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Best of Henry Tamburin

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What do you think of this betting system?

13 January 2012

I received an e-mail from a blackjack player who wanted me to give my opinion on a betting system he concocted for blackjack. This isn't the first e-mail that I've received about betting systems for blackjack. In fact, I usually get three or four of them every month. Just about all of them involve some type of progressive betting, meaning you vary the size of your bets in a predetermined manner, according to whether the previous bet won or lost. With some progressive betting systems, you increase your bet following a losing hand (so-called negative betting progressions), while in others you increase your bet following a winning hand (positive betting progressions). The most famous and widely used progressive betting system is the Martingale, or double-up, system, and that's what I want to focus on.

First off, let me explain how the the Martingale betting system works. It's actually quite easy to understand and use. You just double your bet after every loss until you finally win, at which point you will be ahead by one betting unit. For example, suppose you wager $10 and the results of the next three hands are loss, loss, and win (L-L-W). Using the Martingale system, you lost $10 on the first hand, $20 on the second hand, and won $40 on the third hand. You wind up with a net win of $10, which is the goal of the progression, to win an amount equal to your starting wager.

How can there be anything wrong with the logic of the Martingale? Just leave the table after a win and you always walk away with a profit. Right? Well, yes and no. Long streaks of consecutive losses will doom the Martingale player, but pundits will always counter with "the chance that this will happen is slim." Really? Let's take a look.

Note: The math involved in calculating the percentages of streaks is rather complex (e.g., it involves 100 x 100 matrices). Therefore, I solicited and received help from Donald Schlessinger, author of Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pros' Way, and the Wizard of Odds, Michael Shackleford (www.wizardofodds.com) with the computation of the percentages.

You have about a 52 percent chance of losing a hand in blackjack (excluding ties). The chance that you will lose, say, 10 consecutive (resolved) hands followed by a win is 0.069 percent, meaning you will average one sequence of 10 losing hands (excluding ties) in about every 1,439 hands. And so, this losing streak will occur about once in every 14 hours of play (assuming you play 100 resolved hands per hour). And get this ... you don't know when that string of 10 consecutive losses will occur in the 14 hours (of course, it may not occur at all). The math says that you have roughly a 2.99 percent chance of losing 10 in a row in the first hour; a 6.18 percent in the first two hours; and 15.13 percent chance after only five hours (i.e., you are the favorite to have had at least one losing streak of 10 resolved hands!). Sadly for Martingale bettors, a streak of 10 consecutive losses is not such a rare event after all.

What about all those frequent winning sessions that Martingale players (and system sellers) always tout about this system? The fact is this: although most players will walk away a small winner most of the time, the money you will lose in that one catastrophic losing session will more than completely wipe out all the money that you will win in your more frequent winning sessions. In the long run, your wins and losses will add up to the casino's edge, and the amount of money that you will lose using the Martingale betting system will be close to the casino's theoretical edge in the game times the total amount of money that you wagered -- the same as it is for every other player who plays blackjack (except card counters). In other words, mathematically speaking, you can't, and you won't, gain the advantage over the casino using a Martingale betting system.

There is another more practical issue with the Martingale that also dooms most players who use it, and it's this: on an extended losing streak, you may not be able to double-up your bets because you will bump up against the maximum betting limit imposed by casinos. For example, suppose you are a $5 bettor and you lose eight (resolved) hands in a row. Your losses at this point total $1,275 (gulp!). Assuming you have the bankroll (and the guts) to double up again, your next wager according to the Martingale is $1,280, which exceeds the $1,000 table betting limit (that you'll find in most casinos on low-limit tables). Unfortunately, there is no way for the progressive bettor to bet enough to recoup his losses when this occurs (other than to move to a higher-limit table).

There are, for sure, many other types of betting progressions that players use to try to beat the casino at blackjack. If you remember one thing from this article, remember this. The odds of winning any hand in blackjack are not dependent on whether you won or lost the previous hand (which is why no betting progressions work), but rather the odds of winning are dependent on the ratio of high cards to low cards in the unplayed cards (which is why card counting works).

Don't be alarmed because I mentioned "card counting." I don't expect the readers of this article to spend months learning a complicated card counting system. However, what you can do in less than 30 minutes is to learn Speed Count. It's the simplest technique that allows average players to gain the edge over the casino at blackjack. Moreover, unlike betting progressions, Speed Count works.

Recent Articles
Best of Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin