Why The Martingale System Doesn’t Work – Roulette System Explained

Gamblers love the idea of luck or fate and are
often suckered by the notion of a system that can defeat the casino and beat
the house at their own game.

Sadly, these tend to either require a lot of
work or are nothing more than fantasies based on bad math and wishful thinking.

How The Martingale Works

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re already
familiar with the system we’re about to discuss and chances are you have an
inner gambler who is convinced the system has merit for reasons I’m about to
get into but first, let’s define the difference – for this article – between a
gambler and a player.

A gambler relies on luck while a player relies
on knowledge of the game.

Gamblers love systems like the Martingale because, frankly, they can be fun. Players, on the other hand, recognize the obvious (to them) flaws in this kind of strategy.

So here are the basics to the Martingale System:

You choose a 50/50 proposition such as red or black on a roulette table and place your initial stake on red, and if you win, you collect your winnings and repeat the bet.

That’s the easy part.

If you lose, you simply double your bet for the
next spin so that if you win, you recoup your losses and have a profit equal
to your initial stake

Let’s say that again because we’ll be coming
back to it in a moment:

If you lose your initial stake, you double that
bet and if you win, you get back everything that you lost PLUS a profit equal
to your initial bet

If you keep losing, you keep doubling and
doubling and doubling your bets until eventually red comes up and you get back
all of the money you lost, plus a profit equal to your initial bet.

A “profit” equal to your “initial bet.”

That’s it.

That’s what you win no matter how many times you
double your bet to chase your losses, all you will ever win is equal to that
first (lowest) bet

An Example To

So let’s play this out.

You bet $1 on red and you lose, so you bet $2 on
the next spin and lose again.

In fact, thanks to the fickle hand of fate, you
are going to lose the next 21 spins BUT you are going to win the 22nd spin, so
I guarantee that if you keep playing you will eventually see the ball land in

So let’s keep doubling until we hit that red.

Our initial stake is $1, then we double to $2,
then 4$ – $8 – $16 – $32 – $64 – $128 – $256 – $512 – $1,024 – $2,048 – $4,096
– $8,192 – $16,384 – $32,768 – $65,536 – $131,072 – $262,144 – $524,288 –

So we just bet $1,048,576 and all we need to bet
on that guaranteed 22nd spin is a little less than $2.1 million
dollars and we win back everything we just lost PLUS we will be ONE DOLLAR in

One dollar.

One buck.

That’s what we just won for risking around $4.2
million dollars of our own money (roughly the sum of everything we lost plus
our last bet, which we won).

No matter how many times you double your bet to chase your losses, all you will ever win is equal to that first (lowest) bet!

Another Gambler’s Fallacy

Gamblers will no doubt state the chances of 21
spins without a single red appearing is extremely unlikely and I agree that it
doesn’t happen often but it really does happen.

And when it does it might keep happening until
you either run out of money or you run into the table limit which forbids you
from doubling any more bets.

In fact, players are probably already screaming
this at their screen.

No one has a limitless bankroll and if they did,
no casino will let them play without a table limit to protect the house but
even in the above scenario, the house only loses one dollar whenever
your lucky red number finally comes up.

So why is it such a compelling idea for a system
and why do people still play it?

I guess it’s fun, especially if the spread of
reds and blacks is relatively “normal” since most players will win in a couple
of spins and return to their initial bet.

In these scenarios, the Martingale brings
seemingly guaranteed rewards until a string of losing results ultimately breaks
the player’s bankroll.

And that will always happen eventually because –
and I know this is going to be hard for many gamblers to believe – roulette
wheels do not have a memory.

Every spin is independent of every other spin
and the chances of a red or a black number coming up remains the same for each
individual spin no matter how many reds or blacks preceded that spin.

The gambler can’t accept this and simply points
to the long list of blacks and zeros (more about those in a moment) and
believes that a red number must eventually appear and the more non-red numbers
that preceded a spin must greatly improve the chances that the next number will
be red.

Except – maddeningly – this is false, but the
gambler’s brain often refuses to accept that.

A Stupid Way To Win

I once sat in a casino in Europe where we could
monitor all the LED number displays waiting for a run of six red or black
numbers before signaling players to hit the table and bet on the opposite color.

Amazingly, this tactic paid a healthy profit
until we hit a period of persistent losses that would have deleted our profits
had we not pulled back our bets in time.

For months afterward I would watch those same
LED displays from the poker room and record how many times a run of six became
a run of seven and the answer was about half the time, immediately recognizing
how stupid that entire strategy would have been in the long run.

Of course, that red/black bet was never a 50/50
proposition since there is a green zero on the wheel that keeps the odds
against the player; and in the US there are two zeros, making their wheels even
less attractive over time.

Sure, we won a little, but the method was flawed
and had we been overly distracted by our initial success we might have followed
subsequent losses into an inevitable black hole.

We made a lot more (though small beans compared
to well-funded teams) by identifying biased wheels, which I’ll discuss another


There are of course variations on the Martingale
strategy that seek to improve chances and returns while supposedly addressing
the weaknesses just described, but all of these are failing to defeat the
casino’s mathematical advantage

One such variation is the “Split Martingale”
also known as “Labouchere,” or the now infamous “Reverse Labouchere.”

If you want to know more about the Reverse Labouchere system, it’s accompanied by a fantastic story of a little guy breaking the bank in Monte Carlo that I covered in one of my previous articles.

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