I’m not usually one to invoke philosophy in a sports betting advice column, but bear with me. I’ll make it all sound so simple and dumb that any actual professors reading this will start cursing.
Classical philosophers believed that rational judgement is not only possible, but when correctly applied, absolute. Not relative. People wonder why Ayn Rand’s wooden and predictable novels are so popular. It’s probably because, right or wrong, her theme boiled down to Aristotle’s laws of logic. It does people good to think that they can actually know what they know.
Sports can provide just the right sort of medicine for a postmodern, uncertain world. Pro wrestling promoters will tell you that the reason older men often fall in love with fixed matches and goofy stunts is that the WWE soap opera gives them a feeling of control over things. The wrestler becomes a stand-in for the fan’s ego. The results of a fight (even a fixed fight) are absolute, etched into the filmography. Nobody can come along in say, “In my reality, Ronda Rousey was booked to lose at WrestleMania.”
Self-control is always crucial when predicting the outcomes of real competition. When handicapping games in Las Vegas the worst thing you can often do is to take advice. No matter what anyone says, confidence is king when it comes to successful betting.
I’m trying to keep that in mind today, because I’m about to take on a widespread myth in sports gambling.
The Martingale System is a viable tactic, not necessarily a death trap. And the promise of using it at the sportsbook is exciting. It’s also not as high-risk as you might think.
Looking Past Critics of the Martingale
Take a nickel and flip it 10 times. The chances of it coming up “heads” (or “tails”) 10 times in a row are 1 in 1024.
With the above facts in mind, a quick refresher for those who need one. The Martingale System is the attempt to out-fox a casino manager by breaking a long-held rule of sports bettors. Martingale players chase their losses as a matter of course. If their first wager misses, they double it up and try again. If that one misses, they double-up yet again. And again.
Though the risk increases 2-fold with every turn, the Martingale System gambler knows that at some point she’s likely to win back the money with interest.
Critiques of the Martingale are well known. The most popular knock on the system is that lots of people lose-out completely by betting until their stake can’t handle the next bet-up in the progression. While it appears to work for a while at the roulette wheel or with other either-or proposition markets, the house is just laying in wait to pounce on your whole cash deposit when the long losing streak occurs.
Example of the Martingale System
One problem with using the Martingale to bet on, say, roulette, or craps, is that there are a lot of markets in a casino designed to give the house a big edge. Subtle edges are fine for the poker stakes, but they’re always going to ream the players on slots and with dice-throws. The roulette wheel itself might as well advertise a Vegas house’s strategy with its “almost 50-50” either-or wager. “You people get half, and you people get half, except for this little teeny tiny bit we’re taking over here.”
If the coin is weighted, then it can absolutely come up tails more than 9 times in a row every so often.
The site Wizard of Odds handicapped the Martingale as a Hard-Pass along with a general treatise against all gambling systems a few years ago. That’s a genre of Vegas writing I’m not sure I grasp. Heck, everyone uses some type of system whether they know it or not. Sports bettors who pointedly avoid adhering to any system or style still have a system – their system is not to have one.
But the figure the site quotes for the likelihood of a Martingale “crash” – losing an entire stake by doubling and doubling and doubling – is close to 20% chances to lose 8 wagers in a row. There’s probably a kernel of truth to that. The “average” wager at a casino (counting all smart and stupid ones) lends a pretty firm advantage to the bosses. Yet it doesn’t really apply to true coin-flip propositions such as the sports world provides on a daily basis.
Have you ever lost 8 sports bets in a row? I haven’t. I can’t remember the last time I lost 5 in a row. Certainly the simple feat of winning more than I lose hasn’t produced riches. But the outcome of an Over/Under really is a 50/50 scenario on average. There’s no way a sports betting site can manipulate the Warriors vs the Celtics to get some of the final scores to come in Over and Under alike. One has to lose for the other to win. The bookmaker attaches a vig, or house %…that’s how he makes his money.
The Martingale can be a way to beat the vig at the sportsbook. If you can’t handicap worth a lick, just make sure your bets have a 50/50 chance of winning on average, and you’re all set. If you can handicap to 51% or 53%, now you’ve got the weighted coin and the bookmaker should be flippin’ scared.
How it Works When Implemented the Right Way
Let’s throw aside the exact meaning of (-110), the promise of $100 return on a $110 dollar wager. To make the math simpler we will say that our Martingale sports-betting units are $10 each with a $500 stake. Suppose you bet a single unit on the Celtics-to-cover in the afternoon. They fail to cover. Then you wager $20 or the Warriors-Clippers game to go over the total. It falls under. Then you put $40 on an NHL goal total. And lose that too. (Just going for worst-case-scenario here.)
Now you could lose all 3 of those bets and still have $430 left over. That’s enough for 2 more double-it-up bets before you’re pretty much busted.
So we’ll take the units down to $5. Here, you can see the true value of the Martingale when applied to sports betting. Assuming that your handicapping effort is no worse than random selections on O/U picks, goal spread picks, and Yes/No propositions at (Even) or (-110) odds, then you’re going to need to lose 10 times in a row before it bites you in the keyster. That’s a 1-in-1000 shot. You have a better chance of actually winning substantial money at some slot machines than you do of “crashing” with a 5-dollar base Martingale and a tiny stake at the sportsbook.
In the meantime, every other round of wagers is paying off by a little or by a little more, depending on which outcomes win for which plays. A winning streak is a nice steady tick upward. Don’t get impatient…you can score even bigger after the next losses.
What’s more, you can adjust your style of betting to help salve the bad days and stroke the great days with the Martingale. For a good panic-time trick, try putting double-up bets on easier and easier-looking moneyline wins (always on the favorite) at (-150) or (-175) late in the day, week, or month of a losing streak. That way you’ve made a pretty safe wager on recouping at least most of the losses…and chances are very slim it will happen again in the future.
Avoid tricked-up O/U markets and don’t worry about hunting the best payoff lines. Do not wager on horses with the Martingale, and avoid parlays at all costs.
Dual Accounts to Deal With Danger
Because I’m confident that I can handicap certain sports accurately 55% or more of the time, I’m loving the Martingale as a profit system for at least one of my betting accounts. But it’s designed to work for the 50-50 handicapper too. The trick is to be ever watchful for that “crash monster.”
Start with the smallest units you can. Realize that while tiny units may not make for sexy gambling (OK, knock it off, wise guys) in the traditional sense, the idea that giving yourself a 10+ loss-in-a-row cushion against ever losing in the long run is very attractive. The smaller the bets begin and the larger the deposit, the more months and years you can expect to gamble free of worry.
But the dangers are there with the Martingale. I would recommend opening at least 2 or 3 new (and modest) accounts at betting books and/or your online banking system. Spread the wealth around. If you dedicate one sportsbook account to the Martingale System and play it very, very carefully with the soundest picks you can muster, it will always tend to creep up over time…and help fund the other accounts.
Don’t keep a gigantic amount of stake money in your Martingale funds, because the one and only true danger of the system is to lose everything in an epic losing streak. Take the base unit as low as you dare instead and enjoy an almost-impeccably safe system that breaks the unwritten rules.
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