Labouchere Betting System

The Labouchere betting system is nowhere near as well known as the Martingale system, nor even the D'Alembert, but it is still a fairly common strategy and, as with D'Alembert, is a variation on the Martingale. Here we take a closer look at the Labouchere system, explaining what it is, how it works and assessing whether or not it is actually a good strategy to employ.

What is the Labouchere Betting System?

As with many betting systems and certainly the two others we have already mentioned, the Labouchere is essentially a staking plan designed for roulette. That said, as with the others it can be used for other casino games and even sports bets where certain conditions are met.

It is sometimes known as the “cancellation system”, whilst others may refer to it as a “split Martingale”. It is a little more complex than both the simple Martingale or the D’Alembert but essentially it is a staking plan that aims to deliver a set profit by manipulating your total stake according to the results of the previous spins.

It can be used on any bet that offers a return of even money and will be more successful the closer those odds reflect the probability of winning. As such, the Labouchere system would work best on a simple coin toss but in roulette is usually used when betting on the colours, odd or even or high and low numbers. These wagers pay out at odds of evens, or 1/1, but due to the presence of the zero (or in American roulette, zeroes) the probability of winning is slightly lower than 50%.

How Does it Work?

As said, the Labouchere is somewhat complex, or at least can seem that way to those familiar with the simple progression of the Martingale system, whereby stakes either double (after a loss) or revert to the base unit (following a win).

With Labouchere the player decides how many stake units they want to win. For example, the player may decide they will use a £10 base stake and they want to win a total of 10 units for a profit of £100.

They then create a list of numbers that equal the total amount of units they want to win. With 10 this could mean writing 2-2-2-2-2, 1-2-3-2-1-1 or indeed any sequence of numbers that add up to 10. Your stake is decided by the first and last number on the list, such that on the first sequence above you would bet four units, or £40, whilst on the second you would bet (1+1) units, so £20 in total.

As previously said, this stake would be on an even money bet – we’ll use odd numbers as our example here in all instances. If the first spin is odd you cross both numbers off the list, the first and last. This is why the Labouchere is known as the cancellation system because you seek to remove all the numbers from the list and when you have done so you will have won the amount you selected at the beginning of the game.

If your first spin had been an even number and thus a loser, rather than cross out the first and last numbers on your list, you add the loss to the end of the list. So, for example, with an initial sheet that read 2-2-2-2-2 you would bet 4, lose 4 and then have a modified stake list of 2-2-2-2-2-4. By adding losses to the list the Labouchere system ensures that once the list is complete you will always deliver the pre-decided win.

In this instance the next bet would be (2+4) units for a total stake of £60, whereby a win would leave your list reading 2-2-2-2 whilst a loss would leave you further away from your goal with a list of 2-2-2-2-2-4-6 and a stake on the next spin of eight units, or £80.

We can now see the similarities with Martingale, because as with that more famous system, Labouchere is a negative progression staking plan: as you lose, your stake increases – the negative referring to your loss, the progression to the growing wager. However, the stake doesn’t double as it does in Martingale but instead increases more gradually, meaning that variance is lower.

Labouchere is a more appealing system to many players because even those with a relatively modest bank are able to deal with a fairly long run of losses. Of course, it will take more than a single win to deliver a profit but many roulette fans feel that is a price well worth paying.

What Happens When my Bank Runs Out?

Whilst Labouchere won’t have you staking huge amounts after just a few losses, the fact remains that a losing streak will eventually lead to a large stake and, moreover, this will come at a time when your bank is already diminished.

Let’s imagine that an unlucky player has suffered five consecutive losses from the start of their play and has ended up with a Labouchere list that reads 2-2-2-2-2-4-6-8-10-12. They have now lost a total of 40 units, or £400 and the next stake as dictated by the staking plan is £140.

If they only have £80 left they cannot cover both numbers so instead the Labouchere requires them only to cover the left number. Instead of betting £140, they wager just £20. If things go well and their balance recovers they may soon have enough to resume betting on both the first and last numbers on their list.

Of course, if things continue to go against them, a time will come when they can no longer even cover just the first number. When they are down to just one unit, £10, they bet this. If they lose, they are bust. There is always another day of course! However, if they win, they deduct that one unit from the left number and would now have a balance of £20 and a lowest number/required stake of £10.

This pattern is continued until either our player goes bust or they re-establish a sufficient balance to resume betting with a value equal to both the first and last numbers in their sequence.

Theory and Maths of the Labouchere Roulette System

The simplest way to look at the Labouchere system is that it “works” on the basis that when you win, you cross of two numbers but when you lose you cross off just one. This is the basis of the entire system, and given this requires a winning ratio of just 1/3 or more in order to cancel all numbers from the list, it is argued that the Labouchere is a winning system.

By crossing off two numbers for a win and only adding one for a loss, proponents of the Labouchere plan argue that more often than not the player will complete their list and thus achieve their profit goal. At a single zero roulette table the chances of winning are 18 in 37, or 48.6%, considerably higher than the required 33.34% success needed to complete the list.

On paper this all looks very good and it is easy to see why players could be lured into believing the system is a winner. But is it?

Should I use the Labouchere Staking Strategy?

The answer to both of these questions: is the Labouchere a winner and should you use it, is, you may be unsurprised to hear, no. As with Martingale and D’Alembert, the Labouchere staking plan cannot overcome the house edge that exists in blackjack. Ultimately, in the long term, whether you use Labouchere, Martingale, flat stakes or any other plan of your own invention, the casino will always win an amount in line with the in-built house edge of the game.

Whilst the Labouchere betting system may appeal at first glance, it is a deception. Whilst crossing off two numbers and only adding one will deliver a win much of the time, some of the time the player will suffer a very large loss. This loss will outweigh the previous wins, mathematically speaking, by the exact amount of the house edge.

Crossing off two numbers from your list may help you achieve your goal but not all numbers are created equally. In effect, the one number you add is equal to the two you would otherwise cross off and so nothing is gained, with the only real, crucial factor being that you are being paid even money for an outcome with a less than 50% chance of success.

As such, the Labouchere, like the Martingale and D’Alembert should only ever be used by those that fully understand its limitations and the high chance of suffering a large loss at some stage. Fool proof roulette-bashing scheme it most certainly isn’t and above all you should never be tempted to buy, either online or in book form, such an empty promise.