The idea of developing a foolproof system of wagering has been around for a long time. Mathematicians were commissioned by wealthy patrons in 18th-century France and Italy to study games of chance and deliver ways to win, particularly at dice and Roulette. Most of the resulting systems were based upon some form of progression—a series of bets that, if successful, would eliminate any prior losses and deliver a profit. Some of the more famous ones bear the names of their inventors and are still used today.
Applying progression systems that were devised for other games to Blackjack can be quite successful over the short term. The key is to be ready for situations that are unique to the card game. Also, one needs to be prepared to stop or switch systems when a progression has run its course. No fixed betting scheme can overcome the house advantage in the long run. Players need to know when to quit.
Basics of Progression Systems
In the section on Basic Blackjack Systems, a dozen easy to learn and use approaches to wagering are outlined. Several of them are discussed in more detail in separate sections: Martingale, Labouchere, Parlay, Paroli, and 1-3-2-6. Most of them work well when the number of winning hands and losing hands are about even. But each has its special strength or weakness.
Negative progressions, such as Martingale (doubling up after a loss), assume that strings of losses and turns of bad luck, which are bound to occur, will eventually be balanced out by wins. The shortcoming of such systems is that they become increasingly expensive and more risky to apply when the losing streaks are long or frequent.
Positive progressions, like Paroli and 1-3-2-6, depend on consecutive wins to turn a profit. They limit losses to smaller bets and deliver big payouts when they succeed. But if a table turns sour, or even if it simply alternates winning and losing hands, the required combinations of wins never catches up and the player’s bankroll slowly hemorrhages away.
Aware of the risks, an experienced player will switch between progressive betting patterns, attempting to apply the one that seems best suited to the situation. Even players who do not count cards can tell when a deck is running low on Aces or face cards. That’s the time to avoid negative progressions and weather out the losses with a system like Parlay, betting the minimum till the tide of fortune turns.
Putting Progression Systems into Play
No matter what progression system is being used, the player needs to be ready for those aspects of Blackjack that make it different from other even money games: splitting, doubling down, taking insurance, and 3-to-2 payouts for natural blackjacks. Simply ignoring the opportunities these provide only gives the house an additional advantage. A plan is required.
For natural blackjacks, the recommended response is to set aside the extra chips received as a bonus. These winnings can be used as a pool to cover other contingencies later on. The same is true of any extra amounts won by splitting or doubling down. They should not be treated a part of the progression.
Pushes can be ignored as non-events and the progression can continue as if uninterrupted. Unsuccessful splits and double downs, however, are a different matter. For most forms of progressive betting, they should be treated as additional losses in the series. Many players go so far as to halt any progression after losing one of these special hands.
Insurance is generally a bad bet and need not be taken by progression players. But in those special cases where it seems prudent to insure a hand, such as holding a pair of tens facing the dealer’s Ace, the insurance bet should be taken from the contingency pool and not counted as part of the progressive series. In fact, if the contingency pool grows large enough, it can be used to cover the added risks of splitting and doubling down, too, keeping the progression on track.