The Martingale System: A Betting Strategy to Avoid

We’ve all heard tales from gamblers with an infallible betting system that will beat the house and guarantee riches. But if such systems truly existed there would be no gaming industry - so it’s always advisable to read up on the theories you hear.

One of the most popular betting strategies you're likely to come across is the Martingale System. Here’s what it is and why you should avoid it.

What is the Martingale System?

The Martingale System is a betting strategy that originated in 18th century France and remains popular today. The principle is simple: each time you lose a bet, you double your next bet, so that the eventual win leaves you with a small profit equal to your original stake. It is mostly used on games which offer bets with close to a 50/50 chance, such as Roulette, for instance.

Why It Appears to Work

In theory, the Martingale System is close to a sure thing. Eventually, a bet is likely to win and cancel out any losses, leaving the bettor with a modest profit, depending on the original stake. However, it is an example of what is known as the Taleb Distribution; this is a strategy that appears low-risk in the short term, bringing in small profits, but which will periodically experience extreme losses.

Gambler's Fallacy

There are a number of reasons that the system doesn’t work in practice. It relies on the gambler’s fallacy, the theory that eventually you are bound to win. This is quite simply not true – every bet has the same chance of losing, no matter how many losses you've already experienced.

Simple variance in a game can lead to what appear to be long losing streaks (or winning streaks!), when these are actually quite ordinary results of chance.

Final Bet Far Greater than the Small Wins

Furthermore, while a losing streak might eventually end, you may not be able to continue using the Martingale System until it does. You do not have an infinite bankroll, and ordinary table games do not have infinite betting limits (certainly if you play at an online casino). And when you do hit a series of losses, doubling the bet each time, your final bet will be far greater than the small wins you would obtain when the system works.

Consider this example: if you play Roulette online, you may play at a Roulette table with a \$1000 bet limit. You start with a \$1 bet on red. The ball lands on black. Your next bet is \$2, then \$4, then \$8, \$16, \$32, \$64, \$128, \$256, \$512 – and then you have reached the table limit.

Ten losses in a row is not unusual in Roulette, and if you now bet \$1000 you are no longer be able to win back your full bankroll. You could be looking at losing \$1000 after what started as a \$1 bet, and all for a \$1 profit - not good odds.

The Martingale System is tempting, but such strategies are usually lauded by people who’ve simply enjoyed short-term success. It is better to bet sensibly (using your intuition and playing within your limits) than to rely on a system that could incur huge losses. If you’re unsure, try out your own strategies risk free at an online casino’s practice tables – and don’t trust those who tell you they have a sure way to win!

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