The Martingale Strategy: A Negative Progression System
Reading time: 10 minutes
Any ambitious trader is always looking for a way to improve their strategy or system. On the other hand, novice traders can be slightly one-dimensional in their focus. More often than not, inexperienced traders are too concerned with entry signals, and this can be detrimental to other important areas.
These areas are:
- market selection
- exit strategy
- position sizing
- objective-oriented strategy and psychology.
It's easy to underestimate each of these aspects. Entry signals inform you when it is a good time to trade. Position sizing is a discipline concerning how to trade. Some theories on position sizing derive from games of chance - specifically from betting progression systems. This article discusses Martingale trading, which is a position sizing strategy. First, we will take a look at Martingale in its original context of a game of chance. Then, we'll explore Forex Martingale trading within FX trading.
*Before we begin, Please note that this strategy is extremely risky by nature and not suitable for beginners. Before making any investment decisions, you should seek advice from an independent financial advisor to ensure you understand the risks involved.
How Martingale Trading Works
The theory behind a Martingale strategy is pretty simple. It is a negative progression system that involves increasing your position size following a loss. Specifically, it involves doubling up your trading size when you lose. The classic scenario for a Martingale progression is trying to trade an outcome where there is a 50% probability of it occurring. Such a scenario has zero expectation.
You would expect to make nothing and lose nothing in the long run. For this kind of 50/50 proposition, there's two schools of thought about how to size your trade size. Martingale strategy is about doubling your trade size when you lose. The theory is that when you do win, you will regain what you have lost. On the other hand, an anti-Martingale strategy states that you should increase your trade size when you win.
Martingale With Two Outcomes
Consider a trade that has only two outcomes, with both having equal chance of occurring. Let's call these outcome A and outcome B. The trade is structured so that your risk reward is at a ratio of 1:1. Let's suppose that you decide to trade a fixed sum of $5, hoping that outcome A will occur, but then outcome B occurs instead, and your trade loses.
For the next trade, you increase your size to $10, once again hoping for outcome A. It's B that occurs, and you subsequently make a loss of $10. Once again, you double up and now trade $20 - needing outcome A to gain a profit. You keep doing this until eventually your required outcome occurs. The size of the winning trade will exceed the combined losses of all the previous trades. The size by which it exceeds them is equal to the size of the original trade size. Let's run through some possible sequences.
- Win the first trade and profit $5
- Lose the first trade, but win the second trade
- Lose $5 on the first trade and then win $10 on the second trade. This leaves you with $5 net profit
- Lose first two trades, but win the third trade
- You lose $5 on the first trade, $10 on the second trade, and then win $20 on the third trade
- This leaves you with $5 net profit
- You lose the first three trades, but then win the fourth trade
- You lose $5 on the first trade, $10 on the second trade, and then $20 on the third trade At the same time, you win $40 on the fourth trade. Again, you are left with $5 net profit
The probability of you not profiting eventually is infinite - provided that you have infinite funds to double up with. As you can see from the sequences above, when you do win eventually, you profit by your original trade size. It sounds good in theory. The problem with this strategy is that you only stand to make a small profit. At the same time, you risk much larger amounts in chasing that small profit.
In our example above, we are looking to make only $5. But with a losing sequence of just three trades, we were already risking $40. Imagine if that losing streak had persisted a little longer. If you lose six times in a row, you are risking $320 to chase your $5 profit. In other words, you are sitting on a loss of $315, attempting to win just $5. The chances of getting a six-trade losing streak are small - but not so remote.
In fact, they are greater than 1%. What if your risk capital was only $200 in total? You would be forced to quit with a large loss on your hand. This is a key problem with the Martingale strategy. Your odds of winning only become guaranteed if you have enough funds to keep doubling up forever. This is often not the case.
Everyone has a limit to their risk capital. The longer you apply a Martingale trading strategy, the greater the chances are that you will experience an extended losing streak. Depending on your mindset, you might find this an off-putting proposition. Needless to say, Martingale strategy does have its advocates. Now, let's look at how we can apply its basic principle to the Forex market.
Martingale System in Forex Explained
Source: MetaTrader 4 Supreme Edition - EUR/USD M1 Chart with RSI indicator - Data Range: 12 July, 2016 09:08AM - 10:04AM - Please Note: Past performance does not indicate future results, nor is it a reliable indicator of future performance.
How does a Martingale strategy work in Forex trading? The Forex market doesn't naturally align itself with a straightforward win or lose outcome with a fixed sum. This is because the profit or loss of a Forex trade is a variable outcome. We can define price levels at which we take-profit or cut our loss. By doing so, we set our potential profit or loss as equal amounts.
The chart above displays a 1 minute chart EUR/USD chart with the Relative Strength Index (RSI) plotted beneath. Don't forget - RSI is one of the many trading indicators available through MetaTrader Supreme Edition, which is an excellent plugin for MetaTrader 4 and MetaTrader 5. It's there to provide us with a simple entry point, and to suggest the state of the market: if the RSI drops below 30, it suggests that is is oversold, and if it rises above 70, it suggests that it is overbought.
At 10:03AM on the chart, the RSI rises above 70. This is our entry point. We sell one lot of EUR/USD at 1.1095. We then place a limit 30 pips below at 1.1065. This is where we take out profit. We place a mental stop 30 pips above at 1.1125. Unfortunately, EUR/USD continues to rise and at 10:15AM, our stop is breached.
Source: MetaTrader 4 Supreme Edition - EUR/USD M5 Chart with RSI indicator - Data Range: 12 July, 2016 09:45AM - 14:25PM - Please Note: Past performance does not indicate future results, nor is it a reliable indicator of future performance.
We define ourselves as having lost at this point. The Martingale strategy now calls for us to double up. We only use a mental stop-loss, rather than an actual stop order. Why do this? Because it would be pointless to close out the trade, and then reopen another trade twice as large. Instead, we open a new trade matching the size of the original trade to double up.
We then sell another lot at 1.1125. We place a new mental stop 30 pips above at 1.1155. We replace our original limit order with a new one to close both trades. This is 30 pips below our new trade, at 1.1095. We originally sold one lot at 1.1095, and then sold another at 1.1125. This gives us an average entry point of 1.1110.
We're in luck this time, and the market drifts down through our limit in the next few hours. At 13:55PM, we close out at 1.1095. We closed out 15 pips below our average entry point. One lot of EUR/USD has a pip value of $10. Therefore, we make 15 pips multiplied by $10/pip, which nets us a total of $150. That is a very simple example to give you an idea of how we might apply a Martingale strategy.
It worked out in profit within this example, but can you imagine a scenario where you might have a sequence of several losing trades in a row? It is a distinct possibility. Martingale's 'stick to your guns' approach might work in situations with a high probability of reversion to the mean. But it is extremely risky in a trending market. The strategy always has the risk of building up a large loss, that squeezes you out of the market.
A downside of Martingale trading strategy is that you are gambling with your losses, which is usually viewed as breaking the rules of good money management. It's interesting to compare it with a reverse Martingale or an anti-Martingale strategy (a methodology often utilised by trend-following traders).
The latter involves:
- maintaining your position size when you lose
- increasing your position size once you start to profit as a trend builds
Martingale Trading Strategy: A Conclusion
The general results of the Martingale strategy are small wins most of the time, with an infrequent catastrophic loss. There is a limit to how long you can keep doubling up without running out of money. The strategy crumbles if you run into a string of losing trades. Exponential increases are extremely powerful and result in huge numbers very quickly. Therefore, doubling up may result in an unmanageably large trading size.
In such a scenario, continuously increasing the trade size is unsustainable. You will certainly be squeezed out of the market at a large loss. If we had a group of traders using the strategy for a limited period, we would expect to find that most would make a small profit because they avoided encountering a long run of successive losses, and anyone unlucky enough to hit a long losing streak would suffer a punishing loss.
So while the results of Martingale may sound satisfying, the strategy is too inconsistent to be used on a regular basis. However, It does provide value and it is a great tool for gaining more market insight. If you want to experiment with the Martingale approach, the best way to start is in a risk-free trading environment. Our demo trading account can help you to find a Forex Martingale strategy that suits you best.
This material does not contain and should not be construed as containing investment advice, investment recommendations, an offer of or solicitation for any transactions in financial instruments. Please note that such trading analysis is not a reliable indicator for any current or future performance, as circumstances may change over time. Before making any investment decisions, you should seek advice from independent financial advisors to ensure you understand the risks.