Martingale – How to Lose a Lot With a Betting System
You may have heard of the Martingale Betting System, one which dictates that you play to take advantage of a ‘losing streak’.
You can find systems for sale online that “guarantee” a win almost every time. Online hucksters prey on the mathematically challenged. They tell you that hardly ever will you encounter a long losing streak. They tell you that the odds against losing 10 spins in a row are worse than 500-to-1. (True.) That sounds reasonable and optimistic punters buy the “strategy” (which may or may not be called the Martingale Betting System; online sellers may have their own name for their system, which they use to avoid the known stigma to the name Martingale Betting System).
Here’s how the Martingale Betting System works: You look for the game with the lowest house edge. In most casinos that is European (or single zero) roulette.
You make a one-unit wager on a bet that pays even money, usually red or black. Say your bet is $1. If you win the bet, you take your $1 profit and put out another $1 bet. If you lose, you bet $2. In each series of bets you keep doubling your bet until you win, at which point you go back to the small starting bet. For example, you bet $1 and lose. You then bet $2. If you win, you’re $1 up. If you lose, you bet $4. Again, if you win, you’re $1 up. If you lose, you bet $8, and so on. Whenever you win, you revert to the $1 bet, which starts a new betting sequence. Most of the time you have a win within a few spins, but sometimes you have a string of losses. If you do, one of two things happens.
1. You Hit the Table Limit
Let’s say the table limit is $500. Your betting sequence would be $1, $2, $4, $8, $16, $32, $64, $128, $256, … But, wait a minute. If you lose that hand, the Martingale Betting System would have you bet $512, but you can’t do that: the maximum bet is $500. After betting and losing $256 (which would happen on the ninth spin), you’d be out $511. If you make that $500 bet and lose, you’re out $1,011. But even if you win that bet, you’re out $11. And those large bets arose from what seemed at first small betting. Every day thousands of unknowledgeable players around the world walk into casinos to give the Martingale Betting System a trial and most of them win a little bit. (The shorter their time at the roulette table the more likely it is to have a small win.) They don’t suffer 10 losses in a row. That unbettable amount (a wager of more than the table limit) rarely shows up, but when it does, the player loses more than they have won, and usually considerably more. If the betting limit is $1 to $500, the table limit is reached approximately 1 out of 9 betting sequences (instances of starting with $1 and doubling after each loss till the table limit is reached). The longer the gambling session, the more likely it is that that limit is reached. That is, the more spins, the likelier that a losing streak of 10 bets in a row will occur. The player will have risked $1,011 (losses of $1 + $2 + $4 + $8 + $16 + $32 + $64 + $128 + $256 + $500) at the point of making that $500 bet. Is it worth risking $1,011 to win $1? Or more accurately, risking $1,011 to lose “only” $11? (Even if you won that bet you’d have to continue with 11 more successful betting sequences to be ahead $1. You might again hit that table limit during the pursuit, which would increase your loss.) Or, since you can’t double your bet completely after having bet and lost $511, would it be better to revert to $1 and play till you’ve won 511 times (511 betting sequences, not 511 spins; there would be more than 511 spins)? That might work, but you’re again subject to one of those lengthy losing streaks. It has been estimated that in five weekend gambling sessions, betting with the Martingale Betting System will encounter a streak of nine losses (after which you’d be forced to make that same difficult decision because the next bet has to be at the table limit) once on average.
2. Your Bankroll Isn’t Large Enough
You’ve just seen how disaster can strike in the form of nine or 10 losses in a row. If that happens, you need to be making large bets. If you lose nine times, your next bet must be $500. To be able to make that bet, your bankroll must be at least $1,011. When you look at it that way, you must ask whether it’s worth risking thousands of dollars to maybe make a few dollars. Again as an estimate, your weekend experience of the Martingale Betting System will have a success rate of around 80%. That is, 80% of the time you’ll make a few dollars; 20% of the time you’ll lose more than you made in the 80% of the time that you won. Interestingly ( but not surprisingly), in the (very) long run you would find that whatever is your average bet, you’ve lost 1.36% (the house edge) of that. Say your average bet worked out to be $4 per spin, you would have lost $0.0544 per spin.
What About Blackjack?
The Martingale Betting System is not generally used with other than even bets on a roulette table. Blackjack, for example, is out, because even though blackjack played without counting cards has a low overall house edge (when played optimally), sometimes favorable additional bets are called for. That is, it is always best to double the bet on a starting total of 11 (with an 8-3, say), but the Martingale Betting System does not include increased bets at any stage. Also, starting with 8-8, it is almost always better to split them into two hands (necessitating doubling the bet) than to just hit or stand on the hand. Not doubling or splitting when optimal reduces your overall expectation.
Betting only on the pass line on craps or the player hand in baccarat are also even money options to roulette.