My brother likes to joke with me whenever he knows I’m headed to Las Vegas (or any casino for that matter): “Hey bro, if I give you $100 can’t you, like, turn it into $100,000?” He knows that’s not how card counting works, but movies like “The Hangover” have resulted in many people not understanding what it really takes to beat the game.
I’m going to explain exactly how much of a blackjack bankroll you really need to beat the house? But first…
Your Brains and Your Bankroll
I tell people that there are two things they need to beat the casino: brains and a bankroll. While both are essential, many people want to jump to the second issue while taking the first for granted.
Or the other way of putting it is: You could have a $1 billion bankroll, but if you don’t have a PERFECT blackjack game, you will eventually lose the entire thing. The number of betting units is irrelevant if you don’t have an optimal game. Sorry if we sound like a broken record, but we just have to emphasize the most important thing.
Does that mean all you need is brains? No.
What is the Recommended Bankroll for Blackjack?
The Honest Answer
Well, it depends. I’ll give you a neat, clean, mathy answer about it in a minute, but honestly it’s complicated . And while many professional card counters are quick to say, “I wouldn’t bother getting into card counting with less than $20,000,” I cannot give you that same answer. Why? Because that’s not our story.
I started with $2,000. though I don’t think I ever bought in past my first $1,000 stake. Ben started with $800 (read his story of how he went from waiting tables to playing professional blackjack).
Did we start with a perfect game? Doubtful. But we worked our tails off to get perfect at blackjack.
Were we patient? Absolutely. I estimate that I was generating about $5/hr to 7/hr for the first couple months, but we were growing something so it didn’t matter!
Were we lucky? Probably. Our risk of ruin (the odds of losing our entire blackjack bankroll) would give most card counters (not including Ben) severe hypertension.
Were we aggressive? Insanely. We weren’t worried about backoffs, and would play a 1-20 bet spread or higher, always playing the table minimum below a true 1 and leaving the table at a true -1.
While a $20,000 initial stake would be great, that’s not our story, nor is it realistic for many people. But, you’ll have to be patient, aggressive, have a perfect game, and you may need to be willing to take on a little more risk. But then again, never starting your card counting career is also a risk.
The easy answer: Number of Betting Units
Now that that’s out of the way, let me quickly show how the number of units will affect your risk, because that’s probably what people are wondering… how many units do I need to not go broke?
- 200 Units: ~40% Risk of Ruin. That means that 4/10 card counters who play this way will be kissing their bankroll goodbye. The other 6/10 card counters will hit some positive variance and never look back. I wouldn’t recommend playing at this level of risk for long. But if you decide you can handle those odds and don’t have another option, then may the cards fall in your favor.
- 400 Units: ~20% Risk of Ruin. For any of us who’ve played blackjack professionally, you would never want to run at this level for long, as you wouldn’t want to wipe out your capital once out of every 5 bankrolls. But I know Ben and I started higher than this. So again, you can decide if 20% is appropriate relative to your other options.
- 500 Units: ~10% Risk of Ruin. Still high for long-term, but 9/10 card counters will be okay if they started with 500 units (of course, once you’ve been winning, you wouldn’t keep re-sizing your bets to stay at 10% risk… it’s assuming you start at that level and keep playing the same stakes as your units increase).
- 1000 Units: ~1% Risk of Ruin. Once we were living off of blackjack, I preferred 1% or lower. With $2k, I had little to lose. But when card counting was a full-time job making me well over $100/hr I didn’t want to go back to waiting tables!
How to Manage your Bankroll and Calculate Bets
One of the benefits of running blackjack teams for nearly a decade is that I’m an expert at bankroll management: keeping EV as high as possible and risk as low as possible. We offer Bankroll Coaching for $299. Better yet, we throw Bankroll Coaching in FOR FREE to our BJA Members who buy the “Starter Membership“.
Why would we give a $299 product away to people who buy our $348 Membership? Because we aren’t excited to simply arm unprepared people with bet spreads. Remember, it’s as much about the Brains as it is about the Bankroll. We believe people need training, community, and the proper resources to beat the game. And we want people committed to BEATING the game and committed to the community of card counters at BJA.
So, How Much Money Can You Make?
Betting Unit: The dollar amount you bet according to. If you change your bets by $5 increments, then it would be a $5 betting unit.
Expected Value (EV): The statistical amount that any given time period is worth. Even though results rarely equal a player’s expected value in the short run, the Expected Value is the amount a hand is theoretically “worth.” Given enough time, actual results will inevitably catch up with Expected Value. For more information on Expected value click here.
Perfect Game: No mistakes at Basic Strategy, running count, true count conversion, bets, or playing deviations. For more info, check out the BJA Card Counting Video Course.
Risk of Ruin (ROR): The mathematical chance of losing one’s entire bankroll. Also referred to as ROR. For more information Risk of Ruin click here.
Standard Rules: 6 decks, H17, DAS, RSA 1.5 pen, avoiding counts below true -1.