How Labouchere strategy works in roulette

While no betting strategy can lower the house advantage in roulette, many players remain convinced that the Labouchere system works in the long run. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at this cancellation-based strategy and see how it stacks up against other popular methods.

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How the Labouchere strategy works

The first step of the Labouchere betting system is to decide how much money you want to win during your roulette session. Once you figure that out, you can then divide that amount into however many betting units. For example: a target of $50 would make 10 units of $5 each.

The next move is to write out a list of numbers which adds up to the total amount of units you wish to win. If we’re aiming for 10 units, for instance, we might jot down the following:

1 1 2 2 2 1 1

Now you must choose your bet. This system is most effective with the even-money wagers (black or red, even or odd, et cetera). Whichever option you pick, make sure to stick with it start to end. There’s no point even attempting this strategy if you’re going to play a different bet type from spin to spin.

With this method, every stake is the sum of the two numbers on each end of the list. If the bet wins, you cross out both numbers; if it loses, you add the sum of both numbers to the end of the list.

For example: if our list starts out as 1 1 2 2 2 1 1, our first wager is two units. If we win, we cross out both numbers to leave us with 1 2 2 2 1; if we lose, we add the two units to the end so the list becomes 1 1 2 2 2 1 1 2.

The aim of the game is to cross out all the numbers and thus complete the sequence, in which case you will reach your profit goal.

Advantages of the cancellation system

There is actually a little bit of merit to the theory behind the Labouchere strategy. Because you eliminate two numbers for a win and only add one for a loss, you don’t need a very high win-loss ratio overall to complete a pattern and make a profit.

For example, let’s say we start with 1 2 3 4 5 and lose six out of 10 spins:

1 2 3 4 5 – bet six, lose
1 2 3 4 5 6 – bet seven, lose
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 – bet eight, win
2 3 4 5 6 – bet eight, lose
2 3 4 5 6 8 – bet 10, win
3 4 5 6 – bet nine, lose
3 4 5 6 9 – bet 12, win
4 5 6 – bet 10, lose
4 5 6 10 – bet 14, win
5 6 – bet 11, lose

Even though we have won only four spins, we are only a couple of hits away from finishing the list and securing a 10-unit win.

The longer you play, the better the chances that this system will produce a positive result. For while even-money bets are expected to win just over 47 per cent of the time in European roulette, they only need to hit at a rate of about 33 in every 100 spins in order to finish a Labouchere sequence.

Drawbacks of the Labouchere betting strategy

As with the vast majority of roulette betting systems, the cancellation strategy affects the volatility of the game in the short-term rather than the actual odds of long-term success. Most significantly, this means you can suffer big losses in a very brief period of time.

For example, let’s say we are playing in $10 units and start with a list of 1 1 2 3 2 1 1. What if we lose on each of the first five spins?

1 1 2 3 2 1 1 – bet two, lose
1 1 2 3 2 1 1 2 – bet three, lose
1 1 2 3 2 1 1 2 3 – bet four, lose
1 1 2 3 2 1 1 2 3 4 – bet five, lose
1 1 2 3 2 1 1 2 3 4 5 – bet six, lose

That would leave us $200 down (0 – $20 – $30 – $40 – $50 – $60) and facing a $70 bet next time up. If we have a bankroll of only $300, one more loss will effectively put us out of the game.

The Labouchere is also known as the Split Martingale system, and it shares the same problem as the source of that name: if you suffer a heavy run of losses, your stakes can inflate to the point where you can’t play the next bet because it would exceed the table limit.

Michael Maguire

About Michael Maguire

Mike writes about casino games for Roulette.com.au - one of the leading Web resources for Australian gambling news and info. He enjoys long sessions at the devil\'s wheel where he diligently sticks to a betting pattern, then forgets where he is in the sequence, then panics and puts everything on 7.