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The Labouchere System

The Labouchere System

The Labouchere is not for you if you’re looking for a simple progressive betting system. It’s one of the more complicated systems and takes some getting used to. Despite its complexities, however, it is still one of the better known systems and popular among gamblers.

This system is also known by several other names, including the Split Martingale, the Cancellation System and American Progression. It’s a negative progression system, so it involves increasing stakes after losing bets. The main idea is that you should be able to recover the losses from losing wagers with a smaller number of wins.

This is a similar principle to the Martingale, another negative progression system, but the Labouchere does not attempt to recover all previous losses with one single win. Instead, it tries to recover losses with multiple wins.

We have covered this system in some detail below, explaining how it’s used and looking at whether or not it can help you to make a profit.

How the Labouchere System is Used

The Labouchere system was developed by keen roulette player Henry Labouchere (1831 – 1912). It was designed to be used at the roulette table, specifically the even money outside bets such as red or black, or odd or even. It can be used with any even money proposition though, including other casino games such as blackjack and baccarat. Sports betting is an option as well.

To start with the system, the first thing to do is write down a sequence of numbers. Technically this can be any sequence you want it to be, although you do need to put some thought into it. We’ll cover this in a bit more detail later. For the sake of this explanation, we’ll use the following simple sequence.

1-2-3

The potential profit for each cycle of this system is equal to the total value of the numbers in the sequence chosen. In this case, it’s $6.

Each time you bet, your stake should be equal to the sum of the first number and the last number in your sequence. Using the above example, you would therefore stake $4 (1 + 3).

If you win your wager, you then remove the first and last number from the sequence. So, with this sequence you would cross off the one and the three.

1-2-3, 1 and 3 Crossed Out

If you lose your wager, you instead add the amount staked to the end of the sequence. So losing your first wager with this sequence would mean adding a 4.

1-2-3-4

The above rules apply after every wager. Win, and you cross numbers off. Lose, and you add a number to the end. For each subsequent wager, you always stake the combined amount of the first and last numbers.

The only exception to this rule is if you’re ever left with just one number. Then you just stake that amount. If you happen to win that wager, the cycle is over and you start again with the original sequence. So, when using 1-2-3, you’d only have to win the first two wagers for the cycle to be over. You’d have won $4 and then $2, for a total loss of $6. As we’ve already pointed out, that’s the total of all the numbers in the original sequence.

This all seems simple enough so far, but things get a little more complicated when losing a few wagers. That’s when the sequence starts to get longer. Here’s a couple of examples, again starting with 1-2-3.

Example 1

If you lose the first bet of $4 then you would add a four to the end of the sequence of numbers, which would now be 1-2-3-4. The next bet would therefore be $5 (1+4). If that won then you’d remove the one and the four.

1-2-3-4, 1 and 4 Crossed Out

Left with 2-3, the stake for the next wager would also be $5 (2+3). Let’s say the next wager loses. A five now needs to be added to the sequence.

2-3-5

The required stake is now $7. If you win the next wager, the two and the five need to be crossed off.

2-3-5, 2 and 5 Crossed Out

The required stake is now $3. Winning that means the cycle is over. The losing bets total $9 ($4 + $5), and the winning bets total $15 ($5 + $7 + $3). That’s a total win of $6, which again is equal to the sum of numbers in the original sequence.

Example 2

  • Bet $4 (1+3), lose. Add 4 to the end, giving 1-2-3-4
  • Bet $5 (1+4), lose. Add 5 to the end, giving 1-2-3-4-5
  • Bet $6 (1+5), win. Remove 1 and 5, giving 2-3-4
  • Bet $6 (2+4), lose. Add 6 to the end, giving 2-3-4-6
  • Bet $8 (2+6), lose. Add 8 to the end, giving 2-3-4-6-8
  • Bet $10 (2+8), win. Remove 2 and 8, giving 3-4-6
  • Bet $9 (3+6), win. Remove 3 and 6, giving 4
  • Bet $4, lose. Add 4 to the end, giving 4-4
  • Bet $8 (4+4), win. Remove 4 and 4, finishing the chain.

In this cycle you would have lost five bets and won four. The total losses would be $27 and the total wins $33. The overall profit would still be $6, despite having more losing wagers than winning wagers.

This is essentially the main concept of the Labouchere. No matter how long the chain, by eventually removing all the numbers you will make a profit equal to the total value of the original sequence of numbers. In theory, this can be achieved by winning a smaller number of bets than you lose, as the winning bets will be at higher stakes than the losing bets.

As you can see, this system is more complicated than some of the simpler alternatives. However, once you get used to the rules it’s not that difficult to understand.

The Flexibility of the Labouchere

One of the positive aspects of this system is its flexibility. Because you can adjust the initial betting sequence, you can adjust your levels of risk and reward somewhat. For example, if you start with a longer sequence of higher numbers then you can make a much larger profit if you manage to finish the chain.

The problem with doing this, though, is that the size of your bets will increase much faster if you have a few losses. However, you can use sequences that include a number of zeros. This makes the system a lot safer.

Does the Labouchere System Work?

Because the Labouchere can return a profit through winning less bets than you lose, there are those who believe it works. Indeed, you can make money using this system if you manage to avoid going on a lengthy losing streak. The problem is that there is never any guarantee that you won’t go on a lengthy losing streak. In fact it’s quite likely that you will if you play often enough or for long enough.

By increasing your stakes after every loss, a losing streak can result in the required stake getting too high. You may not have sufficient funds, and even with a huge bankroll there are betting limits to consider. Basically, one way or another there will come a time when you cannot make a bet at the required stake. Reaching this point will almost certainly cost any profits you have ever made previously with the system, and possibly a great deal more too.

The reason some people are tempted by the Labouchere, or any negative progression for that matter, is because they simply don’t think that they will ever lose enough bets in a row to cause a problem. For example, they assume that if they see a red number a few consecutive times at the roulette table then it has to be black soon.

This is not true though. The roulette wheel has no memory and, even it has been red 20 times in a row, the chances of the next number being red are always exactly the same as it being black. The mistaken belief that a black number becomes more likely after several red numbers are spun in a row is known as gambler’s fallacy. This fallacy has led to many gamblers losing substantial sums of money, and you really don’t want to do the same.

In Summary

The Labouchere is ultimately not a great system. Although you can lose more bets than you win and still make a profit, there is too great a chance that you will eventually lose substantially because of a long losing streak. You might get lucky using it a few times, or even for a prolonged period of time. The likelihood, though, is that you will eventually end up out of money.

While we don’t particularly recommend that you use the Labouchere, we do understand why it might be tempting. If you’re prepared to accept the risks and have the discipline to ensure that you stop playing when the bets get too high then you can have some fun with it. You may well have a few winning sessions, and you’ll just have to hope that your losing sessions are not too bad.

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