Most people believe roulette to be completely based on luck, and they would be mostly right. There is no complex counting like blackjack and no expert reading of your opponent like poker: luck alone determines whether you have placed your bet correctly. However, as most roulette players know, this isn’t entirely the case: whilst you cannot change the odds of your bet, you can manage your bets and your money to maximise your chances of winning. These strategies use mathematical statistics and formulas to, simply put, calculate your luck at the table, and many long-term players swear by them.
The best roulette strategies are based on logic and a thorough knowledge of statistics, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a mathematician to understand and use them. Here, we go over the basic math behind some of the most popular systems, and explain both the strengths and weaknesses of relying on statistics to guide your game.
In a standard (non-American) game of roulette, there are 37 pockets, representing the numbers 1-36 and a 0 slot. The numbers are alternatively red and black, and the zero is green. You can bet on a variety of outcomes, from a single number to a colour and even specific ranges of numbers.
The most important thing to remember is, as always, gambler’s fallacy: the result of your previous spins do not influence your future ones. Any strategy where you are using your past spins to influence your choices is inherently flawed, and illogical: if you bet on red five times in a row, and lose five times, you are not any more or less likely to get it right again.
The chances of winning a bet on a single number is 1 in 37 (1/37 x 100 = 2.7%), and you can apply that basic calculation to any other combination. For instance, the odds of winning a bet on a third of the numbers (i.e: 12 numbers) is 12 in 37, or 32.43%. Most roulette systems rely on betting on colours or odd/even; the odds for this are 18 in 37, or 48.65%. You will note that this is slightly less than the expected 50% chance, and that is because the 0 slot skews things in the house’s favour.
This is known as the House Edge, and it exists in every form of casino gambling because, simply put, it is how casinos make their money. In the case of roulette, the House Edge is a statistical advantage in the form of the 0 slot, combined with a payout system based on the 36 numbers rather than the actual 37 pockets. If you bet $1 on a single number your actual odds of winning are 1 in 37, but if you do win, the payout is 35 to 1: you will receive 35 dollars for every dollar you bet, plus your initial bet, so $36. That 1 in 37 (2.7%) advantage is the House Edge, and when accumulated over time and over every roulette player, it makes the casino a lot of money.
Whatever way you look at it, the odds are against you: this is where both luck and roulette management strategies come into play.
If all spins are independent from each other, how does a roulette system help you win? Simply put, systems allow you to manage your money in a way which reduces your chances of bottoming out. It is a case of learning how to play smartly, whilst sticking to the system gives you a framework for play which makes your gambling less erratic, and less prone to spiralling out of control.
No roulette strategy is going to guarantee wins 100% of the time. Many may promise this, and some players will swear that they have figured it out; some of them will even offer to share their guaranteed method with you for a price. Of course, this is impossible: even if you could believe that such a thing was mathematically and logically possible, it only takes a second to realise that if there were a guaranteed way of winning, it wouldn’t be a casino game. Gambling involves risk, on an intrinsic level – without it, you are not gambling: you are either cheating or have somehow acquired mystical powers of foresight, in which case you probably don’t need a roulette strategy.
The best roulette strategies use statistics and mathematics to mitigate risk, not eliminate it entirely. Most of them are some form of money management, which involves carefully adjusting and varying the size of your bets, in the hopes of evening out any losses and edging towards wins. These are known as progressions, and there are two main ones: negative and positive progression.
Positive progression involves raising bets after a win and lowering them after a loss, such as the Paroli system. Negative progression involves continuously raising your bets, such as the Martingale and Labouchere systems, which we covered in more detail in our last article about roulette. This can work, however it is risky: you can easily run out of money and find yourself losing big.
As you can begin to see, the most important part of a roulette system is, quite simply, sticking to it. Expert players have self-imposed rules on when to walk away and how much they are willing to bet, which allows them to control their game. And overall, that is what roulette strategies are about: control. In a game where it is incredibly easy to keep gambling until all your money is gone, where great lucky streaks lull you into a false sense of security, systems allow players to regulate their game and, in doing so, continue to play in the long run.
Every good player will have a different opinion on what the best roulette strategy is, however what they all have in common is that they have a strategy, and that they go in knowing exactly what their limits are. More importantly, a good roulette player understands how the statistics can work for or against them, and has calculated the possible outcomes for their system.
So what to do if you want to get good at roulette but don’t have the mind of a mathematician? Well, do your research! Start by testing out a few popular methods and seeing how they work for you, but make sure you set yourself limits on your spending and have a winning goal which, once reached, you will walk away from. Another option is to use a free online roulette game, which most online casinos offer, and play around with techniques without using real money: this will give you a feel for what they entail, but will also show you on a practical level how they can make – and lose – you money.