scoring the first goal and a bookmaker will not strike an ACCA bet that includes both outcomes – they are too similar, being motivated by the same event in the match.
As a rule of thumb, when considering the inclusion of two separate bets from the same game, think about the in-play market and how each price is affected by match events – choose outcomes where odds will react in opposite directions to a particular match event, or where one is unaffected by the other.
Our example of team X winning the first half will see its price reduced as soon as the goal is scored, but with team X leading, the odds on team Y winning the match will immediately increase. These markets are, therefore, not considered to be linked and will be accepted as part of an ACCA bet by most bookmakers.
Likewise, a goal scored by either team will not necessarily affect the prices of, for example, the corners market.
How Does An Accumulator Bet Work?
In order to provide a universal answer to this question, let’s examine the mechanics of an ACCA in terms of:
- How they are structured;
- How to calculate their probabilities of success;
- How to calculate their return.
How To Place An ACCA
Here’s a typical bet slip showing an ACCA involving five EPL games spread over a round of fixtures (Sat-Mon).
As mentioned before, the slip might just as well be a mixture of football matches, tennis matches, horseraces or, indeed, whatever you fancy from the huge selection of outcomes offered by the bookmaker of your choice.In this case, all we have done is click on the prices for the outcomes we fancied to add them to our bet slip:
Halfway down the slip, you can see that we have entered a £10 stake in the ‘5 Folds (x1)’ option. (If only four selections had been entered, the option would read as 4 Folds (x1) instead).
The accumulated (decimal) odds of our five-fold are shown at 77.63, equating to a possible win of £776.30.
By multiplying the odds of our five selections together, we have created a multi-layered bet returning odds of 77.63.
The attraction and popularity of ACCAs now become apparent. £776.30 for an outlay of just £10 does seem very juicy. But remember, all five results have to go our way for that bumper pay-day to materialise.
We will talk in general about ACCA insurance (called ‘ACCA EDGE’ by this bookie) a little later. You will also see a range of other options below our five-fold line – these are not pure accumulator bets; in these cases, the original stake amount is split equally between each line – these types of bets are more properly known as permutations or ‘perms’. You can read more about these here, but suffice to say, they are variations based on accumulator mechanics (they do not rely on all predictions being correct) and are more rightly the subject of another article or series of articles.
Having selected our five-fold and entered a stake, press the ‘Place Bets’ button at the bottom of the slip. Every bookmaker will then flash up a confirmation message to check your selections – if you are still happy with the structure of the bet, click on from there to strike the wager. It’s as easy as that.
What are the Chances of Success
Odds are purely indicators of implied probabilities at the time you view them or buy them. They will change (rise or ‘steam’, fall or ‘drift’) throughout the ante-post market (i.e. prior to kick-off), depending upon the weight of money wagered by punters.
High demand for one side of an outcome leads to a drop in price (i.e. demand exceeds supply), whilst the odds for the other, more unpopular outcome at the time rises to provide balance.
In a nutshell, bookmakers use this pivotal pricing mechanism to balance their books and ensure a margin of profit regardless of the outcome.
It is therefore difficult to estimate accurately what the chances of our five-fold actually are. We can work out our own odds using historical statistics and compare them with those bought to establish the amount of value in our bets. There are many ways of doing this and one man’s estimate of the true odds will probably differ from the next.
However, what we can do is work out from the five odds we have bought what the implied probability of our ACCA is. This should provide us with a rough idea of its chances of success.
The five odds are:
2.62, 3.50, 1.95, 1.44 and 3.00
Convert these to implied probabilities by taking each odds and performing the following simple calculation:
Express the result as a percentage.
1/(2.62) = 38.17%
1/(3.50) = 28.57%
1/(1.95) = 51.28%
1/(1.44) = 69.44%
1/(3.00) = 33.33%
Now multiply these five percentages together:
38.17% x 28.57% x 51.28% x 69.44% x 33.33% = 1.29%
Based on the odds we have just bought, the implied chance of all five of our predictions coming to fruition is just 1.29%, but bear in mind that this is before a ball is kicked.
Remember, our five selections here are based on the 1X2 market – effectively, we are looking for five correct results from a total of 15 possibilities.
Forgetting the odds and looking at a pure one-in-three chance of guessing the correct result of each match (home, draw or away), our calculation becomes:
33.33% x 33.33% x 33.33% x 33.33% x 33.33% = 0.41%
It is important to reiterate that ACCAs are not for the faint-hearted!
But it is not all doom and gloom for the punter because if the first leg wins, the chances of the five-fold improve to the probability of the remaining four legs:
28.57% x 51.28% x 69.44% x 33.33% = 3.39%
If the first two legs win the chance of success improves to:
51.28% x 69.44% x 33.33% = 11.87%
After three winning legs:
69.44% x 33.33% = 23.14%
You can see for yourself that after four winning legs, the chance of the fifth leg completing is the implied probability of the final leg’s odds (33.33%).
This combinatorics style of progressive improvement of the odds as each leg completes provides important benchmarks to gauge risk in order to make decisions whether to let it ride or to lay it off at any point. It also keeps emotions in check as expectations are known at the start of each leg.
For comparison purposes, our highest implied probability (game 4) is 69.44%. If all five matches were the same, the chances would improve to 16.15% before a ball was kicked.
Calculating the Returns on ACCAs
All bookmakers provide automatic calculations of the potential win, which is shown in the bet slip before the bet is struck.
If you remember, our five-fold odds were calculated cumulatively at 77.63 for a win of 776.30, but how do we calculate this figure manually?
The individual odds again: 2.62, 3.50, 1.95, 1.44 and 3.00
Multiply them together: 2.62 x 3.50 x 1.95 x 1.44 x 3.00 = 77.25
(It does not matter in which order the numbers are multiplied)
Why 77.25 and not 77.63?
It’s a small discrepancy but it is in our favour – the important thing is that we are able to calculate what the win should be and compare it with what is being offered.
N.B. Some bookmakers calculate odds to three decimal places but display odds rounded-up or -down to two, making it impossible to follow their calculations exactly. Others may include combinatorics rounding or small adjustments in connection with ACCA insurance offers. The point is to start worrying only when the win offered is lower than the manual calculation!
Here’s a bet slip from a different bookmaker showing exactly the same selections, but at slightly different prices:
The odds here offer a greater return than our first example, but you will notice that this bookmaker has no equivalent of the ‘ACCA Edge’ offered by the first.
Here, multiplying the individual odds together produces a figure of 83.92 (rounded up). Like the first bookmaker, the win offered (at 84.34) is more than the multiple of the odds.
Comparing both bookmakers, the selections are the same, but the reward is greater with bookmaker 2 due to a couple of higher prices. Paradoxically, this makes bookmaker 2’s implied probability slightly smaller at 1.19% even though both combos have exactly the same real chance (i.e. identical bets). The bottom line is not to place too much importance on implied probabilities linked to prices.
The Pitfalls of Accumulator Bets
There are several things to bear in mind when striking an ACCA bet:
- The particular bookmaker’s maximum pay-out should be known when compiling a multi-leg ACCA. There is no point compiling, for example, a 15 leg ACCA to win £250,000 if the maximum pay-out with that bookie is limited to only £150,000. Read the terms and conditions of each bookmaker in your portfolio carefully before embarking on any ACCA adventure.
- Indeed, some bookies limit accumulators to a certain maximum number of legs partly for this reason.
- It is also important to be aware that some bookmakers offer reduced odds on outcomes included in an ACCA than can be obtained from betting on the same outcome with them as a single bet. This erosion of value gives the bookie a constant edge over the punter.
- As we have seen, the more legs that are included in an ACCA, the lower the probability of success. The usual low probabilities make ACCAs a bookmaker’s bread and butter and it is not surprising that their marketing budgets and TV adverts are geared to promoting ACCAs and the riches that they promise. Newsworthy stories of lucky punters striking it rich become national news for a reason – to encourage more people to have a go.
- Including many low priced outcomes can be a recipe for disaster. For example, if our five matches all carried odds of just 1.10 (implied probability 90.91% each), the accumulated odds would be just 1.61 (implied probability 62.11%). As we saw earlier, the straight one-in-three odds provide a probability of just 0.41%. Instead of risking one-in-three on each of five games to achieve a final return of just 1.61, it would make more sense to choose a single bet at this price.
- Cashing out of a bet before its conclusion has also become a popular recent development, although the offers made for an early profit when ahead are usually grossly under-valued. In this way, the bookmaker maintains a stranglehold over its customers by depriving them of value. This reddit thread on ACCA cash-outs actually includes a comment from a bookmaker rep who mentions how much they like it when punters cash out early on an ACCA.
- Embarking on a career of accumulator bets can be a financial and emotional roller coaster ride. The profit and loss curve will usually be very jagged; full of deep crevasses with the occasional mountainous peak.
Advanced ACCA Tips
We saw earlier in our first bet slip bookmaker 1 was offering ACCA insurance called ‘ACCA Edge’ guaranteeing the return of your stake in full if the combo is let-down by just one bad result.
Almost all of the bookmakers offering ACCA bets provide ‘insurance’ along the same lines, although each offer is slightly different from the next. Some only offer partial stake refunds.
Again, it is a question of reading the terms and conditions attached to each of your bookie accounts to become familiar with the mechanisms.
Insurance is an acquired taste. Buying it by taking the ACCA Edge offer obviously reduces the pot of gold. In this case, the win reduces to 701.10 from 776.30. The ‘premium’ payable for this insurance is almost 10%. It is probably more effective to ignore the insurance offer and use the full weight of the win to lay-off for larger percentages of the net win (see below).
Many bookmakers offer bonuses for winning accumulators, the size of which, is usually dependent on the number of legs in the bet.
You will again need to understand the terms and conditions of each bonus offer and relate it to that particular bookmaker’s maximum pay-out – is the bonus paid over and above the maximum pay-out or is it an absolute limit? Check out our list of bookmakers offering ACCA bonuses
Cashing-Out By Laying-off
Greed is the enemy of most punters.
In the case of our five-fold, if the first four selections were successfully hurdled, there is no shame in considering laying-off the final leg to guarantee a healthy profit.
Let’s face it – the hard work has already been done and it would be a tragedy to fall flat on the home stretch. If you can lay-off a potential big win by playing the reverse result of the leg in question to guarantee a smaller but welcome pot of gold, you will definitely feel better in the long-run. Especially so if that last ACCA leg fails – better to have half the money banked than to end up with egg on your face and the humiliation and frustration of knowing you have failed and lost everything by being too greedy.
Successful gamblers do not sit still waiting for things to happen – they will always try to manage an investment for profit, however small it turns out to be.
ACCAs are therefore very useful tools in building up a sizeable pot that can be laid-off for profit at any stage.
Creating a portfolio capable of managing for profit in this way is all about considering the timing of the bets included in the ACCA. Our five-fold bet slip contained five EPL matches played over three days, with each match having finished before the next was scheduled to start.
This provided the opportunity to review the situation and give space and time to calculate a lay bet at any stage. There would have been fewer opportunities to control the situation if any of the games had kicked off at the same time or overlapped in any way.
Successful betting of any nature is all about remaining in control and being strong enough to make the right decisions when they are needed. Understanding the playing field and careful planning of any ACCA portfolio is essential to retain control.
ACCAs can be great fun as each leg is chalked off the list in victory, but they can also be very short-lived when the first leg fails miserably.
Decisions need to be made regarding the timing of the portfolio and whether to give the ACCA a chance to get going by entering the arena with an uncovered, shorter priced lead bet or playing a covered, larger odds outcome as the first leg. The decision is yours.
But, in short, to pick a big, big win, a good deal of luck is involved, with the odds invariably stacked against you.
Hopefully, this introduction has provided insights to help you in your quest for that life-changing win, but to use the fable of the tortoise and the hare, smaller but steadier advances in profits are usually better than hoping to be catapulted to the winning line.