The Story Behind Martingale: Mathematically Perfect, Perfectly Probable

Written by Chris Baxter
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Type ‘martingale’ into any search engine and you’ll find a rich labyrinth of roulette systems, gambling strategies and a deep vein of ways in which it is possible to spend money on games of chance all supported by mathematical proof. But who was the man behind this pariah of all betting systems and how has roulette remained so popular?

 We have the French to Thank

The origins of martingale, like most modern gambling traditions, can be traced back to 17th and 18th century France. A time when the country was in its first throes social unrest. Revolution was brewing and there was a huge discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots.

France was in financial crisis and the cultural pervasiveness of the Enlightenment period was removing the shadow of serfdom from the agricultural and industrial working classes. Great thinkers like Descartes, Rousseau, and Voltaire had published works that discussed the themes of poverty, freedom and social upheaval. The upper classes, with more money than sense, gambled, and those with little or nothing, gambled what little they could afford

During this time of scientific examination, scientists and philosophers not only studied social justice but dabbled in the science behind the probability of various gambling games too. Academics like Antoine Gombaud and Blaise Pascal sought to examine the probability of gaming furthering the popularity of both mathematics and gambling.

The ‘Perfect’ Betting Method

One such system that became popular (later becoming known as the martingale) was a roulette tactic that appeared foolproof. It involved betting on either red or black where a player would then double up on each losing spin. When they eventually picked the right colour, the returns would cover all losing bets as well as winning a profit from their initial stake.

Mathematically it was a genius, perfect, almost. Short term gains would inevitably happen, increasing the belief in the method. But eventually, the laws of probability will work against it. Lengthy runs of losing spins will happen, meaning the bankroll needed to escape it and return to profit could become too great.

John Henry Martindale: Casino Whisperer

The name of this method has been attributed to an 18th century London casino owner, John Henry Martindale, who is alleged to have encouraged the gamblers in his casino to wager using this method. He already knew that it looked too good to be true, but also had the mathematics to prove it would work.

Add into the mix his abundance of loyal customers and he felt sure that the house edge would prevail in his favour. This and the fact that any potential liability would always be held with the gambler and not the casino. Whether it worked for him or not is unknown but eventually, his casino would close.

However, as if to prove his point and further the reputation of martingale, a version of this method was used to good effect by famous gambler Charles De Ville Wells in 1891, who took it, and a 4000 franc bankroll, to Monte Carlo. After five days at the tables, he eventually turned it into a million. It only served to add to the allure that the system could change the fortunes of the ordinary man.

The Modern Face of Roulette

Roulette today is still the most popular game in both land-based and online casinos, and it remains one of the easiest games to play. A fundamental part of any casino, it remains one of the most player-friendly games. It is also possible to play from anywhere in the world. There are plenty of sites offering a range of different, interactive versions such as casino roulette from Paddy Power which has both traditional roulette as well as a number of themed options too, like jackpot games or live roulette.

As Alexandre Dumas once so famously said “the martingale is as elusive as the soul”, but the fun and popularity of roulette remains as persistent and fair as it ever has. The serious gambler will always seek to find ways to improve their chances, yet the roulette table will still spin to its own laws of luck and probability.


Read 2898 times Last modified on Monday, 09 November 2020 20:21
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Chris Baxter

Chris Baxter

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