The Martingale theory is an enduring idea that has been around since the 18th century. Not bad for something that doesn’t guarantee a win and can lead to catastrophic losses.
No one seems to agree how the theory got its name. It may have been after a gaming house owner in London who liked to encourage his clientele to double up their bets.
It could be derived from a Provençal expression that means ‘to play in an absurd or incomprehensible way’.
Casanova, in his memoirs, mentions betting this way in 1754 at the Ridotto casino in Venice. “I went [to the casino of Venice], taking all the gold I could get, and by means of what in gambling is called the martingale I won three or four times a day during the rest of the carnival.”
The Martingale theory
The main theory is very simple and is applied to games where there are only two options, such as the red and black of roulette (now complicated with the addition of 0 and 00).
The player places their bet and continues doubling it until they win. Once the win occurs, and this could be quickly or a long time in the future, all losses prior to the win will be regained, with the player making a profit equal to their original bet.
Unfortunately playing the Martingale way is as risky as it is easy. The progression goes 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 and then 256 times the original stake, so it does not take too long a losing streak for the player to be risking a large sum of money just to get back to even, plus their original stake.
Variations on the Martingale theory
- The mini Martingale. Here the player limits the number of times they double up. This stops larger losses but does not guarantee a winning streak.
- The anti or reverse Martingale. Here the player doubles the stake every time they win. Fine if you get out after a win. Not so fine if you don’t because you will be wiped out with one loss.
- The grand Martingale. This follows the same rules as the basic Martingale theory but each time a bit extra is added on to the stake so when a win comes along the winnings will be more than the original stake.Unfortunately playing the Martingale way is as risky as it is easy
The Martingale theory has been around for more than 250 years, so why does it have an enduring appeal? In the short term it can increase a player’s chances of winning, but the wins will only be small. When the player loses, the losses will be greater. It is a trade-off.
The simplicity of the theory also appeals. It benefits from people believing in a “law” of averages and falling for its close relation, gambler’s fallacy.
The law of averages
People tend to believe that things will average out in a short time or with a small number of events. Unfortunately this is not the case. Even tossing a coin 100 times will only result in an 8% chance of 50 heads and 50 tails.
Human genetics illustrate this ‘law’. Take for example the Brett family of Dingwall in Scotland. Mr and Mrs Brett have a large family. They have 10 children. If the law of averages applied universally you would expect them to have five boys and five girls. The Bretts have 10 sons.
Even with 50% odds of an event happening, in this case the sex of a child, the 50/50 chance applies to each individual event.
Monte Carlo or bust
A prime example of gambler’s fallacy occurred in 1913 at the Monte Carlo Casino. The ball ended up on a black number on the roulette wheel 26 times in a row. Gamblers, convinced that a red number must be due to come up, bet red repeatedly and many suffered heavy losses.
The run of black numbers, while unusual, had no bearing on where the ball would land on the next spin. You cannot rely on past events to predict future ones if they have no influence on the outcome.
The Martingale theory, while advocated in a few places tucked away on the internet, is probably best saved for a time when science has worked out how to make humans live forever. Even then, there’s still the matter of needing infinite funds.