The Martingale System
The Martingale System is so simple that it can be summed up in one sentence-Double the size of your bet after every loss. The system originated in France in the 18th century. It was originally advocated as a way to try to beat coin flipping games; then it became popular in roulette and baccarat.
The Martingale System is mostly used on even money paying bets such as red or black in roulette or bank or player in baccarat. The system is based on the premise that you won't keep on losing indefinitely; sooner or later you are going to win.
A person who decides to try this system in the casino may indeed get lucky and register small wins for a while. For example, you might bet $5 on red and lose, then bet $10 and lose again, so you are out $15. But then you bet $20 and win, putting you ahead by $5. Where you run into trouble is if the losing streak is a long one.
There is nothing at all unusual about either black or red coming up 10, or even more, times in a row on the roulette wheel or a player losing 10 or more consecutive hands in blackjack. It is just a matter of time before the Martingale player runs into that kind of situation, with potentially disastrous results.
Yes, it is true that even the worst losing streak has to end at some point, but casinos are aware of the Martingale System and effectively control for it by setting betting limits. For example, many table games have a minimum bet of $5 and a maximum bet of $500. Now suppose you are at a roulette, blackjack, or baccarat table with those limits.
Using the Martingale System, you start with a minimum bet of $5 but, alas, your first seven bets are all losers. You have now wagered $5, $10, $20, $40, $80, $160, and $320. Although you are now out $635, the table maximum is $500, so forget being able to try one more time with a $640 bet. Even if the table limit is higher, eventually you will reach the point, where either the necessary bet exceeds the casino's allowed maximum or you don't have enough money available to cover it.
In order for the Martingale System to work in practice, first, you would need an infinite bankroll and second, the casino would have to allow you to bet any amount you want. Neither is the case, but even if they were, all you would win, no matter how large the size of your last wager, is the amount of your smallest bet. Does it make any sense to potentially risk thousands of dollars to win $5? Whether you try the Martingale System offline or online, anytime you lose many bets in a row, the system is a sure road to the poorhouse.
Other Progressive Systems
Many other progressive systems have been developed, some of which call for increasing your bet after a win, others after a loss. None of them are worth the paper they are printed on. Also, keep in mind that online casino game results are random number generator (RNG) determined, so in the short run of your playing session, there is no way to make even a good educated guess about the likelihood of either a winning streak or a losing streak.
Systems Based on Presumed Betting Patterns
Frequently you see players at the roulette and baccarat tables keeping detailed records of past outcomes, in the hope they will find certain patterns to help them with their choices. But what they don't realize is that each outcome is completely independent of the preceding ones. In other words, they are wasting their time, and those who try the same approach online are wasting their time, too.
Card Counting Systems
Card counting is a viable playing strategy by which some blackjack players are able to turn the small house edge that the casino has in this game to a small edge in their own favor. The person who is largely credited as being the father of card counting (even though other less publicized players had already been practicing it as early as the 1940's) is Dr. Edward O. Thorp. Thorp's best-selling book, Beat the Dealer (1962, 1966) became the Bible upon which all subsequent card counting systems were based.
The basic principle of card counting is that when the still undealt portion of the deck or shoe is rich in 10-valued cards and Aces, it becomes more favorable to the player. More blackjacks are dealt out, and when the player gets a good double down hand like a 10 or 11, there is a greater chance of getting another 10 card for a 20 or 21.
Conversely, the dealer who, unlike the player, must hit every 2-card total to either a soft (where the Ace counts as 11) or hard 17 or better, has an increased probability of busting. When the deck or shoe is comparatively rich in low cards (2-6), the reverse is true. The player gets fewer blackjacks and more bad cards on double downs, while the dealer turns more "stiff" hands into multi-card 20s and 21s that beat you.
Of course, no matter how rich or poor the deck is in 10s, face cards, and Aces, the player will sometimes win and sometimes lose. But in the long run, the difference in results can be significant.
Card counting entails assuming different values to different cards and continually adding and subtracting to get an up-to-the-second total known as the running count. Professional card counters also adjust for the number of decks remaining to get a true count. Then the player uses the information in two ways. The first is to make varying bet sizes depending on how positive (favorable) or negative (unfavorable) the remaining cards are. The second is to deviate from basic strategy in certain situations depending on the count.
Stanford Wong (a pseudonym) popularized one of the simpler and more commonly used card counting methods called the "Hi-Lo Count." 10s, face cards, and Aces count -1 and 2-6 count +1; 7, 8, and 9 are disregarded. Wong also not only publicized the recommended variations from basic strategy based on the count, but a popular method, actually called "Wonging," that many counters use of entering tables mid-deck or mid-shoe and only when the count turns positive.
“Each outcome is completely independent of the preceding one.”
It is a way to avoid both having to play negative decks at all and calling attention to one's play by varying one's bet too much. This was a method that Ken Uston and other big money players and teams, like the MIT Blackjack Team, exploited, but now it is very difficult to carry out. In many casinos, mid-shoe entry is not permitted at all in high limit blackjack games, or if it is, the player might be restricted to betting the table minimum. Also, if a casino suspects a player of counting, various "countermeasures" can be taken, such as early shuffling, preferential shuffling, and excessive heat from the floor. In many locations, such as Las Vegas, card counting is actually considered illegal, and the player can be barred, even back-roomed and arrested with the chips confiscated.
Once a player is identified as a card counter, using a pseudonym won't help much. Through advanced facial recognition software, such players will be quickly recognized, not only if they return to the same casino, but at other casinos they visit.
The casino's paranoia about card counting is usually misplaced because very few players, even those who think they are good card counters, are actually proficient enough at the game and betting enough money to make a sizable impact upon the casino's vast bankroll. Movies like "Rainman" and "21" perpetuate the myth that the average card counter can make millions of dollars. That is far from the truth. Even the best card counters rarely have an edge of more than 1% over the house, and no player, no matter how proficient, can be a winner all of the time.
Still, card counting is a viable strategy for playing blackjack at brick and mortar casinos if you are willing to devote the time and effort to learn and master it. There is also an advanced variation of card counting known as shuffle tracking which entails remembering sections of the shoe with a disproportionate concentration of 10-valued cards and Aces, following those cards through the shuffle, and then cutting them to the top. Because the player is betting big at the beginning of the shoe and continues to do so for the next few hands as the count gets more negative, the pit boss or eye in the sky may be fooled into thinking that the player is not counting.
But none of this studying and hard work will help you one iota at online casinos. There, in addition to the casino software, rather than the dealer, shuffling the cards, the virtual deck is continuously shuffled. There is never a beginning or end to the deck in that sense. Since previously dealt cards can easily be dealt again, card counting and shuffle tracking are impossible.
Basic strategy, the mathematically correct way to play different blackjack hands, won't give you an edge over the house, but it will enable you to play the game with the lowest possible edge against you. If you are just learning the game you can keep a pocket size basic strategy chart next to you while playing. However, it is better to learn it so your decisions will be automatic and you can play faster.
Complicating your task somewhat is that there are many different variations of the game. Most of the basic strategy principles apply for all forms of blackjack, but in some instances, depending on the number of decks and the specific rules of the game, there will be some differences. Basic strategy is as applicable to online blackjack as to playing in a real casino.
Try to find games with favorable rules like doubling after splits, dealer stands on soft 17, and surrender. Then learn the basic strategy and follow it to the letter at all times. Don't deviate from it because you lost a previous hand playing it or because another player won a hand not using basic strategy. In the long run, it is mathematically the most advantageous (or least disadvantageous) way to play the hand.