Some blackjack players are so preoccupied with mastering perfect basic strategy and card counting that they neglect their money management. In blackjack, just like in any other casino-banked game, managing one’s bankroll adequately is of great significance.
Having said that, we would also like to point out bankroll management is powerless when it comes to decreasing the house edge. What it does help with is longevity, or preserving your blackjack bankroll for a longer period of time. No matter how perfect your play is, you are guaranteed to lose your money without discipline and proper bankroll management.
Building a Bankroll – How Much Money Do You Need to Play Blackjack?
Let’s start by specifying that your bankroll is the money you have set aside strictly for the purpose of playing blackjack. We suspect you already know this but just to play it safe, we shall say it again – you should never use money you need to cover your day-to-day expenses for playing blackjack, regardless of your level of skill or previous experience.
Our advice is to place your blackjack bankroll in a separate account and withdraw from it when you plan to attack the blackjack tables. Once you finish with the assault, you go back and deposit whatever you have left alongside any winnings you have generated during the session.
You should leave your bankroll alone in the beginning and avoid using it for any non-blackjack-related purchases. Once you succeed in building your bankroll, you can reward yourself by buying something with some of the winnings you have generated.
Table Limits and Session Bankrolls
With this clarification out of the way, we warn you there is no uniform bankroll size that applies to absolutely all blackjack players. The edge skilled players get inevitably manifests itself over the long term. Anything can happen over the course of a single session, a week, or even a few months.
Experiencing short-term losses, even if you are an accurate card counter, is hardly anything unheard of. The bottom line is as a serious blackjack player, you need a bankroll that is large enough to withstand the losses you may incur on a short timescale.
The overall amount you allocate for blackjack play should be broken down into smaller session bankrolls. How much you allocate for a single session is closely linked to what table limits you play.
If there are lots of casinos in your area but you have limited funds for blackjack play at your disposal, the smartest thing to do is scout the different gambling halls and find a table with low enough limits to accommodate your small bankroll. Provided that there is a single casino with high limits in your city, you better wait until you save a sufficiently large bankroll to play such stakes.
Thus, if there are $10 tables in your vicinity and you flat bet at this minimum with basic strategy, your session’s bankroll should be at least $500. Your max bet should not exceed the amount of $10 under any circumstances. Provided that you are a novice card counter who uses a less aggressive bet spread like 1 to 5, you will need a session bankroll of at least $5,000.
Each number 1 through 5 corresponds to the number of base bets you need to wager when you move with the true count. You put out 5 units or $50 on a count of +5 or higher, 4 units or $40 on a count of +4, and so on. One unit of $10 is wagered on a count of +1 as well as on neutral and negative counts.
Evaluating Your Risk of Ruin
Disciplined players who exercise good money management are well-acquainted with the term “Risk of Ruin”, abbreviated as RoR. For those of you who are not, RoR denotes the probability of a given player losing their entire bankroll.
There are several values you need to take into account when estimating your Risk of Ruin, including your standard deviation, your bankroll in units, and your win rate per every hundred hands. There are free RoR calculators on the web players can use to accurately estimate the likelihood of busting their full bankrolls. Your other option is to use blackjack simulators that can calculate the RoR for you.
We can distinguish between two types of Risk of Ruin, namely session RoR and the RoR for players’ full bankroll. The former denotes the likelihood of the player losing their entire bankroll for the session while the latter shows you the probability of busting your overall lifetime bankroll.
To give you an example, let’s suppose you have a session bankroll of $2,000, play perfect basic strategy, and flat bet $10 per hand. You have 200 base betting units at your disposal. The software you are using has calculated that you have a session RoR of 18%.
This means that eventually you will end up losing your $2,000 around 18% of the time. And the opposite, your bankroll will increase 82% of the time. Meanwhile, if you cut your bankroll in half to $1,000, or 100 units, your RoR will jump to nearly 32%, which exceeds the tolerable limits. In the other 68% of the time, you will increase the bankroll.
It is important to specify that different players are willing to put up with different RoR percentages. At the end of the day, this is all a matter of individual tolerance. The bottom line is the bigger your bankroll is and the more base betting units you have, the lower your RoR will be.
Understanding Standard Deviation
The term standard deviation (SD) is normally used in mathematical statistics in relation to the distribution of expected results. In blackjack, it denotes the distribution of players’ results within a range of probable outcomes.
It tells you how frequently a specific outcome will deviate from your expected average. This is important because it enables you to assess whether you are playing a losing or a winning game as well as to decide how big your bankroll should be for any given session.
It is unrealistic to think you can win each and every blackjack session, even if you are perfect at basic strategy and count cards with great accuracy. A low standard deviation indicates the actual results fall closely within one’s expectations.
We shall explain how standard deviation works with a simple coin-flipping example. A coin has a 50% chance of landing on tails and a 50% chance of landing on heads. Yet, you cannot expect the coin to land precisely 50 times on tails and 50 times on heads in every 100 trials, or at least not in the short term. Sometimes it may land only 45 times on tails and 55 times on heads which happens roughly 2/3 of the time or around 68.3%.
Knowing their standard deviation enables players to calculate the probability of winning or losing a given number of units over the course of a certain number of hands. You do this by multiplying your standard deviation by the square root of the number of hands you play.
So if your sample size involves 400 hands with a standard deviation of 1.14, you can expect to lose or win √400 x 1.14 = 20 x 1.14 = 22.8 betting units around 68.3% of the time. Respectively, 95% of the time, you can expect results within two standard deviations where you will lose √400 x 2.28 = 20 x 2.28 = 45.6 betting units over the course of 400 hands. And finally within three standard deviations, you will lose √400 x 3.42 = 20 x 3.42 = 68.4 betting units every 400 hands 99.7% of the time.
Standard deviation may be complex to understand if you are a novice but is nevertheless of great importance. You need it when calculating your RoR, which in turn helps you determine the bankroll you need. Do not be intimidated, however, as you can figure out what your RoR is by using a simulator software or one of the online RoR calculators.
House Edge and Hourly Losses
The beauty of using basic strategy is that it reduces the house edge in blackjack to such an extent that you are nearly playing a break-even game. Yet, basic strategy is not powerful enough to completely overcome the built-in casino advantage.
Even if you are perfect at basic strategy, the house edge will inevitably cause a dent in your blackjack bankroll over the long run. This dent, however, will be far more significant if you rely on gut feelings and hunches instead of using the optimal strategy.
Knowing the house edge of a blackjack game helps you calculate the hourly losses you can expect to incur in the long term. Suppose you choose a table with more liberal rules like those offered across Las Vegas Strip casinos where the house edge revolves around 0.36%.
You multiply this percentage by the average number of hands you play per hour and your average bet size. Assuming you are a recreational player who joins mostly full tables and bets $30 per hand on average, you will be able to go through roughly 80 hands per hour.
Therefore, the long-term hourly losses you can expect to see will amount to ($30 x 80 hands x 0.36)/100 = 864/100 = $8.64.You will inevitably arrive at this figure when you get enough playing hours under your belt. By “enough”, we mean tens of thousands of hours as anything can happen in the short run.
Unlike basic strategy players who are practically betting on a negative EV game, skilled and disciplined card counters are able to overcome the house edge. They have an advantage of around 1% at six-deck games with decent rules.
This enables them to grow their bankrolls overtime instead of incurring long-term losses. They calculate their expected hourly winnings with the same formula, i.e. by multiplying their edge by the average bet size and the number of hands they play per hour.
Respectively, an accurate counter who plays heads-up at an empty table with at a 1% advantage and goes through 100 bets of $30 per hour can expect long-term hourly returns of ($30 x 100 hands x 1)/100 = 3,000 / 100 = $30.
Handling Losing Sessions
Variance is inherent to all casino games, including blackjack. All players, no matter how skilled they are, will inevitably end up going through some losing sessions. Knowing how to handle these and when to call it quits is of great significance for preserving your bankroll.
Needless to say, chasing your losses is a terrible idea. The rule of thumb all smart blackjack players should follow is to always leave a table before they have busted their entire session bankroll. The general recommendation is to throw in the towel when you are left with fewer than six betting units.
So if you bet $50 per hand, you must ensure you have at least $300 before you continue playing; if you wager $100, you end the session when you are down to less than $600 and so on.
The reason for this is simple – you need enough money to back up any potential splitting and doubling decisions in line with basic strategy. The bottom line is you should never stay at the table if you are so underbanked that you can no longer exercise the optimal playing decisions. Doing the opposite will ultimately cost you money in the long run.