Roulette is a game of pure chance and the simple truth is that there is no secret path to success. It doesn’t matter what kind of table you’re playing on – American, European or French – they all carry a house edge that is impervious to whatever actions the player may take. However, there are certain systems/strategies we can employ in an attempt to maximise our earning potential and control the damage when that inevitable losing streak unfolds.
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Always play single zero roulette
There are two main kinds of roulette tables: the European and American layout. The former has a single zero on the wheel and the latter has a zero and a double zero. Always choose a single-zero layout – that’s the best strategic advice anyone can give. The addition of the 00 pocket in American Roulette almost doubles the house edge, meaning you’re more likely to lose than in any other form of the game. Furthermore, some European games – particularly French Roulette – offer the ‘la partage’ and ‘en prison’ rules, which can greatly improve the player’s chances with 50-50 bets.
In the past, it was possible to make a killing if you knew what circumstances to look for and how to exploit them. The most profitable roulette strategy that has ever existed is to find a biased wheel. Back in the days when casinos were less rigorous when it came to maintaining their games and equipment, it was possible for a wheel to become worn out and spin slightly off axis. This would result in the ball favouring certain groups of pockets.
The operators of the Monte Carlo Casino found this out to their great expense in 1875, when English engineer Joseph Jagger observed the various roulette tables and identified one that showed a consistent bias towards a certain selection of numbers. By betting on those pockets on that particular wheel, Jagger amassed over £60,000 in three days (in modern money, more than $1.2 million). Charles Wells, a petty criminal and con-artist from London, broke the bank (i.e. cleaned out a table of all its available money) in Monaco an astonishing 18 times in the 1890s, although it is debated whether he’d found a crooked wheel or simply had a heck of a hot streak.
To put it simply, it is all but impossible to win this way in the 21st century – brick-and-mortar casinos are fastidious about the upkeep of their tables these days. Still, if you are ever at Star City or Crown, it couldn’t hurt to keep an eye out for any irregularities that could improve your chances.
This is not so much a strategy as a complete lack thereof. While almost all roulette systems involve some kind of mathematical theory designed to stifle the house edge, flat betting is when you place the exact same wager on every spin. Hence, the longer you play with this method, the more likely your returns will reflect the house edge – a 2.70% loss in European Roulette (single-zero layout), and a 5.26% loss in American Roulette (double-zero layout).
The Martingale system is tailored for casino games that offer even-money wagers such as red or black, odds or evens, and so on. It is the best-known tactic in roulette and has spawned many widely used variations. Mr Wells is said to have used this method on his bank-breaking exploits in Monte Carlo.
Using the basic Martingale, the player doubles their wager after every loss so as to recoup any and all deficits once a winning number comes up. After a win, they either start again at the original amount or quit the table. For example: we start with $5 on black and lose. Next we bet $10 and lose. Then we bet $20 and win, thus covering the $15 we lost and profiting $5. After that we can start again with a $5 bet, or leave.
The Martingale strategy works perfectly if two conditions are met: you have a never-ending bankroll, and there is no maximum bet. Unfortunately, most of us do not have eleventy squillion dollars lying around, and virtually all roulette tables are subject to betting limits.
To demonstrate the problem, let’s say we are at a table with a $5 minimum and $100 maximum. In this case, it is entirely possible under the Martingale approach to lose the first five bets ($5, $10, $20, $40, $80) and not be able to make the $160 wager required next, due to the $100 maximum, meaning we are $155 out of pocket with nowhere to go. So when using this system, it is important to choose a table with a low minimum and a relatively high maximum – and to make sure you’ve got enough coin to cover any extended bouts of bad luck.
There are myriad variations of the Martingale strategy, with two standing out:
Instead of simply doubling bets after losses, the player doubles and adds an extra unit. For example: if you lose on $5, the next bet is $15. While this boosts potential gains, it also increases the likelihood of big deficits and inflates the risk of hitting the betting limit very quickly.
Rather than raising the stakes after losses, the Reverse Martingale has the player doubles their bets after wins instead. This is known as a positive progression, whereas the standard Martingale is a negative progression. The idea is to take advantage of hot streaks and minimise damage when the numbers aren’t falling your way.
Like the Martingale, the D’Alembert is a negative progression that is generally used for even-money betting. However, rather than doubling wagers after defeats, the D’Alembert system sees bets go up one unit after a loss and down one unit after a win. For example: if we start with a $1 bet and lose, the next bet is $2. If that loses, the next bet is $3. If that wins, then the next bet is $2.
While the Martingale is exponential, the D’Alembert is incremental – i.e. the size of the wagers change by the same amount each time, win or lose. This all but eliminates the chance of reaching the maximum bet (assuming you start low). A bad streak using this method isn’t nearly as costly and also increases your potential for profit, making it popular among players with relatively modest bankrolls looking for consistent wins.
The fact that bets increase incrementally means it takes an awful lot of spins to get into the big money when using the D’Alembert system. Also, like most 50-50 strategies, it functions according to the ‘gambler’s fallacy’ – the idea that, for example, an unusually long run of black numbers means that red is overdue to come up.
This is a positive progression that uses the same increments as the regular D’Alembert. When you win, you bet one more unit on the next spin; when you lose, you bet one less. For example: if we bet $3 and win, our next bet is $4; if that wager loses, the next bet is $3.
This is another negatively oriented 1/1 system, also known as ‘cancellation’. The Labouchere requires players to predetermine how much they want to win, and then write out (or memorise, if you have got that knack) a list of numbers, (left to right) that add up to that total amount. The sum of the two numbers on each end of that selection is the amount of the bet. If the wager wins, both numbers are cancelled out. If the bet loses, the amount of the wager is added to the end of the list.
For example: if we want to win $50 and the minimum bet is $5, we might choose the following list of numbers: 5, 5, 10, 10, 5, 5, 5. The bet is the first number plus the last number – so here, 5 + 5 = $10. If the bet wins, then the two fives are crossed off so the list reads 5, 5, 10, 10, 5, 5 and the next bet is $10. If the original bet loses, then the amount of the wager ($10) is added to make the list read 5, 5, 5, 10, 10, 5, 5, 5, 10, and so the next bet is $15.
The idea behind this method is to negate the house edge on even-money bets, as the presence of the zero (and the double zero, on American tables) means the probability of, say, red coming up, is slightly less than 50%. Because the Labouchere eliminates two numbers for wins, but adds only one after losses, it means whatever 1:1 wager we pick – red or black, even or odd – that bet only needs to succeed a third of the time (33.34%) in order to cancel out all our numbers so we complete the sequence. However, this is again reliant on the gambler’s fallacy, and a short sequence like the example above (5, 5, 5, 10, 10, 5, 5, 5) is prone to becoming very expensive, very quickly.
As the name suggests, this is a direct inversion of the standard cancellation system. Instead of wiping out numbers after wins and adding numbers after losses, we do the exact opposite. For example: if we choose 5, 10, 20, 10, 5 and our initial $10 bet wins, the sequence becomes 5, 10, 20, 10, 5, 10; while if we lose, we are left with 10, 20, 10. Also, where in the standard negative progression you pick your numbers based on how much you want to win, in the Reverse Labouchere, you make your selections based on how much you can afford to lose – so if we choose 20, 20, 25, 25, our maximum possible deficit is $90.
If you have ever had the misfortune of reading Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code (or seen the equally mediocre movie adaptation starring Tom Hanks), you may be familiar with the Fibonacci sequence. In it, every number is the sum of the two that preceded it – so if we start at one, the sequence goes 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and so on. The Fibbonacci system formula can be applied as a betting system for even-money wagers in roulette. After each loss you bet the amount of the next number in the chain, and after each win you move back two numbers. For example: if we start with the $5 minimum and lose the first five bets, it goes $5, $5, $10, $15, $25; if we then win the following $40 wager, the next bet is $15.
The Fibonacci is much safer than many other methods – to compare, in the above example the sixth bet would have been $160 using the Martingale strategy. However, the Fibonacci becomes a constant loser the further into the sequence you get. For instance: if we start at $1 and lose seven on the trot to reach the $21 bet (the eighth number), we have lost $29 and thus will remain $8 down if we win the wager. If we lose the $21, we are $50 down and the next bet is only $34.
Like the Reverse Martingale, the Reverse D’Alembert and the Reverse Labouchere, this is a positive spin on the standard Fibonacci strategy. You bet the next number in the sequence when you win and move back two numbers when you lose. Just between you and me, never, ever use this system – it requires far too high a win-loss ratio to make any kind of reliable profit, so you would quite literally be better off with flat bets.
Dozens and columns strategy
While the Martingale, D’Alembert and Labouchere systems (and their positive progression counterparts) are all formulated for the even-money options, they are often adapted for use with dozen and column bets. These are 2:1 outside wagers, arranged like so:
Dozen – Choose between the first dozen (numbers 1 to 12), the second dozen (13 to 24) and the third dozen (25 to 36).
Column – Choose between the first column of 12 numbers (1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, 31, 34), the second column (2, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23, 26, 29, 32, 35) and the third column (3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30, 33, 36).
On the surface, dozens and columns look attractive due to their larger payouts. The problem with using an even-money system for a 12-number sequence, however, is that you will lose out in the long run. As 2:1 bets come up less than a third of the time (accounting for the zero), you are every chance to get dragged into big defeats the longer you hang around. Hence, with this approach, you need to be intuitive and know when to quit, whether you are winning or losing.
Double dozens and columns
Another option is to play two dozens or columns at once. Doing so greatly improves your chances of winning each spin (64.87% on single-zero layouts), but it cuts your payout to less than even money. For example: if we bet $5 on numbers 1 to 12 and $5 on 25 to 36, we have $10 across 24 pockets. But as they are separate bets, we lose one of them every time we win, so $5 for a $10 profit at 2:1 odds actually becomes $10 for $5 profit at 1:2 odds. And if you use a doubling up system every time you lose playing two dozens or columns every spin, you are going to come out behind over time.
- $5 on the first 12; $5 on the third 12. Lose one (-$5), win the other (+$10). Up $5. That’s fine, then we can start again with two $5 bets.
- But if we lost both (-$10), and thus doubled up on our next bet ($10 and $10), and then lost one (now -$20), and won the other (+$20), we are only breaking even. Hmmm. So let’s take it one step further.
- If we lost the first two spins (-$30), and again doubled up on the next spin ($20 and $20) and lost one (now -$50) and won the other (+$40), we are still down $10. So if playing the double dozens/columns, you should not use the double up method.
If you intend to make back your money plus a profit after a win, then you would need to triple your bets, and by doing so, you stand to lay out a significant amount of cash ($130 by the third spin if starting with two $5 bets). And you must also be wary of the table max.
Inside Betting Strategy
While most popular roulette strategies stick to the outside bets, some players prefer to use the main grid on the layout. Inside bets pay higher than even-money and dozen wagers individually, but require more units per spin in order to cover as much (or more) of the wheel as outside wagers.
Here are two common strategies:
Double Street Quad
This method involves two six-line bets (two units each), one corner (one unit) and a single straight-up wager (one unit), thus covering up to 17 numbers altogether for six betting units. Each type of bet has a different payout – 5:1 for the six lines, 8:1 for the corner and 35:1 for the single number.
The following six lines: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
The following corner: 13, 14, 16, 17
The following straight-up number: 15
This strategy consists of five separate corner bets and one straight-up, each costing one betting unit each for a total of six units. This system covers 21 pockets, assuming our single number isn’t already included in one of the corner bets.
The following corners: (1, 2, 4, 5), (7, 8, 10, 11), (14, 15, 17, 18), (19, 20, 22, 23), (26, 27, 29, 30).
The following straight-up number: 31
Most of the returns in these two strategies pay less than 1:1 when you take the combined cost for each spin into account, with the exception of single-number wins. For example: if we place a Five Quad at $1 per unit and one of the corner bets hits, we win $8 but lose the $5 spent on the unsuccessful wagers, leaving us only $3 up. As such, these methods are favoured by players who like to grind it out and spend time at the table, rather than those who prefer to go for a big win in the space of a few spins.
There are a few other lesser known but quite interesting systems you can read about in our additional betting systems article.