Martingale System Explained

A croupier spins the ball of a roulette table. Michele Spatari / AFP

The Martingale System is a popular strategy that tells you how much to stake when playing casino games such as blackjack, roulette, and baccarat. It might initially seem daunting, but it is actually simple, and it can be very effective if you have a large bankroll. This article breaks down the Martingale System, explains the pros and cons of using it, and highlights some alternative systems.

What is the Martingale System?

The Martingale is a negative progression system that determines the size of each bet you place. It can be applied to any game in which the chances of success are close to 1 in 2, such as red/black, odd / even, or high / low on a roulette wheel, blackjack, and baccarat hands, and certain craps bets.

The concept is pretty simple. You increase the size of your bets after each loss. The idea is to eventually win, thus wiping out the previous losses that you incurred.

You can start by setting aside a bankroll. Choose a percentage of that bankroll to be your base unit. It is helpful to start with a relatively low percentage when using the Martingale System. For example, you might have a $1,000 bankroll, and set your base unit at 1%, or $10.

Your initial wager will be for one base unit. If you win, bet one unit again. Keep betting one unit until you eventually lose. When you lose, increase your stake to two units. If you lose again, increase it to four units. Keep doubling your stake until you eventually win. When you win, start again by betting one base unit.

Martingale System Example

Let’s say you bet $10 on red on when playing roulette and you win a few hands. You will be in $30 of profit. You then lose the next bet, so you increase your stake to $20. If that loses, you can increase your stake to $40.

If you lose again, increase your bet amount to $80. If you lose yet again, increase it to $160. If that bet wins, you will earn a $160 profit. That $160 wipes out the $150 you previously lost (losing $10 plus $20 plus $40 plus $80) and leaves you with a slight profit.

A customer puts down five USD 100 bills on a blackjack table. Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP

Martingale System Pros and Cons

The beauty of the Martingale System is that it always makes up for your previous losses. However, one issue is that you will need to start placing very large bets if you endure a lengthy losing streak.

For that reason, you need a large bankroll and a table that provides broad limits – a low minimum bet and a large maximum bet. The system falls apart if you run up against the table limits. You also cannot deviate from it halfway through a game, so it requires discipline and focus.

Yet it is reasonably simple, as you just double your bet amount on each loss, so it is hard to make a miscalculation.

A game of roulette. Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP

Martingale System Alternatives

Some players do not like the idea of chasing losses. They prefer to double down after getting a winner instead. The Martingale System does not capitalize upon winning streaks.

If you would like to go for an opposite approach, you can use the Reverse Martingale, whereby you double your stake after each win. You just have to know when to walk away, because a single loss can erode all previous gains. This is a positive progression strategy.

The Paroli System is another positive progression strategy. Alternative negative progression strategies to the Martingale System include the Fibonacci System, the D’Alembert System, and the Labouchere System, many of which are less aggressive than the Martingale System.