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by Ariande

Ariande has over 15 years of experience dealing and supervising casino games in multiple states for diverse companies. Here are some observations of how I see players misplay hands at blackjack.

Note: In  Parts 1   and 2 of this series, I summarized the most common errors I've observed while dealing and supervising blackjack games. This month I'm going to focus on betting systems.

Betting Systems and Philosophy

Part 1: Analyzing the Martingale to Win/Press Systems

The Martingale

The Martingale system is one of the oldest betting systems; I've observe players using it everywhere I've worked and gambled. It functions on a simple premise: you have to win eventually. Imagine I start with a small bet. If I lose, I double the bet. If I lose that I double the bet again. I continue doubling until I win. The profit at the end of the progression will only be equal to the original bet, but then I can start the sequence of betting over again starting with the original small bet.

Consider the general philosophy of the system. You leverage a large amount of money in the attempt to win a relatively small amount of money. Is this not the fundamental principle the casinos employ? You might conclude that while the casino remains open, you can quit at any time. Imagine having a bankroll of ten thousand dollars and your goal was to win two hundred dollars a day. Could you do it starting at $10 or $25, doubling as you go? You might last a long time, or, maybe only one trip.

This system is terrible for blackjack for several reasons. By assigning a maximum bet, the casino has already limited its risk and will be "quitting" you ahead. How does this work? Imagine a $10 minimum to $1,000 maximum betting limits. Imagine the following run of losses. $10, 20, 40, 80, 160, 320, 640... at this point, you'd be stuck betting $1,270 but the maximum bet allowed is only $1,000. In other words, if you lose 7 hands in a row, you would be wiped out on this table. If everything were 50/50, a run of 7 would happen 1/128 occurrences.

Of course things aren't 50/50 in a casino. Did you notice what else was missing in all of this? "I could get blackjack." You could, but getting blackjack is only a 1/21 event. What makes the Martingale system particularly horrendous in blackjack is that you are not betting a single unit.

Every initial bet wagered in blackjack represents the potential of multiple bets.

Doubling after splitting (DAS) justifies many plays; not splitting and doubling would increase the casino's advantage. As established elsewhere, deviating from optimal strategy with larger bets is one of the most common errors in blackjack. In our above scenario, imagine the 4th hand into a run ($80) is 4-4 vs a 6. You split and get another 4. You double all three hands, getting totals of 20 or fewer, and the dealer pulls 21, wiping out everything. In that single hand, you've have put up $480 when you were stuck $70 to begin. Now, you'd have to wager $560 to win $10, and if you lose again, you can't double the following bet. The cards have no memory of the preceding events and the dealer is just as likely to get blackjack on the next hand as you are.

The above scenario was only looking at the 4th hand (and two splits, some places allow three). Imagine the splits and doubles appear on the 7th hand, where you have $640. Granted, if you win, you will make a profit considerably higher than your original bet ($10), but did you bring $4470 to the $10 table? (By the 6th hand you were stuck $630 and you need an additional 6x640 in the event you split and resplit up to total of four hands.) Maybe you brought $10,000, but if you lose that one hand, can you reasonably expect to win your money back?

Due to the necessity of splitting and doubling and how quickly you can reach table max, the Martingale system will very likely prove to be a disastrous strategy. If you insist on using this system (even though I don't recommend it), avoid blackjack altogether and stick with a game like craps or baccarat (on even money coin flip bets).

I recall a baccarat game in Connecticut that was $15-$15,000. You could go at least 10 bets before hitting the max betting limit but you now have to either factor in a 5% commission (when you win a bet on the Bank Hand) or taking the worse bet (by betting on the Player Hand). Is it really worth $15,000? My personal record for guessing wrong in baccarat was 13 in a row (at table minimum), and I have witnessed an individual make 15 consecutive incorrect guesses. How unlikely to you think that run of 7 is now?


I mentioned before that aggression destroys bankrolls by encouraging doubling without an advantage and that players at all levels over-bet their bankroll. What this means is that a player really hasn't accounted for the 4-8 bets typical of a big split hand or the implications. Bet more get more, right?

A similar problem that the Martingale player faces is...

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