Negative Progression Betting Systems

Negative progression betting systems call for increasing bet amounts when you're on a losing streak. This approach may seem illogical. It isn't, but the fact that it's not doesn't necessarily make these systems good choices. Played out to the bitter end, negative progression systems will pay off. However, unless the bet amounts are very small, say $1, very few people have the nerve, or the bankroll, to ride them out until the wins come.

The Martingale Betting System

Martingale betting is one of gambling's oldest known betting systems, if not the oldest. It's an extremely simple approach, developed more than 200 years ago by a man named Henry Martindale (somewhere along the line, the “d” turned into a “g,” but no one knows why) for betting on even-money games such as roulette. The logic behind martingale betting goes like this: You will lose a finite number of times in a row. But you'll eventually win. Pretty simple, right?

But simplicity doesn't make the martingale system a winner. Here's why: martingale betting requires doubling your bet every time you lose. When you eventually win, the amount you win will cover everything you've lost, plus an amount equal to your original bet. It can take a lot of money to ride out those losing hands before you come up a winner. And when you do, you don't win very much.

A martingale is also a piece of riding equipment that is used to keep a horse's head in proper position. Some riders call it a tie-down, which is also how some blackjack players feel about martingale betting systems, seeing them as encumbrances more than anything else.

Here's how martingale betting works. You start with one betting unit. If you win, you put up the same bet amount. If you lose, you double your bet. Each time you lose, you double the amount of your last bet. As an example, let's say you bet $10 and you win. You are paid $10, and you get your $10 bet back, for a total of $20. Under the martingale system, you would take back your original $10 bet, and use the winnings from it to place your next bet. You win that one, too, so you follow the same procedure — take back the $10 you won, place a $10 bet on your next hand. Easy, right?

Now, let's say you lost this hand, so you're down $10. You would double your bet to $20 on the next hand. You lose this one, too. Your next bet is $40. And so on. Until you win, and you're eventually bound to win. When you do, you recover all your lost bet amounts, plus one betting unit equal to your initial wager. In other words, a profit of one betting unit.

How does the martingale put money back into your pocket? Let's look at the numbers. Say you start with a bet of $10, and you lose. What's more, you lose three more hands before you win.

First hand: Bet $10, lost.

Second hand: Bet $20, lost.

Third hand: Bet $40, lost.

Fourth hand: Bet $80, lost.

Now, at this point you've bet $150 and you haven't won a thing. Here comes the fifth hand: Bet $160, win. Yay, you've covered all your bets, and you're up $10. That's right. $10.

If this seems like a lot to go through for a measly ten bucks, you're exactly right. But let's say you didn't win that fifth hand. Instead, your losing streak continued. What's worse, it continued for another five hands. Here's what things might look like:

Fifth hand: Bet $160, lost.

Sixth hand: Bet $320, lost.

Seventh hand: Bet $640, lost.

Now you're in stratosphere land when it comes to the size of the bets you're placing. What's worse, this scenario couldn't really take place in a casino. If you were playing at a $10 minimum bet table, the maximum bet would be $1,000 (or even less). You would have to stop with your seventh hand, as your bet amount would have exceeded the table limit on the eighth hand. You'd be down a total of $1,120, with no way to recoup your losses. Ugly, right?

For the purposes of this example, pretend that this table has a limit of $10,000. So you keep going.

Eighth hand: Bet $1,280, lost.

Ninth hand: Bet $2,560, lost.

Tenth hand: Bet $5,120. Yay! You finally win.

The total amount of your bets: $5,110. You're up $10 again.

If you are set on using a negative progression system, the best way to approach it would be to set a limit for doubling your bets. If you don't go beyond $50 or $100, you're still betting more than most other players.

There are lots of variations on the martingale system. They all require large bankrolls, have low returns, and are very high risk due to maximum bet limits. If you run out of money or reach the house limit, you can lose a lot with no chance to recover your losses. No matter how good any of them look, or how excited a friend might be about one of them, avoid negative progression systems like the plague.

The LaBouchere System

The LaBouchere system is another negative progression system. It's sometimes called a cancellation system, but don't let that term fool you. It's just a kinder, gentler term for negative progression.

Like martingale systems, there are lots of variations on the basic LaBouchere system. In its simplest form, you write down a series of numbers. The numbers you choose don't have to be sequential, and the series can be as long or short as you want to make it. Each number represents the units you're going to bet. When you place your bet, you use the first and last of the numbers to determine what your bet size will be. If you win, you cross out these numbers. Your next bet will be the total of the next two first and last numbers in the sequence, and so on. If you lose, you add this bet amount to the end of the series, and you'd use it to determine the amount of your next bet. Kind of confusing, isn't it? Let's see how it works.

For this example, you've chosen a simple sequential series from one through six.

1    2    3    4    5    6

Your first bet will be one plus six, or seven units. You win the bet, so you cross one and six off your series. Your next bet will be a total of two and five, which is again seven units. You win that one. Cross the two and five off your list. Your third and final bet will be the total of three and four — seven again! But you lose this one, so you add seven to the remaining numbers. Your series now looks like this:

3    4    7   

Your next bet would be ten units, the total of three and seven. Just for fun, let's say you lost it again. Add ten to the series, which will now look like this:

3    4   7    10

Your next bet will be thirteen units. You win this one, so you cross off the three and the ten. Your next bet, which will be your last bet since you're out of numbers after it, will be eleven units.

If you do the math, you'll see that the amount of the winning bets is greater than the losers when you eventually wipe out all the numbers in the sequence (called a coup by those who use it). This is why this system is sometimes called a cancellation system. As such, it's just like the martingale system. Let's run the numbers, based on the previous example:

First hand: Bet seven units, won. The sequence is 2  3  4  5

Second hand: Bet seven units, won. The sequence is 3  4

Third hand: Bet seven units, lost. The sequence is 3  4  7

Fourth hand: Bet ten units, lost. The sequence is 3  4  7  10

Fifth hand: Bet thirteen units, won. The sequence is 4   7

Sixth hand: Bet eleven units, won. You're done with this series of numbers.

You've made a total of six bets for fifty-five units. Of these, you won four bets for a total of thirty-eight units. You lost two bets for a total of seventeen units. You're up twenty-one units. (Which is $21 if we assume your betting units are $1.) Let's compare this to playing six hands of blackjack where you simply bet $10 a hand. You win four hands for $40. You lose two hands for $20. Your net winnings are $20, $1 less than if you used the LaBouchere system.

Let's take another look at this system, using a different series.

1   1   1   2   2   3

Let's say you lost your first bet. You would then add four to the end of the series, which now looks like this:

1   1   1   2   2   3   4

Your next bet will be five units. You lose this one, too. Add five to the end of the series.

1   1   1   2   2   3   4   5

Your next bet will be six units. Dang, you lose this one, too. Add six to the end of the series.

1   1   1   2   2   3   4   5   6

Your next bet will be seven units. You win this one. Subtract one and six from the series. From here, let's suppose you win every following hand.

Here's what the progression will look like:

1   1   2   2   3   4   5 = six units bet

1   2   2   3   4 = five units bet

2   2   3 = five units bet

2   = two units bet.

Total units bet: forty. Total units won: twenty-five. Total units lost: fifteen. Net win: ten units.

Unless you're very good at keeping track of number sequences in your head, the LaBouchere system calls for writing down these sequences. Many casinos will not allow players to watch the cards, bet, and write things down at the table. Try it, and you may be asked to leave in a very unceremonious manner.

Again, let's compare this sequence to simply betting $10 a hand for eight hands. The won/lost ratio of 5:3 is the same. You win five hands for a total of $50. You lose three hands for a total of $30. Your net win: $20. The bottom line with this system: when you complete a series, you'll see a profit. However, like the martingale system, you could end up betting large sums of money before you do.

The D'Alembert System

This system is a hybrid of two betting systems — negative progression and insurance — that was invented by Jean le Rond d'Alembert. He theorized (wrongly, it turned out) that if a fairly tossed coin landed heads-up time after time, tails was increasingly more probable.

Following the d'Alembert system calls for raising bet amounts by one unit after each losing bet, and lowering them one unit after each winning bet. As an example, let's say you placed an opening bet of one unit and you lost. Your next bet is two units. You win that one, so you drop the units bet back to one. You bet one, and lose this hand, so you double your bet for the next hand. And so on.

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