Roulette: The Martingale Strategy
In the past, we have covered several roulette betting systems and money management strategies, which allow players to effectively structure their gambling around statistically-backed techniques. Arguably the most famous and successful of these is the Martingale Roulette System, which we briefly discussed here.
It is probably the first roulette strategy that a new player will hear of and try, most likely due to its overwhelming simplicity: double your bet when you lose. There is no complex mathematical sequence, no calculations, no need to spend your game scribbling your bets down on paper to keep track. However, within the Martingale strategy simplicity lies its key flaw, and the reason why most experienced players stay away from the system. Today, we are going to delve deeper into what makes the Martingale so popular, why it works, and why it doesn’t.
The Martingale Roulette System: Why it works
First of all, we are going to go over the basics of the betting system. As explained above, it is an extremely simple strategy, consisting of doubling your bet after each loss. This is an example of negative progression, which indicates a strategy based on minimising losses by increasing bets when you lose. Positive progressio, on the other hand, focuses on maximising wins by increasing bets when you are in a winning streak. Both are of course flawed (how do you anticipate when your winning streak will end?), but for now let’s focus on negative progression.
The Martingale strategy is based on some pretty simple mathematics. It is played using only the outside even odds bets on a roulette table: black or red, odd or even, 1-18 or 19-36. These have the best odds in roulette (almost 50%), and also the lowest payout of 1:1, meaning you win however much you bet if your number lands.
Assuming infinite plays and money, if you double your bet after every loss, you will always eventually recoup your money, plus a profit equal to your original stake. This will become clear if we look at an example: you bet $2 on red, and lose, so you bet $4. You lose, so you bet $8, and you lose once again and bet $16. This time, you win.
Before your winning spin, you had lost 2+4+8= $14. After your winning spin, you have recouped your losses and made $2. You can apply this to any numbers, and you will always eventually make a profit equal to your first bet.
… And Why It Doesn’t Work
If you paid attention to the explanation above, you will have noticed the key phrase to consider: ‘assuming infinite plays and money’. This is a completely theoretical assumption, which doesn’t hold up in the real world: real roulette tables have betting maximums, and real people don’t have infinite money. So yes, the Martingale strategy would theoretically always pay off, but in reality, it is an incredibly risky strategy to employ.
And yet, you may be tempted to think: ‘Sure, I could lose big quite easily, but the odds are pretty much 50-50, so what are the chances I’ll encounter a long losing streak, really?’ More experienced players will recognise this sort of logic as an example of gambler’s fallacy, or the belief that the game will ‘even out’, keeping long winning or losing streaks from happening. In reality of course, losing streaks happen all the time.
Instinctively, we feel that if the odds for something are 50%, then we’ll get it right half the time. However, statistics like these are based on thousands of plays, if not more: yes, the ball will land on black approximately 5000 times out of 10,000, but it can still land on red 20 times in a row. You have no guarantee of getting it right half the time.
Even if you did, it is important to remember the odds are not 50%: because of the green ‘0’ slot on the wheel, the odds are skewed to 48.65% in a European roulette wheel and 47.37% in an American one. This represents the house edge, and this means that even if you had infinite money and infinite plays, the odds of you losing are always going to be slightly higher than the odds of you winning. In the long run, the house has it.
What’s important to remember with the Martingale Roulette System is that you don’t even need to enter that big a losing streak before losing a lot of money. Let’s take the same example we used above, which uses small bets, and assume we kept losing. Your bets would look something like this:
2 - 4 - 8 - 16 - 32 - 64 - 128 - 256 - 512 - 1,024
Within 5 losses, you’ve lost $62. Within 10, you’ve lost $2,046. This is assuming you haven’t already hit your table’s betting maximum. You can see how easily it can escalate, especially if you’re playing with bigger sums.
Should I Use the Martingale Strategy?
It depends on what you want from the game. It is not a sustainable long-term strategy for winning big. Even when it works, your wins are small and incremental. If what you want is to win big at roulette, this is not the system for you. But then again, if you want to win big at roulette, you should understand that all betting systems have their flaws, that you are playing a game of chance above all else, and that your reward is commensurate to your risk.
The Martingale Roulette System works best for beginner roulette players who want to get a feel for the game and for betting strategies. It is simple, straightforward, and has a decent chance of at the very least evening out. It is a good springboard for more complex betting strategies, and can teach you discipline and money management. As with any betting system, it is important to set yourself a limit: know how much you are willing to lose and walk away when reach that figure.
So, to summarise, below are the pros and cons of using the Martingale Strategy:
- Easy to understand and to follow
- A good beginner strategy and introduction to betting systems
- Good odds of recouping your losses
- Bets escalate quickly and you can easily find yourself out of money or unable to continue
- Little to no chance of big wins
- Gambler’s fallacy: losing streaks are more common than you think (applies to all forms of betting)
- The house edge will always be a disadvantage (applies to all forms of betting)