A Rational Guide to Winning at Blackjack One Step at a Time
Oct 23, 2014
Being a successful blackjack pro is about winning money consistently, not making a splash. Here a few tips for doing just that.
Playing blackjack professionally is a lot more like a day job than most amateur players realize. It requires careful honing of skills, long hours at the office, taking work home with you (we’ve all spent weekends pouring over advantage play books and doing card counting drills), and even earning an hourly wage.
The last part is surprising to people who think that gambling professionally means going to luxurious casinos and winning thousands of dollars on single blackjack hands while being doted on by celebrities and supermodels. The truth is a lot closer to Office Space than Ocean’s Eleven.
While you know that success at blackjack requires mastering basic strategy and learning to use a card counting system, you may not know important techniques necessary for managing your bottom line, i.e. always leaving the casino with more than you came with, even if it’s not a lot more.
Keep a disciplined bankroll
Any professional gambler should maintain a bankroll which is entirely separate from their other finances. They should add to it only with casino winnings, ensuring that their gambling habits never threaten their financial well-being.
Most blackjack experts recommend putting together a bankroll of at least $2,000 before considering playing professionally. This cushion means that you can absorb a long losing streak without going bust, which is referred at as “ruin.” The bigger your bankroll, the lower your risk of ruin.
You shouldn’t start with less than 200 “betting units” (referring to the amount of money you will bet on any given hand). If you are playing at a low-stakes $10 table you need to have at least $2,000 in your wallet.
That is because as a card counter you will increase your betting spread up to $100, and a string of losses could put you in the red quicker than you realize. And that brings us to our next point.
Always bet within a predetermined spread
Card counting involves increasing your bet size when you recognize that the count is in your favor. But there can be a lot of variation in a positive spread, and your betting behavior should reflect that.
Don’t just arbitrarily increase your bet when the count is positive. For example, going from $5 to $100 when the count goes to +3, then keeping it at the same level when the count is +7 doesn’t make any sense. You should use a careful strategy.
Each betting unit should correspond with a number in the count. For example, starting with a $10 minimum and using a 1-10 spread, an increase of one in the count should mean an increase of $10 in betting size, all the way up to $100 (which is a fairly conservative bet for a counter).
The main takeaway from this, however, is that you should never bet above the predetermined spread. If your bankroll is $2,000 and your unit size is $10, never bet more than $100 on a single hand. This will keep you from falling into ruin.
Set win/loss limits
This idea is somewhat controversial in the blackjack community. Some pros argue that you should shoot for the stars and keep playing until you become ruined, while we think that playing conservatively is a better blackjack strategy, especially for those with limited bankrolls.
Keeping in mind that blackjack is like a wage job, your goal should be to win money every night (even if it’s not a huge amount) and never lose significant amounts. A good way to ensure this is to set upper and lower limits each time you enter the casino.
Your lower limit should be well above ruin level. One way to do this is to set it at -25% of your bankroll. If your bankroll is $2,000 and you’ve lost $500 that night, simply hang it up and go home. Some pros would advise you to quit long before that.
The upper bound is more difficult to calculate, but we recommend setting it somewhere around 50% of your bankroll. If you’ve won $1,000 in a single night that’s a smashing success!
Of course don’t leave in the middle of a blackjack game when the count is in your favor, but you get the idea. Be aware of how much money you need to win each night to support yourself, and use that as a benchmark.
Don’t tip excessively
Tipping is important when it comes to blackjack. Gaining a reputation around the casino for being a cheapskate is only going to make things difficult for you, so tip when you win. Just don’t tip a lot. $20 is plenty for a low-stakes table.
Some card counters feel like they need to tip big in order to win the dealer over. The truth is, that’s a waste of money. If the dealer knows you’re counting he will shuffle up and alert the pit boss, whether or not you gave a $100 tip the last time you won big.
Many aspiring pros make the mistake of tipping away large portions of their winnings. When it comes to winning at blackjack every little bit of money counts.