Blackjack Money Management

by James Carter on February 19th, 2015.

A card counter should always have an advantage in the long run. Sadly, even if you have the advantage, you'll experience standard deviation ("ups and downs" in layment terms). Your results will fluctuate regardless of the size of your edge.

The good news is that when you have a good run of cards, the casino has "unlimited" bankroll; the problem is, when you have a bad run of cards, your bankroll is limited. Meaning? You can run out of money.

And in order to avoid losing all of your blackjack bankroll, you need to learn how to manage your money.

Poker and blackjack have little in common, but one characteristic they share is that you can be the most skilled player in the world, but unless you know how to manage your bankroll, you will likely run out of money. And many have.

The less money you have, the more of an advantage you need or the less money you need to bet. In no way, shape or form is it sensible to start betting more after you've lost a lot of money. That's not how smart gamblers make their money back. Instead, smart gamblers understand that if the advantage is there, the money will eventually follow, but not if there's no money left to bet with.

Risk of Ruin

While most card counters only concentrate on how much you can make, smart gamblers also think about how much you can lose, and this is often referred to as your risk of ruin.

Now, what happens if you lose all of your bankroll? Will you be completely broke, or is that just a drop in a bucket for you? Perhaps you have a full-time job where you get a constant stream of money and you treat card counting as more of a hobby.

The reason that matters is because you can obviously take more risks in case losing all of your blackjack bankroll affects your life only a little. On the other hand, if losing all of your blackjack money will absolutely destroy your life, you need to be extremely careful, and in fact you can't afford to lose your bankroll under any circumstances.

What Is a Blackjack Bankroll?

This may sound like a ridiculous question but in reality many card counters have never defined their bankroll. It's hard to manage money if you don't know how much of it is available.

Here's what I suggest: put money aside that's only meant for gambling. That money is your bankroll and you should have the mindset that you won't get more money -- if you lose that money, you must stop gambling.

It's smart to have tight boundaries for your blackjack bankroll all the way from the beginning of your card counting career.

How Much to Bet at Blackjack

If I recall correctly, it was Kevin Blackwood who wrote that he never risks more than 1% of his bankroll on a single bet. Now remember: this single bet is a maximum bet, so your smaller bets (when the casino has the advantage) should be way lower than 1% (if your maximum bet is four times your smaller bet, for example, those smaller bets can be no more than 0.25% of your bankroll).

This has been my principle as well. It should also be noted that I only make the 1% bet in clearly profitable situations. Blackwood says at least a 2% edge and I agree.

It takes discipline to lower your bet size when you experience bad runs of cards but it must be done. That's the point of having a money management system for blackjack. Blackwood suggests that you lower your bet size only if you lose 20% of your bankroll -- again, I would follow his system.

Lowering Your Risk at Blackjack

A simple way to lower your risk is to play in more profitable games or to use more profitable systems for counting cards.

A good rule of thumb is that the more complicated the system, the more profitable it is as well suggesting it's used perfectly. For example, Hi Opt 2 is a more complicated system than Hi-Lo, so if played perfectly, it's also more profitable.

To play in more profitable games, you can look at the following variables -- these usually make the most difference:

  • Decks. The less decks there are, the bigger the advantage you'll get. Also, the less decks there are, the bigger the difference regarding which counting system you choose to use.
  • Penetration. You always get a bigger advantage when a game's deck penetration is higher. For example, a single-deck game could be twice as profitable for card counters if its deck penetration changed from 50% to 67%.
  • Bet spread. The more you can spread your bets, the more you can profit, since you'll be able to risk less when the deck is bad or more when the deck is good or both.

Money Management for Blackjack Teams

A Joint Bank money management system could make sense for blackjack teams. Ken Uston writes about it in Million Dollar Blackjack but I'll give you a quick introduction to the system here.

Simply put, Joint Bank is exactly what it sounds like: two or more card counters sharing their bankrolls, and the point is that they have the chance to bet X times more (X being the amount of players involved) because the risk of losing everything would be smaller with a joint blackjack bankroll.

The more players are involved, the bigger the advantage of Joint Bank blackjack money management system. With five players, each player would be earning five times the amount that they could originally earn on average (suggesting similar skill-levels).

But that's hardly the only advantage of a blackjack team sharing their bankrolls. Here are some more:

  • You'll reach "the long run" much faster. How fast? Depends on the amount of players involved, of course. Either way, the more players the less of a difference an individual player's performance makes.
  • Joint experience. Ideally, the group of blackjack players would also share their experience, knowledge and ideas and make the most of them, which makes each player more effective.
  • You're not alone. Uston mentions in his book that gathering with the team and hearing how they had successful days can be a lifting feeling after having lost a lot of money himself. This way losses have less psychological effects.

Not to say that a Join Bank wouldn't have its disadvantages as well. You have to be able to trust everyone involved (otherwise they may leave with the team's money) and there are likely going to be some differences in skill-levels which means that more skilled players may feel like they have to carry the team.