Blackjack Betting Systems
The Best Blackjack Betting System for Finishing a Trip with a Win? Oscar's SystemBy Arnold Snyder
(From Player Magazine, November/December 1995)
© 1995 Arnold Snyder
Blackjack Betting Systems: The Long Run Vs. The Short Run
Players ask me more questions about betting systems for blackjack than just about any other topic. Not betting systems for card counters—just betting systems.
I always start by going into my spiel that pure betting systems don’t win in the long run. They can make you more likely to win in the short run (in the case of Oscar's System, a lot more likely). But not in the long run. And the usual response I get is, “I don’t care about the long run. I’m going to Vegas this weekend. I just want to win on this one short run.” (Continued below)
As a matter of fact, there are betting systems that provide a player a much bigger chance of finishing a trip with a win than a loss. If you use this type of betting system, and you look over your records after years of play, you’ll see a whole lot of small wins—and one (or a few) big losses, big enough to wipe out the profits from all of your small wins, and then some. (Mustn’t forget that house edge!)
But, you don’t care about the long run. You just want a win this weekend. So, let’s look at what betting system works best in the short run. We can’t guarantee a win, but there is a logic to betting systems that can greatly increase your chances of success.
(Note: To learn how to win at blackjack over the long run, with or without card counting, start with our Intro to Winning Blackjack.)
Types of Blackjack Betting Systems
There are two main types of betting systems for blackjack or any casino game—positive progressions and negative progressions. With a positive progression, the general theory is that you raise your bets after wins, which means that your bigger bets are primarily funded by money won. This is a conservative betting system insofar as a long string of losses will not wipe out your bankroll as quickly as with a negative progression.
With a negative progression, you raise your bets after your losses. This is more dangerous, since a bad run of losses can wipe you out quickly. In its favor, however, it allows you to win on a session in which you’ve lost many more hands than you’ve won. Since your bets after losses are bigger bets, you don’t have to win so many of them to come back, assuming you can avoid a truly disastrous series of losses that empties your pockets.
There are dozens of variations on betting systems that incorporate features of both the positive and negative progressions, in an attempt to create the “perfect” betting system that wins the most often with the least chance of busting out.
But the best system of this type I’ve seen for accomplishing this end was first published 40 years ago by mathematician Allan N. Wilson, in his Casino Gambler’s Guide (Harper & Row, 1965). Dr. Wilson called it “Oscar’s system,” named after the dice player who’d invented it.
How to Use Oscar's Blackjack Betting System
Here’s how Oscar's System works:
The goal for any series of bets is to win just one unit, then start a new series. Each series starts with a one-unit bet. After any win, the next bet is one unit more than the previous bet. After any loss, the next bet is identical to the previous bet. That is, if you lose a two-unit bet, your next bet is a two-unit bet until you have a win, at which point you raise your bet one unit to a three-unit bet.
That is the whole system, except for one stipulation—Never place any bet that would result in a win for the series of more than one unit. In other words, if you win a 4-unit bet, and you are now down only 2 units for the series, you would not raise your next bet to 5 units because of the 4-unit win; you’d only to 3 units, which would be all you’d need—if successful—to achieve a one-unit win for the series.
Oscar’s betting system combines the best features of both the positive and negative progressions. You can suffer much longer runs of losses without busting out than you can with a negative progression, since you don’t raise your bets after losses. Yet, a much shorter run of wins can get back your previous losses on a series, since you raise your bets following wins. It’s kind of brilliant, actually. Strings of losses hurt less, yet strings of wins pay more.
When Oscar told Dr. Wilson that he had been using this system for many years and had never had a losing weekend in Las Vegas, Dr. Wilson did some mathematical and computer simulation analysis on it. Was this possible? His findings were amazing. Using a $1 betting unit on an even money payout game, the betting progression is so slow that the player would bump up against the house’s $500 maximum bet (at that time) on only one series of every 5,000 played. On 4,999 of those series, the player would expect to achieve his $1 win target.
Since Oscar was shooting for a weekend win of only $100 (back in 1965, this was a very healthy win!), Dr. Wilson concluded that it was quite likely that Oscar had played on many weekends over a period of years with never a loss.
So, should we all start using Oscar’s system? One word of caution: Watch out for that one losing series. How much does Oscar lose when his system fails on that one unlucky series out of 5,000?
You see, even though he’s just bumped into the house’s table maximum of $500, he’s gotten to this point by losing lots of bets in the $100+, $200+, $300+, and $400+ range during this horrendously long series. So, if you try Oscar’s system, you still have to be prepared to lose in the long run.
Oscar’s System: Sample Betting Sequences
No betting system will ever overcome the house edge in the long run. But they’re not worthless. Professional gamblers do find opportunities for profiting from various types of betting systems in gambling tournaments, as “camouflage” to disguise an advantage play that is not based on the betting system itself, and especially in online casinos where betting systems can be used to milk the casino “bonuses.”
To actually win at normal casino blackjack in the long run, however, you have to start by counting cards--not because card counting is the best or most profitable way to win at blackjack, but because the principles behind card counting are the same principles that are behind every type of professional gambling at blackjack, even methods that don't require counting.
To get started playing blackjack like a professional gambler, see our Intro to Winning at Blackjack. We've got some very easy ways for you to begin. ♠
Recommended Books on Winning Blackjack Systems
For more information on the wide variety of ways besides card counting that professional gamblers win at blackjack, see Blackbelt in Blackjack by Arnold Snyder.
For information on how professional gamblers use betting systems like Oscar's system to win in online casinos, see Arnold Snyder's How to Beat Internet Casinos and Poker Rooms.
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