How to play roulette using the Martingale system

The Martingale betting strategy is a classic, and has still retained its popularity today for those looking to make a profit at the roulette table.

Roulette and how to play the Martingale system.
Roulette and how to play the Martingale system.

While it’s not a guaranteed winning strategy – no strategy at roulette is – it can be a fun way to play when you’re taking some time at the table. It requires a hefty bankroll, and trades off reasonable profit in exchange for the slim possibility of losing a huge amount of money – in other words, it’s not for the faint-hearted or those who play without a decent bankroll.

Here’s how to play it correctly.

Take the outside bets

And here, we definitely mean ‘outside’ in the roulette sense – that is, the bets that are on the outer edges of the table, rather than bets which have little chance of succeeding. The Martingale strategy works well when betting on red or black, 1-18 or 19-36, odd or even… and that’s pretty much it.

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The reason for this is that the Martingale is already a risky strategy, so we need to minimise that wherever possible. Sticking to bets that have just under 50% chance of coming in is the way to do that. As an example, four consecutive losses betting on colours has just a 7% chance to happen – betting on five numbers each time and losing, however, is extremely likely at 55%!

Even betting on columns or dozens gives us an 18% chance of busting four times in a row – don’t take the risk.

The outside bets are on the outside left of the felt, such as red, black, odd, even. The inside bets are the individual numbers.
The outside bets are on the outside left of the felt, such as red, black, odd, even. The inside bets are the individual numbers.

How to lay the bets

Starting with an opening bet of, say, $1 on red, you then have a rough 48/49% chance of that winning. If it does, you have made $1. For the next spin you would bet $1 again on red or black, or any even money bet.

Every time you win, you go back to your starting bet amount.

But if you lose, you double your bet amount. So if you bet $1 on red and it fails, your next bet should be $2 on an even money bet (it doesn’t have to be red again – this is one element of the gambler’s fallacy.)

If your $2 fails, then your next bet needs to be $4, then $8, then $16, then $32, $64, $128 and so on. Each doubling of the bet will mean your next winner will claw back your losses of the previous failed bets.

You may think it is unlikely to have a run of failed even money bets, but it can and does happen, which makes the Martingale potentially dangerous.

And remember, the longer you play, the more likely that bad run happens.

Start small

Doubling your bet after every loss means that a bad run will see the amount of money you need to put in the pot increase exponentially – that means that not only does the amount of money increase each time, but so does the rate of increase. In short, you’ll have to ramp things up pretty quickly – which is why you should start as low as possible to ensure that you have enough room to cover a bad run.

Let’s look at an example, where we decide to bet black every time and suffer some bad luck. We have $500 backing us up – should be plenty, right?

If we decide to bet $5 and lose, we then need to bet $10. When that loses, we need to bet $20. Then $40. Then $80. Then $160, and suddenly we’ve decimated our roll and we don’t have the $320 to continue our strategy.

There’s just over a 1% chance of this *entire sequence* happening (remember, the chance of each individual bet coming in is always just under 49%) – but if that seems unlikely, consider how many times we bet at the roulette table.

The odds of this sequence happening are better than being dealt Aces or Kings at a poker table, so it’s far from impossible. In fact, over a long session, it can become quite likely.

Instead, suppose we start off with a $1 bet. Then $2, $4, $8, $16 and $32. Six consecutive losses here would only cost us $53, compared to the $315 when we started betting with $5. We still have room to go for another three bets in the martingale with our $500 roll.

Remember – the Martingale is a risky strategy. We don’t need to increase that risk by starting off big and allowing ourselves to run out of room.

Think the ball can't land on red or black many times in a row? Think again.
Think the ball can’t land on red or black many times in a row? Think again.

Check the limits

Of course, one issue with the above example is that many bricks-and-mortar casinos will have a $5 minimum on outside bets – if you’re playing with a huge amount behind, that’s fine, but you should always take care of limits.

Even if we had a colossal number of chips, there’s another way that the limit can prevent the Martingale from succeeding too – the maximum. A low maximum, and especially a smaller gap between the minimum and maximum, could soon see us run out of room to continue our strategy.

In the example from the last section, the table minimum might just be $1, but if the maximum is $50, then we can easily get to a point where we can’t continue with our strategy.

Betway casino offers a big difference in limits between £1 and £10,000 on even bets on its live roulette games, making it perfect for the Martingale to ensure you’re less likely to get caught out by running into the upper limits for betting. That said, you’re in high roller territory if you have a bankroll of that size.

For lower-stakes players, Betfair starts at just 10p, although the site only goes up to a maximum of £500.

Just make sure you have the bankroll to back it up – and don’t think you’re invincible and can’t go broke. Remember – the more times you use the system, the more likely you hit the slim possibility of losing your entire roll.

Evolution Gaming, which offers live casino games to online casinos, offers some decent lower and upper betting limits. Casinos offering Evolution live casino games include ComeOn Casino, LeoVegas Casino and Casumo Casino.

Just one more thing

You might as well tip the odds in your favor by playing European roulette rather than American.

That’s because European roulette has just one Zero tile, compared to the American version’s two. That means European roulette’s house edge is 2.7% compared with the American version at 5.26%.

Want to get started? Read our guide giving you all you need to know about how and where best to play.

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