Why the Martingale Betting System Does Not Work

Martingale Betting System

Plenty of people have come up with sure-fire ways of winning at any form of gambling game, sharing their systems in the real-world and online casinos. Such systems have one thing in common – in the long run, they do not work. This blog post will take a close look at the most popular betting system of them all – the Martingale – and explain why, in the long term, you will end up a loser.

What Exactly is the Martingale?

The original Martingale system became popular in 18th century France. No one knows why it was christened the Martingale, other than it was probably devised by someone bearing that name.

The principle of the Martingale is very simple indeed. First of all, you find a gambling option where the odds are as close to 50:50 as possible. The most popular option is red/black in roulette (although the odds of red/black in roulette are not exactly 50:50 because of that pesky green zero, or the even peskier double-green zero in American roulette). You choose your side (either red or black) and stick with it, and you bet a single chip on the first spin.

If you win, you bet again on the same outcome with a single chip. If you lose, you bet again on the same outcome, but you double your bet. And that’s it!

Here is a quick rundown of the martingale in action:

Total Chips Size of Bet Bet Made Result
100 1 RED RED = WIN
101 1 RED BLACK = LOSS
100 2 RED BLACK = LOSS
98 4 RED RED = WIN
102 1 RED RED = WIN
103 1 RED BLACK = LOSS
102 2 RED ZERO = LOSS
100 4 RED BLACK = LOSS
96 8 RED RED = WIN
104 1 RED BLACK = LOSS

So, after ten spins of the wheel the player won four times and lost six times but won four chips in total. If that behaviour is repeated over 100 spins, the player would win 30 chips, and over 1,000 spins would win 300 chips. If you were playing with $5 chips, then that would be $1,500 – not bad for 1,000 spins of a roulette wheel.

So How Come the Martingale is a Losing Betting System?

Let’s say that our player (above) has been using his system for while and after five hundred spins is 150 chips up. Now let’s take a look at the following:

Total Chips Size of Bet Bet Made Result
250 1 RED BLACK = LOSS
249 2 RED BLACK = LOSS
247 4 RED BLACK = LOSS
243 8 RED BLACK = LOSS
235 16 RED BLACK = LOSS
219 32 RED BLACK = LOSS
187 64 RED ZERO = LOSS
123 128 Oops!  

Oh dear, our player has lost seven times in a row and has been wiped out! All that hard work for nothing!

You may think that the odds of seven successive losing bets in roulette is pretty high, but in fact it is only around 155-1. Those do sound like high odds, but if you are playing 1,000 spins of a roulette wheel, then the chances are you will encounter a seven-spin losing run at least once.

The Gambler’s Fallacy – Switching Colour When you Lose

Some people say you can defeat the probability of long losing streaks by switching colour when you lose. This is an excellent example of the gambler’s fallacy, which states that in a two-outcome situation, the odds of event B happening increases should event A happen. In roulette, this would mean if the ball landed on a red number, it would be more likely to land in black on the next spin.

Is this true? Like all gambling games, roulette is governed by mathematics, so here is the maths:

Odds of red after the previous spin was red = 18/37 = 0.486

Odds of red after the previous spin was black = 18/37 = 0.486

As you can see, the odds are exactly the same, no matter what the previous spin happened to result in. In roulette, the outcome of one spin has no effect on the outcomes of previous spins.

What About Having a Huge Opening Balance?

The problem with our example player is that he started with 100 chips and was wiped out after seven successive losses. What if he had started with 500 chips, or 1,000 chips? He could have coped with the run of losses then.

While it is true that the more money you start with, the greater your chances of winning using the martingale, there are still two issues.

The first is the losing streak. Losing streaks longer than seven are possible (and quite common) and indeed the longest streak of consecutive colours (red) in roulette stands at an amazing 32! This means that if you bet on black for $1 at the start of this streak, you’d be betting $1,073,741,824 at the end of it to keep the martingale going!

The second issue is the table limit. Casinos do not allow you to put any amount you want on the spin of a roulette wheel, and indeed no casino would let you place a bet as high as $1,073,741,824. Most table limits are quite tight, set at $1,000 or even $500. Based on a $1 start, you’d only need to hit a nine spin losing streak to be wiped out on a $500 limit table, and ten on a $1,000 one.

The basic principle of the martingale is sound but the system ONLY works if you have a very large bank balance and you can find a table without bet limits. You are much better off playing roulette (or any other gambling game) for entertainment purposes with the hope of getting lucky, as opposed to a way of generating income.

BONUS READ: The 5 Best Roulette Strategies Explained

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