After mastering basic blackjack strategy, an aspiring pro must move on to more advanced aspects of the game. Bankroll management is one of them.

Most of us associate winning at blackjack with a few simple concepts: try to get blackjack or close to it, try to recognize when the dealer has a high chance of busting and exploit the situation. But learning the game is like going down the rabbit hole, the deeper you go the more strange new things you encounter, and the more complicated your new world becomes.

Becoming a blackjack expert means embracing it for all its maddening complexity. One thing you must learn is how to manage a bankroll. In short, this means tailoring your betting behavior to the amount of money you bring to the table, whether you are playing land-based or online blackjack. This piece will go into detail on how the process works.

Why a bankroll matters

The term “bankroll” refers to the money which you bring into the casino. Simple enough right? You bring say, $100, and you play until either its gone or you win enough money to leave satisfied. But in advantage play (when the player uses legal mathematical strategies to gain an edge over the house) things are more complicated than they seem.

The first thing you should know is that if you’re bankroll isn’t at least a few hundred dollars, don’t bother trying to play professionally. The risk of going broke early in the evening is high if you don’t come adequately funded.

The point of bankroll management is to protect against variance, the unpredictable streaks which are bound to occur when you play for an extended about of time. Even though the standard house edge is .5 percent over the long-term, in the short and medium-term you could wind up broke as a joke if you don’t bring enough money to insulate yourself from a losing streak.

The bankroll corresponds with the “risk of ruin” (RoR), the chance that you will end the night with empty pockets. The RoR gets smaller as the bankroll gets bigger.

How to manage your roll

The size of your bankroll will determine the max amount you can bet on each individual hand. If you are placing $20 bets while holding a $200 roll, a string of early losses can deplete you pretty early. Most experts recommend that your max bet equals 2 percent of your total bankroll (allowing you to make a minimum of 50 max bets in an evening), so if you want to bet $5 you should have $250 in total. $5 is the minimum you’ll find in Vegas or Atlantic City, so basically don’t attempt advantage play with less than $250.

But if you want to actually make money playing blackjack, you need to make more than $5 bets. Pros make $20, $40, $60 bets (be warned that before you should attempt wagering this kind of money, you must spend countless hours mastering basic strategy). And if you really want to cut down on the RoR, you should be able to make 100-200 max bets. The 50 we mentioned earlier is just a minimum.

So in reality, you should have thousands of dollars available to you if you want to make a living at the blackjack table. Managing a bankroll has extra significance for those using card counting systems, because counters adjust their bets according to the count. These players must always be conscious of the amount of money in their bankroll in order to prevent the RoR from increasing without their notice.

What bankroll management doesn’t do

Bankroll management is an important part of expert play, but the key word is part. Some self-proclaimed blackjack gurus claim that you can use bankroll management to gain an advantage over the house, but in reality all it does it prolong your ability to play by minimizing the RoR.

If you are employing losing blackjack strategies, bankroll management is simply going to slow the pace at which you lose money. The point of it is to keep you alive while you slowly skim money off of the house. It is an addition to sound strategy, not a substitute for it.

So before taking a massive bankroll to the nearest casino make sure that you’ve put in the necessary work learning when to hit, split, stand, double down and surrender, and how to read the dealer’s upcard like the back of your hand.

Keep your roll separate from day-to-day finances

Even if you plan to play for a living, be careful not to let blackjack interfere with your ability to pay rent and put food on the table. Never borrow money to play blackjack. In fact, we recommend that even if you play professionally, you keep a day job to: #1 put together a bankroll in the first place, and #2 have income coming in in the event that you leave the casino empty-handed. Always, always hedge your bets.