In this article, we will look at the origins of the Martingale strategy, the maths behind it, and the many reasons why it does not actually work in sports betting.
What is the Martingale Betting Strategy?
The Martingale strategy is a staking strategy that relies on placing larger and larger bets until you eventually win, because you are inevitably bound to win. It sounds like a good idea until you start to look at the maths and realise that sooner or later you will in fact lose everything!
There are several theories circulating as to where and when the Martingale system first came into use. It is such a simple strategy that in all probability it was used by many people independently of each other for hundreds if not thousands of years, but documented cases of use only begin around the 18th Century in France. There are several theories surrounding why that name was chosen, one being that it was invented by an American, "Mr Martin Gale", that one is definitely not correct. The truth is nobody really knows who was the first person to publish a paper on the general idea but the first mathemetician to work on the Martingale betting system in detail was French the mathematician Paul Pierre Levy.
The most interesting historical anecdote of the use of the classic Martingale strategy occurred about one hundred years ago and helped Monaco to become the super rich principality that it is today.
In the 1850s the Prince of Monaco hired a French team to build a spa, a casino, and luxury villas. This casino became the world famous Monte Carlo Casino. In August 1913 this casino had the longest ever documented run of black numbers to hit in a row, some 26 times in total. A large number of players, because of the gambler's fallacy and because they were using a martingale strategy, soon began wagering vast sums on the next number being red. As word spread of the sequence more and more people heard about it and rushed to the casino to bet on a red number being next. When it was another black people were using a martingale system to recoup their losses and still profit.
The starting bet was usually quite large because of the confidence it would not be black again and when it was the frenzy grew with more and more new players now wanting to be involved. The casino had to halt the time between spins to allow many wealthy patrons to go outside of the casino to raise more funds in order to keep wagering hoping their losing streak would end. They did raise more funds, and promptly lost again.
Several very wealthy aristocratic families in both France and Spain from around the region were financially ruined by this run of numbers, and their use of the Martingale rule. Monaco itself has never looked back, this massive injection of capital securing its position as one of the richest places on Earth.
Understanding the Martingale System - examples for beginners
In its simplest form the standard Martingale strategy involves betting on an event that has odds of evens (Decimal 2) and the classical way of displaying this is by using a coin toss which can be heads or it can be tails. If you begin by betting £1 on heads, and it is indeed heads, then you make £1 profit. Great. Now you go back and repeat the bet, this time it is tails, so you lose £1. Given that you are in a £1 loss situation, but you want to be in a +£1 situation, your next bet is £2. If this wins, then you have made £1 over both the bets because you have a -£1 and a +£2 this is +£1 overall. So now you go back and start again, and bet £1.
You repeat this process doubling your bet size every time that you lose, so you would bet £1, then £2, then £4, then £8, then £16, and so on until eventually you win. When you win, revert back to £1 and start again.
Sports bettors have a slightly different betting strategy because although the principle is the same the odds that they bet on are unlikely to be evens each time. To work out how much to stake on the next bet the losses from all the previous trades are added together plus the profit you originally wanted, and divide by the odds of the next bet.
For example if you have had your first two bets at evens, then you have bet £1 on the first bet, and £2 on the second bet, now you need to win £4 on the next bet to recoup your £3 of losses to date and also still make £1 profit. So if the bet was at even money on roulette you would bet £4 as your third bet in this sequence.
owever sports bettors do not always bet at evens, and you may find a fantastic value bet that you want to place that has odds of 4/1. In that case, your third bet in this sequence will go back to just £1, because if that wins you still make the required £4 profit.
Although a classic Martingale strategy involves doubling each bet that may not be the case with each sports bet, you just need to wager enough to win back all your past losses plus one!
If somebody asks "Is the Martingale system profitable?" then the answer is, in the short term, very probably. In the long run, definitely not. The Martingale system success depends on keeping on going no matter what your losses, until you win, but that is impossible in the real world of sports betting.
Advantages and disadvantages of the Martingale system in betting
The advantages of the Martingale betting strategy are:
The disadvantages of the Martingale system are:
Why doesn't the Martingale system work?
There are several assumptions made in the mathematical model which are not true in reality.
Firstly, you do not have an unlimited amount of funds to keep on going forever, there will be a point in time where you can not go on because you have no more money to stake.
It may seem unlikely because the bets begin so low, £1, £2, £4 and you might think well with £1000 there is no way I could lose. You would be wrong. Because the Martingale strategy involves doubling every bet each time you lose, it takes just 9 incorrect bets (assuming odds of evens) to mean that you can not keep going if you start with £1000. That is because bets of 1/2/4/8/16/32/64/128/256 total £511, leaving you with a bankroll of £489. The next bet that you need to place is £512 though so already you can not keep going following the system. A bankroll of £1023 would allow you one more attempt but if that one lost you would have £0.
Secondly, even if you did have unlimited funds (and you do not), the betting sites all have maximum betting limits, both stake amounts and win amounts, which means that you could not go on indefinitely.
Thirdly, you will find that if you do it for real your nerves will kick in long before you hit the bet limits anyway, this is at least true in our experience. When you are just talking about it and going through the numbers it is very easy to say, "after losing your bet for £256 place another for £512" but unless you are a gambling addict it is more likely you will be too scared to lose again. And the idea of a £500+ bet just to win £1 does not seem like a good idea.
Finally, although it is possible that you could, if you spent long enough searching, find sports bets at evens which are a 50/50 chance of occurring but the chances of that are incredibly slim. The Martingale strategy does not take into account that when you are sports betting bookmakers do not give you true odds, and you will be losing more often than half the time if you are placing bets at evens.
Some of the Martingale system variations
Reverse Martingale, or Anti Martingale System
Since the Martingale strategy is not going to work in the long run some people looked at that and drew the logical conclusion that in that case doing the exact opposite will. On the face of it, that sounds plausible but this system ultimately also fails for the same reasons that the original does.
It works by using an initial bet size of £1, and if it wins, your following bet is for £2, and if that wins, your next bet is for £4 (assuming bets of evens). Until you lose, then you go back to £1, and start again. Whereas the original Martingale strategy has a lot of small wins until there is one calamitous loss, this "anti Martingale strategy" if you will, is the opposite. You have a lot of small losses until eventually hitting a winning run which will win back all your previous losses and then some.
It can work depending on how soon into your winning run occurs but in the long run the time will come more often than not when your entire bankroll is lost before you hit a winning run, and the time will come when your winning run is cut short due to the sports betting sites limits.
The Labouchere System (The Ryleduke Solution)
This is a variation of the Martingale strategy which is not as extreme and works on the principle that you will profit as long as the ratio of losing bets to winning bets does not fall below two to one (33% of winning bets).
Your bets will always be (in the classical Roulette theory, not for sports bettors) at even odds but this time each bet grows in size more slowly. The Labouchere System was developed by keen roulette player Henry Labouchere who lived from 1831 to 1912. This Martingale strategy works better than the original method but will still ultimately fail for exactly the same reasons, sooner or later you will hit a losing streak that takes you up to the betting site limits. His system involved a starting point of 1-2-3 and later systems such as the Ryleduke solution expanded on this to using 1-2-3-4, the theory is exactly the same. We will explain how it works below.
It is advised that you have a piece of paper and a pen to write down your bets and the results but you do not have to. It is a lot easier if you do though. Write down on the piece of paper:
Now add together the two numbers at either end of your list, in this case it is 1 + 4, so your bet will be £5. If it wins then cross off 1 and 4 and repeat the process adding together the two numbers still at either end of the chain, in this case now it is 2 and 3, so again bet £5.
If it wins then you have completed the set and made £10.
So what happens when you lose? OK so if your first bet loses then you do not cross off the 1 and the 4 but instead write a 5 (the value of your losing bet) at the end of the chain. Now your next bet will again be the two numbers on either end, this time 1 + 5, so you bet £6.
If that loses then you write down 6 at the end and your next bet is 1 + 6 = £7.
If the £7 bet wins then you cross off the 1 and the 6 from your chain and add together the two numbers now at the end, this will be 2 + 5, so you bet £7 again. If this wins then again take the two end numbers, and this is 3 + 4 = £7 again. If it wins then you have completed the set, another £10 profit. If it loses then add 7 to the end of the list.
The bet now is 3 + 7 = £10. If this wins cross off the 3 and the 7 and you are left with just one number, 4, so you bet £4. If this wins then you have now completed the game and win £10 overall. If the 4 loses then you add another 4 to the end of the list.
You now have two remaining numbers, 4 + 4, so £8. If it wins you have now won £10 overall.
You keep repeating this process, either crossing off two numbers or adding one number to the end. Your stakes will slowly grow until you complete the set, but it grows at a much steadier pace than repeatedly doubling as you do with the classical Martingale betting system. Each time you complete a set and cross off all numbers, you will have won £10.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you are only betting for fun and losing money does not matter then why not, you will have a lot more wins than you have losses (overall). So that can be fun. The problem is that using a Martingale strategy when you lose, you will lose everything, wiping out all your previous gains as well as your whole bankroll. Using the Martingale strategy in the long run is a terrible investment strategy that is guaranteed to lose 100% of your money sooner or later.
Because bookmakers do not have unlimited funds themselves, and to stop them from losing too much money in one go that they can not cope with, they all have limits on both how much can be wagered on (or potential winnings from) an individual bet and also by one customer in one day. Because a run of losing bets using a Martingale system can soon require bets of 100's of times your original stake, if the bookmaker does not accept them, when you eventual win does come, it will not recoup all of the prior losses.