The Martingale System vs. the Paroli System: Which One Is Better?

Hands Holding Poker Cards, Poker Chips, Casino Poker Table
If there’s a game where people bet something of value on the outcome, there are one or more betting systems in use. Gamblers love casino betting systems. The most popular betting systems are used in many different types of gambling games.

The two most popular betting systems are the Martingale and Paroli systems. Both systems have been used for several hundred years.

In this post, I will be discussing the differences between the Martingale and Paroli systems and which one is better.

Martingale vs. Paroli: History

The French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal (lived from 1623 to 1662) is the father of many of the theories and principles associated with gambling.

It’s possible that Pascal invented both the Martingale and Paroli betting systems. Historians actually agree that he and Pierre de Fermat developed the science of probabilities while discussing gambling problems via letters.

That early correspondence between Pascal and Fermat may have been the root of modern game theory.

Game theory historians only trace the principles back to the early 1700s, but Pascal and Fermat were interested in how many possible ways gambling games could be resolved.

Modern game theory predicts the possible outcomes of simple situations. The 20th century mathematician John von Neumann is credited with proposing the first formal rules for modern game theory.

Betting systems like the Martingale and Paroli don’t resemble the classic prisoner dilemma, but they came from someone’s thought experiments about how to improve chances of winning in a gambling game. That is the essence of game theory, and it’s a fitting way to describe betting systems.

Why Do People Use Betting Systems?

This is one of those rhetorical questions inexperienced gamblers ask their elders. There are as many reasons to use betting systems as there are people making bets.

The most obvious reason for using a system is your hope of beating the game’s unfavorable odds. In casino games the house always has an edge. The payout odds are not as good as the probabilities.

In other words, you’ll lose money by making only even-money bets because the house wins slightly more often than the player over time. It depends on the game, but gambling writers frequently use roulette to illustrate how even money bets eventually cost you money.

Casino Roulette Wheel with Casino Chips on the Side

If you only bet on the outside bets (even or odd, red or black, top half or bottom half of the wheel), the math says you’ll win about 48.6% of the time in European roulette. Just to break even, you need to win 50% of the time.

A betting system cannot change the payout odds. The appeal of a betting system is that it seeks to improve the return to player by strategically raising bets. Another way to look at a betting system is that it tries to reduce losses.

In theory, if you must lose, it’s better to lose the least amount of money possible, the minimum bet allowed in the game.

By the same token, in theory, if you’re going to win, it’s better to win the largest amount of money possible which is the maximum bet allowed.

The idea behind any betting system is that your wins should outweigh your losses over time.

The Flaw Is That They Don’t Change the Rules of the Game

Whether you use the Martingale system or the Paroli system, you’re still at a probabilistic disadvantage in the games casinos offer. The following games have some of the best odds in all casino games and they all favor the house:

Although blackjack requires skill, it’s still a game of chance. That means you can’t predict what the next card the dealer draws will be. If you could make such predictions, the house wouldn’t let you play blackjack, and you’d win more money by betting on what the next card will be anyway.

The randomness of any gambling game weakens the potential value of even the best betting system.

How the Martingale System Works and Where It Fails

The Martingale system is the classic betting strategy, the one most players have heard about. It’s a simple strategy and therefore, easy to learn.

The Martingale system is also game-independent. You can use it in every gambling scenario you can think of, as long as you can make a series of wagers.

The system relies on betting units. A unit is the smallest allowable bet, the table minimum in games like blackjack and roulette.

In the Martingale system, the player begins by wagering a single unit and continues betting only single units as long as he wins.

Three Poker Cards, Casino Chips

When the player loses the bet, he doubles the size of his bet on the next round. And where does the Martingale system fail?

You’ll either run out of money as you continue to raise your bets (if you fall into a losing streak), or you’ll run into the table limit, which forces you to stop increasing your bets.

I’ve heard of players trying to use a modified Martingale system where they keep betting the table maximum until they win back the money they’ve lost. I’ve never seen anyone use this system successfully, but I suppose it’s happened somewhere.

How the Paroli System Works and Where It Fails

The Paroli system is often called the Reverse Martingale system. Instead of raising bets after you lose, the Paroli system tells you to raise your bets after you win. The system assumes you can make more money by taking advantage of a winning streak.

Even so, the Paroli betting system calls for you to return to a single unit wager after the third consecutive win.

That means you’ll resume making minimum wagers either because you just lost a bet or because you just won a third consecutive bet.

The Paroli system fails because it doesn’t take full advantage of a long winning streak. Assuming you win 40 wagers in a row, you’ll win, raise, raise, and start over 13 times.

What if you had continually raised your bets during that streak until you hit the table limit? The Paroli system is not a good choice for people who are prone to second-guess themselves.

The Paroli System Has One Clear Advantage Over the Martingale System

Since you don’t know how long your winning and losing streaks will be, or even if you’ll have any streaks, the Paroli system is a more conservative betting strategy.

In other words, your money should last longer if you use the Paroli system than if you use the Martingale system.

I don’t see it as an advantage that the Paroli system never leads to the table limit like the Martingale system. While you don’t have to worry about what to do when you can no longer raise your bet, the Martingale system has the theoretical advantage of paying really well on bets at or near the limit, if you win.

Shorter Streaks Are More Likely in Most Gambling Games

While it’s possible the roulette wheel could land on red 40 times in a row, or you could draw 10 blackjacks in a row, your winning and losing streaks will usually be much shorter.

Losing streaks in the Paroli system are much less expensive than losing streaks in the Martingale system.

Two Ace Blackjack Cards, Casino Blackjack Table

On the other hand, winning streaks don’t exist in the Martingale system. If you use the Martingale system in a 40-win streak, you’ll only win on minimum bets. Like with the Paroli system, this is probably not a good strategy for people who tend to second-guess themselves when gambling with real money.

The high probability that any winning or losing streaks will be short-lived means that either betting system will fail to return its full potential value to the player.

Conclusion

About the only betting system I ever use is to be consistent with my wagers. I don’t count cards in blackjack, so I’m not looking for signs I should raise my bet.

I usually play outside bets in roulette. Call me a boring gambler, but I hate single-number bets because I don’t enjoy losing most of my wagers.

If you enjoy risk and the potential rewards, and you want to use a betting system, the Martingale is probably a better system for you. It entails a lot of risk and even if you only win one big wager before going back to the minimum, it could result in a nice payoff.

If you want to preserve your stake for as much as possible then you’ll probably feel better using the Paroli system.

Neither system guarantees you’ll leave the game with more money than you started, but it may be fun to test them both a few times and see which one you like the best.