Martingale Betting System
The so-called “Martingale Betting System” is used to describe a class of progressive betting strategies that require doubling of a wager after a loss until a win is recorded. Thereafter, the player returns to betting the original amount. That’s just about all there is to it—except there is more, especially when applied to playing Blackjack, along with some cautions regarding its use.
Martingale Betting System Basics
Henry Martingale was the proprietor of a British gambling house in the latter part of the 18th century. Although he did not invent this system of betting and there are no records indicating that he promoted its use, his name became indelibly associated with the practice of “doubling up on a loss,” which had become a popular method of wagering during his time.
The reason the Martingale Betting System achieved such fame and has lasted so long is its simple premise as well as its easy math. If a player doubles a wager until it wins, all previous losses will be recouped, yielding a profit of whatever the initial bet was. This approach seems particularly promising when applied to even money wagers, such as Baccarat, the outside betting areas of Roulette, the Pass Line at Craps, and of course Blackjack.
When playing against a Blackjack dealer, a Martingale bettor might wager one unit to begin. If it loses, the next bet would be two units. If it loses again, the player bets four units, and so on, until his/her hand eventually prevails. The player knows with certainty that, as long as the game is not rigged in some way, a winning should come up with a statistical frequency approaching 50% of all deals. It is just a matter of being patient and continuing to wager until a winner comes up.
However, no matter what version of Blackjack is played, there is always a built-in house advantage, even if it is only on the order of 1%~2%. Should a streak of bad luck occur, with six losses in a row, the act of doubling the bet each hand results in wagers of 1+2+4+8+16+32 = 63 units. That’s 63 units risked to win just one—a return of slightly less than 1.6%, if it succeeds. The probability of failure is roughly equal to anticipated profit margin. Can this system really be used with success?
Applying the Martingale Betting System
Of course, a player of great wealth might not be concerned about doubling up again after six losses, or even seven, eight, nine, or more. As long as it is possible to keep doubling the bet, a winning hand must come up eventually. It seems there is no way to lose.
But there is. In fact there are several. The primary one is the betting limit imposed on every casino Blackjack game. After a certain number of losses in a row—no matter how large that number might be—the system will eventually require the player to wager more than the maximum allowed at the table. That’s when the entire strategy caves in.
What’s more, the longer one plays, the greater the likelihood of a losing streak exceeding six losses in a row will be. That’s why experienced gamblers apply the Martingale Betting System, if at all, only as a short-term approach to wagering. The objective is to win a bit quickly, and then change systems or gaming tables before the odds inevitably catch up.
Another hurdle is presented when opportunities come along to split a pair or double down. The Martingale Betting System has no way of taking there situations into account, other than to treat the additional wagers required as part of the ongoing series. If the resulting hand(s) win, there is no problem, of course. But after a split, if one hand wins and the other loses, it’s a “push.” Even though the string of losses has been broken, the player is forced to re-bet the previous amount and continue the series.
And should the double-down lose or both split hands fail, the amount being staked balloons greatly. Although the amount of profit that can be won by completing the series doesn’t change, the next wager must be quadruple the previous one. The only mitigating factor is that natural blackjacks pay 3-to-2.
At a table where a new hand is dealt every two minutes, streaks of five winners or losers in a row can be expected roughly once every two hours or so. To be successful using this system, players should put a cap on potential losses by ending the progression following any series of five consecutive losses (-31 units) or after any split or double down, regardless of the result.
When playing with such a cap, the objective becomes to win at least 32 times before a series terminating event occurs. Once the profit objective has been met, it is time to switch systems or move to another table. The best advice when playing Martingale is to “quit while ahead.” It can be expected to lose over the long term.