Henry Labouchere is arguably the most famous politician that you’ve never heard of. The Englishman is well-known in his own circles for his run-ins with Irish poet Oscar Wilde and for becoming so unpopular with his peers that Queen Victoria herself intervened to prevent him from becoming a minister in parliament. However, most importantly, at least from the perspective of this article, Henry Labouchere also enjoyed playing roulette, creating the betting system that now bears his name sometime in the 19th century.
The Labouchere betting strategy can be applied to any game that offers even-money wagers, such as roulette, blackjack, craps, and baccarat, albeit with varying levels of effectiveness. Put another way, the Labouchere system is designed to offer some kind of control over bets with a 50% chance of success. For that reason, applying it to inside bets in roulette can serve as a lesson in how to empty your bankroll quickly. It’s a simple method that seems ideally suited to beginners – but is it? Let’s take a look.
Why Use a Betting System?
Contrary to popular belief, betting systems are almost never designed to increase or guarantee winnings. Almost everything that’s available to play in a casino is based on luck, and no amount of strategizing or wishful thinking is going to change that. Even blackjack, which has plenty of charts dedicated to the most appropriate moves in any situation, is still ultimately based on the turn of a random card.
So, what’s the point of the Martingale, Fibonacci, and Labouchere (and many other) systems of this world? Successful wagering is all about control, whether that’s money management in general or how you’re spending each individual credit in a game of roulette. If you can concoct a means of limiting or recouping your losses during each session, it’s possible to extend the lifetime and overall value of the money you put into each experience.
This doesn’t mean that £/$/€1 magically becomes £/$/€10. Anything that promises access to jackpots, unlimited funds, or huge wins has been made under false pretences. It’s simply not possible to overcome the casino’s edge or similar factors when playing your favourite games. To help you understand the limitations of the Labouchere betting system, though, let’s take it apart piece by piece.
The Labouchere Betting System
First of all, scribble down how much you would like to win in a series of sequential numbers. This can be anything at all but, for the sake of simplicity, let’s use £10. How you get to £10 is up to you. For example:
…and so forth.
Now, let’s place our first bet. In every case using the Labouchere system, your stake will be the sum of the first and last numbers. In the above four sequences, this means that you should bet with £2 (1+1), £2 (1+1), £4 (2+2), or £3 (1+2). If you win, simply remove the two numbers that made up your wager from the sequence. If you lose, take the number that represented your bet and add it to the end of our list of numbers, extending it. Here are a few examples to help explain the logic of the Labouchere strategy:
- Begin with 1-2-3-1-2-1 and bet £2 (1+1). We win so we need to delete the first and last numbers, giving 2-3-1-2. Now;
- Begin with 2-3-1-2 and bet £4 (2+2). We lose so we need to add our stake number to the end of the sequence, giving 2-3-1-2-4
- Begin with 2-3-1-2-4 and bet £6 (2+4). We lose so we need to add our stake number to the end of the sequence, giving 2-3-1-2-4-6.
- Begin with 2-3-1-2-4-6 and bet £8 (2+6). We win so we need to delete the first and last numbers, giving 3-1-2-4.
Easy. Note that there’s also a Reverse Labouchere betting system that simply swaps the win/loss criteria around, meaning that numbers are deleted on a loss and added on a win. The benefit of this latter strategy is that it can be used to earn more money from winning streaks if they occur.
What’s Wrong with it?
Of course, we had to get to this bit eventually. Any kind of strategy that can be used in casino games tends to come with the same old disclaimer – it’s incompatible with losing streaks. In many aspects of life, chasing losses is generally regarded as something that just causes more and more problems. Unfortunately, this is true of casino betting too.
After several losses under the Labouchere strategy, you start betting with increasingly large wagers to cover the ones you’ve already lost. This way of proceeding is reminiscent of the gambler’s fallacy, namely, the belief that a negative result means that a positive outcome is more likely the next time around. Of course, this is false. Bets with a 50:50 chance of winning will only produce both sets of results equally on an infinite timescale. Anything under that will likely give an outcome that skews one way or the other.
As a means of record-keeping and creating an understanding of the relationship between profit and loss, though, the Labouchere system can help you to keep track of that.
Did You Know?
You might also find the Labouchere system referred to as the Split-Martingale or Cancellation method due to the similarity of its mechanics to other betting strategies.