Have you ever seen a gambling system for sale that promises huge wins? You might even be swayed by the fuzzy math examples used in the sales pitch, but the promises seem too good to be true.
Like most things in life that look too good to be true, these gambling systems are based on incorrect assumptions or poor math. Most of these systems are designed around the Martingale system, which sounds like it might work when you first learn about it.
On this page, you’re going to learn what the Martingale system is, why it doesn’t work in the long run, and why you might want to use it in the short term anyway.
Using the Martingale system for fun and short-term profits gives you the complete picture of the possibilities. The truth is that if you use it, you’re eventually going to lose a great deal of money.
But in the short term, you might be able to turn a steady profit.
What Is the Martingale System?
The Martingale system is a simple process that involves doubling your bets after a loss. The idea is that if you can make a bet that offers even odds, or close to even odds, you eventually win and make enough money on the win to cover all of your previous losses, and have a profit left over equal to your first bet.
You start with an original bet of $10. If you win the first bet, you win $10. If you lose the first bet, you make a bet of $20 for the second wager.
If you win the second bet, you win $20 and get back your bet of $20. The $20 you get back covers the $20 bet and the $20 in profit covers your original $10 bet, and leaves a profit of $10.
If you lose the first two bets, you make a bet of $40 for the third bet. If you win the third bet, the $40 profit covers the original $10 bet, the $20 second bet, and leaves a profit of $10.
This seems like a sure way to lock in a profit. The truth is it’s a sure way to lose, as you’re going to learn in the next section.
Why You Shouldn’t Use It
Three problems that aren’t evident at first combine to make the Martingale system a long-term disaster.
The first problem is that it’s difficult to find bets offered that have even odds. The bets in the casino that look like they offer even odds don’t, because of the house edge. Many Martingale users play roulette and bet on red, black, even, or odd. These bets pay one to one, but they don’t offer even odds.
If you’re playing on a single zero wheel, there are 18 spaces that win and 19 that lose. When you bet on black, there are 18 black spaces, 18 red spaces, and one space for the zero. A wheel with a zero and double zero has 18 spaces that win and 20 spaces that lose.
The second problem is the maximum betting limits, or ceiling, that casinos have for each game. When you lose several decisions in a row, you reach a point where the casino won’t take the next larger bet you need to make.
If the table limits are $10 to $500 and you start your betting series at $10, you reach the ceiling after losing five bets in a row. After losing the first bet, you bet $20. Losing the second bet requires a bet of $40. A third loss means a bet of $80. The fourth loss requires the next bet of $160. The fifth loss makes a bet of $320. You can’t place the sixth bet of $640 because the maximum bet is $500.
Even if the table has limits of $10 to $1,000 you can only make the sixth bet of $640. The seventh would need to be $1,280.
This leads to the third problem. Even if you can find a situation where you can make bets at even odds and you don’t have a maximum bet limit imposed by the business or person taking the bets, you don’t have an unlimited bankroll.
Eventually you’re going to lose enough in a series of bets that you run out of money.
This might not seem likely, but streaks of six or seven or more losses in a row aren’t as uncommon as you probably think.
Now that you know why you shouldn’t use the Martingale system to try to make long-term profits, let’s look at a reason why you might use it anyway.
Playing for Fun
If you understand the downside to using the Martingale system and still want to try it for fun, you can give it a try. Set a strict bankroll limit and see if you can double your money before you hit a long losing streak. Sometimes you’re going to be able to double it, but most of the time you’re going to lose.
But this doesn’t mean it can’t be fun to ride the ups and downs to see how it works in real life.
Here’s a fun way to try it that gives you a chance to have success.
If you can start with a bankroll of $2,047 you can make a series of bets up to 11 losses in a row before you run out of money. You have to start playing at an online casino that offers $1 minimum bets at their roulette table.
Make sure you play on a single zero wheel so you have the best odds.
Start your series with a bet of $1 on one of the even-money bets. As soon as you win a bet, drop back down to a $1 bet. The series of bets following losses is $2, $4, $8, $16, $32, $64, $128, $256, $512, and $1,024.
Keep in mind that a place where you start playing with $1 bets might not offer a maximum bet large enough to continue the entire series. When you reach the maximum betting limit, you might need to continue your bets in a land-based casino where the ceiling is higher.
This example illustrates the problem. You end up risking a large amount of money in hopes of a small profit. On the last bet of the series, you’re risking $1,024 for the chance to win $1.
It usually takes a long time to reach a streak of 11 straight losses. But if you play long enough, it’s going to eventually happen.
In order to double your bankroll, you need to win 2,047 straight series before you lose 11 bets in a row. You have a chance to do it, but in the long run, it’s still a bad bet.
Even if you don’t want to risk over $2,000, you can still have fun using the Martingale with a smaller bankroll. With a bankroll of $1,023, you can make bets until you lose 10 times in a row. And with a bankroll of $511, you can make bets until losing nine times in a row.
If your goal is to gamble as long as possible while enjoying some short-term wins, the Martingale offers a good option.
Now let’s say you don’t need to double your bankroll, but you want to be able to win $100 most of the time. If you use the same bankroll and bets used in the example above you only have to win 100 series in a row.
You have a good chance to win 100 series in a row before hitting 11 straight losses. With a little bit of luck, you might be able to win 100 series in a row multiple times before you get wiped out.
But eventually, you’re going to hit the losing streak where you lose more than all your short-term profits combined. If you’re willing to take the risk and are gambling with a bankroll that you know you’re eventually going to lose, this can offer hours of fun and excitement.
The risk of doing this is when you start believing that the short-term profits are going to equal long term ones. If you win 100 series in a row seven or eight times, it can fool you into believing that it can last forever.
This isn’t the case, and when you eventually get wiped out and aren’t prepared for the consequences, it can be bad. Too many people think that they can’t possibly lose another decision in a row and risk money they can’t afford to lose.
This is how people lose everything. When you convince yourself that you can’t lose, you get tempted to risk everything. People have risked their houses and everything else they own chasing what they thought was sure. Don’t make this mistake just because you have some short-term success.
Using the Martingale in Other Games
Roulette isn’t the only game where you can use the Martingale system. Any game that offers one-to-one pay outs is a candidate for the system. But most of them make things a bit more complicated than betting on roulette.
Here are a few more games you can play using the Martingale system and some of the challenges you face while playing them.
Blackjack – Blackjack offers a low house edge, usually considerably lower than roulette. You also win more than even money on a natural blackjack. But you have to deal with doubling down and splitting, which means that on some hands you need to bet more than your original bet.
The low house edge and ability to win more than even money sometimes makes it seem like a perfect game for the Martingale. But if you plan to use it while playing blackjack, you need a larger bankroll to be able to double down or split when it gives you the best chance to win. If you have to split after losing several hands in a row, you might not have enough money.
Pai Gow Poker – Pai Gow Poker is not one of the most popular casino games, but it offers an interesting opportunity for Martingale bettors. The game plays at a slow pace, so you don’t risk as many decisions every hour. A large percentage of hands end in a push or tie, which means you get to play even longer on the same bankroll.
It’s difficult to find a wide enough betting range to use the Martingale system long term, but for short-term play, it offers a good opportunity.
Baccarat– Baccarat has a low house edge on the banker bet, but when you win this bet the house collects a commission. You have to factor in the commission when you place your bets. This can be done, but it complicates the use of a system.
Craps – The pass-line and don’t-pass-line bets at the craps table offer a fairly low house edge and pay one to one. But it’s hard to find tables with a wide range of betting limits. It often takes several rolls before one of these bets is resolved, so craps does offer a slow playing game.
Sports Betting – Betting on sporting events also offers an opportunity to use the Martingale system. You need to factor in the vig you pay on losing bets, but it’s just a different way the house creates an edge. You might need to shop at several different books to find a wide enough range of bet limits, but you can use the system in sports betting.
Everything I’ve covered so far has dealt with bets that pay one to one or even money. But you can use a form of the Martingale system to make bets that have longer odds and pay more than one to one.
You can make bets on roulette that pay two to one. Bets on one of the dozens or columns have the same long-term house edge as bets on red, black, even, and odd, but pay out more. They also win fewer times than the even-money bets.
Using the Martingale is a little different on these types of bets, but the concept is the same. You just don’t need to double your bets after each loss.
You can also create more advanced systems that just use the Martingale as a part of the system. Some players keep track of results and then don’t start betting until certain things happen.
They might not place a bet at roulette until three reds in a row happen. Then they start the Martingale on black because they think it improves their odds.
The problem with this thought process is that each spin is an independent decision and has nothing to do with past results. Every spin has the same odds to land on black as any other spin. On average, playing on a single zero wheel, the result will be black 18 out of 37 times, or 48.649% of the time.
This deals with the gambler’s fallacy. It’s the belief that if something happens more than expected in a short time it’s not likely to happen as often in the next short time period, or some variation of this.
The human mind has a tendency to look for patterns, so we assign value too quickly to things that happen. If you see that tails comes up two times in a row when flipping a coin, you might think that heads is more likely to come up on the third flip.
But the fact is that heads has the same 50 / 50 chance to come up on the third flip as it did on the first two flips. As a matter of fact, based on simple mathematics, two tails in a row happen 25% of the time, and three in a row happens 12.5%. You get these percentages by multiplying the chance, 50%, times 50% for each successive possibility.
Don’t fall for the gambler’s fallacy in any situation. Random results can and are produced regularly, but in the long run, the base percentages hold true. But it might take hundreds of thousands or even millions of decisions for the base percentages to come through.
The Martingale system eventually leads to large losses that wipe out all of your short-term profits. But if you know how it works and the long-term dangers, you can still use this system for fun. And just like the title says, you might even be able to enjoy a few short-term profits before the long term catches up with you.