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What Is The Martingale System for Roulette?

At its heart, it's very simple. With the Martingale betting system you take a 50/50 bet (let's say, always bet on Red - the house edge means that this isn't really a 50/50 bet, but it's the closest you'll get on roulette), and place your starting bet - we'll assume you begin with a bet of £1.If you lose, you simply double the bet and play again - so £1, then £2, then £4 etc. Every time you win, the returns will compensate you for any losses incurred on previous spins, and will leave you with a grand profit of £1 - or whatever your starting bet was. You then go back to the beginning, and start a new 'set'.

The Martingale system has been touted by many as the holy grail of gambling - a betting system that allows you to make money again and again and again. And indeed, played with a wide enough margin for error, it can seem to work for sizeable periods.
The beauty of Martingale seems to be that you never really lose. You just keep doubling up and rebetting until you make all your money back. And that's often how it seems for a while. Unfortunately, though, the truth is somewhat different to this.

Betting Amounts Can Get Cripplingly High

A starting bet of £1 may seem gentle enough. Rack up a few losses, though, and the bets will soon be looking pretty scary. With a string of seven losses, you'd be needing to put £128 down for your eighth bet - just to make £1. And that's before you've even considered your running losses. You can calculate your losses to any point simply by deducting the value of the starting bet from the value of the next bet. So if you've lost seven in a row, and are looking to put down £128 for eighth bet, you'll have already lost a hefty £127 (128 - 1). Should your eighth bet lose, you'd be looking at total losses of £255! Lose nine times in a row, and you'd be looking at a four figure bill - all this from a starting bet of just one pound! In that way, Martingaling can become very frightening very quickly.

It can also become pretty perilous. Aside from the fact that you might not have enough money to keep going, table or bet limits might force you away. If you're starting with £1 bets and, nine losses later, have had to move to placing £1,024 a time, you may well have outgrown your original table. Online casinos often place a limit on their games. If your next bet size is beyond that limit, you can't continue.

Unlikely Runs Are Far More Likely Than You Think

But let's say you don't have any problems with table or bet limits, and you have brought a lot of money with you. You can just keep going, can't you? Well, perhaps, but you're going to lose in the end. If you have a 50% chance of winning or losing, here are the chances of hitting a bad run:

1 Loss - 1 in 2
2 Losses - 1 in 4
3 Losses - 1 in 84
4 Losses - 1 in 16
5 Losses - 1 in 32
6 Losses - 1 in 64
7 Losses - 1 in 128
8 Losses - 1 in 256
9 Losses - 1 in 512
10 Losses - 1 in 1024

 This is the key to why Martingale often appears to be a successful system, but actually isn't. Many players would see 7 or 8 spins going against them as being a comparatively rare event. And so it often seems in a proper casino. That's because all of the placing of bets, spinning of the wheel etc. limits how many spins can occur in the space of an hour - typically, you may see 30 to 40 in that time. If you're at the casino for a fun night out, and casually gliding between roulette and other diversions, you may never see enough spins for even 7 losses in a row to be likely, let alone 8 or 9.

However, if you take your roulette very seriously and spend many long hours at the tables, you're probably going to see several hundred spins in a session or two. If you play online RNG (Random Number Generator) versions, you can whittle through a similar amount in under an hour. And over the course of several hundred spins, a run of seven against you is likely to happen more than once. You may well see a run of 8 losses, too, and you could even see 9 or more.

In real-life, these seemingly unlikely runs of 8 or 9 in a row happen far more often than people think. Extreme runs are very rare, of course, but even an unthinkable sequence, like 15 consecutive reds or blacks, actually happens once in every 32,768 spins. You would have to be a very serious roulette player to see that number of spins. But professionals may well rack up enough hours at the tables to qualify.

For most players, then, Martingale seems a decent system. Play it a few times, set 8 or 9 losses as your 'limit', and you're unlikely to get blown out over the course of a casual session. Start playing it seriously, though, and you'll realise how close disaster is. That's even more so in a real casino, where the house edge means that runs against you happen even more frequently. On a European-style table (with only one zero), you'll notch up 8 losses once every 207 spins, and 9 losses once every 403. If the table is American style, and so has a double-zero as well, these runs will occur once every 168 and 319 spins instead. On the latter table, a sequence of 10 against you will occur once every 605 spins, on average. You wouldn't need to play seriously for long without coming across such a poor run of 'luck'.

The Odds

And that's not the worst thing. The killer in Martingaling is that you simply can't win in the long term. Over time, you won't make enough in the run-up to each loss to offset it. On the 50/50 system, you'll hit a run of 8 losses once in every 256 spins. On average, you'll have made £255 up to that point, if you're playing with £1 chips. The problem is, that £255 has already gone on the previous 7 losses. And you're now a further £256 down as the result of your 8th loss.

This is the case no matter which number you pick out. If you've lost 10 in a row, for example, you'll be £2047 down overall, but will have only made an average of £1023 up to that point. The roulette table is a perfectly conceived mathematical deathtrap, and Martingale can't turn the odds in your favour.


 So are there any twists you can add to turn Martingale into a proper working system? Well, many have tried. If any have succeeded, they haven't mentioned it. Variations are available, though. The most common is to bypass the doubling on your second bet. If your first bet was £1, then you would also place £1 on the second bet. Successive bets would see the amount doubled as before (so you would place £2 on the third bet, £4 on the fourth, £8 on the fifth etc.). This does have the advantage that you're effectively a step behind in terms of doubling, so you won't get to the scary betting amounts quite as quickly. The problem is that you win a lot less often. Indeed, unless you win on the first bet of a set, you won't make a penny of profit from that set. So every other 'set', you'll do no more than break even. On the other hand, you're still exposed to long runs, and can be made bankrupt at any time by a seemingly extreme sequence.

Many other variations involve altering the betting amount as you're doing well or badly. But whether you're raising the bet amount, or decreasing it as the run gets longer, you're still going to lose. One system that does have some credibility is increasing the bet size by one unit each time - so your first bet would be £1, your second £2, your third £3 etc.. The real twist here is that you don't reset the bet size just because you win. If you're £20 down, for instance, and your bet size is up to £8, a win would reduce your arrears to £12. You would still keep increasing the bet size, so placing £9 the next time. If you won that bet, you would be left with £3 still to make. At that point, you could bring your bet size back down to £3 - if you lost that bet, you would then bet £4 the next time, £5 the time after that etc until the arrears had been removed. This is a more sophisticated version of Martingales, and because bet sizes are only going up one chip at a time, you don't get the same scary bet amounts that you do on the normal version. On the other hand, bad runs can take a long time to clear, and you'll often be left needing a fairly extreme sequence of results yourself in order to get rid of a large deficit. In the long term, even this system seems to work against you.



Hit or Miss?

A definite miss for serious players. However, for casual players looking for a night out, Martingales gives them a pretty good chance of coming out a winner. Over a short number of spins, it's likely to go well for you, particularly if runs of 9 or more are your 'limit'. The one unit increments variation gives you a bit more to think about, and it can be fun watching significant deficits being broken down as you hit a run of good results.

Overall, though, Martingale is unlikely to make you successful. Indeed, it's almost guaranteed to bankrupt you.

Advantages Of The Martingale System

  1. Often produces wins over the short term
  2. Can add a sense of purpose to a casual gambling outing

Disadvantages Of The Martingale System

  1. Guaranteed to lose heavily in the long term
  2. Bet sizes can become very scary
  3. Table or bet limits may leave you stranded