A Card Counter’s Guide to Betting at Blackjack

 

Knowing exactly what to bet is crucial to your success as a card counter. You could have perfect skills, but if you don’t have a bet spread that maximizes EV and minimizes your risk, you threaten your ability to beat the casino.

Over-betting

One common mistake I see with new card counters is over-betting and, unfortunately, I’ve seen it wipe out many bankrolls.

There are two primary reasons I see this happen:

  1. Overestimating your edge. Just because you have a high true count doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to win. Even a true 10 is only a 4.5% advantage. Over many hours, that true 10 will make you a lot of money, but it’s no guarantee in the short-term.
  2. Chasing your money. Psychological studies have shown that people are incredibly averse to losing. People will make poor financial decisions when they have lost money in an effort to get it back. There is no shortage of this in casinos… you start betting more in hopes of winning back losses. But being an effective card counter means being a disciplined investor. You bet “properly” 100% of the time, whether you’re winning or losing. Losing is part of the game. A perfect card counter still loses 40% of the time. And if you start over-betting in a short-sighted attempt to win back your money, you are going to risk losing more money, or even your entire bankroll.

The bottom line is that if you over-bet, your risk will be sky high and you very well could put your entire bankroll at risk.

Under-betting

The other mistake I see with newer card counters is under-betting, and it comes with risks as well. There are a couple common reasons people tend to under-bet:

  1. Fear of Getting Backed Off. No one likes getting backed off from a casino. But the reality is that the casino has the advantage about 70% of the time. So a card counter needs to be betting enough during the remaining 30% of the time to even have a profit. Changing your game because of the fear of a backoff is what Josh Axelrad calls “backing yourself off.” Make the casino back you off. Bet properly, get their money, and deal with the consequences should they choose to deem you a threat to them (“Heck yeah, I’m a threat to the casino!”)
  2. Fear of Losing. This can happen when you’re winning and you don’t want to lose back what you’ve already won. Or it can happen when you are losing and you don’t want to lose any more. You know your bet spread said to bet $200, but you decide to just put $100 out there so you won’t lose as much. Well, that’s not being a disciplined investor and it will come at a cost.

The Bottom line is that if you don’t use a large enough bet spread, you will be playing a break-even game (or even a losing game). If you’re like me, you’re not at the casino to break even but to win!

How to Determine your Bet Spread

Hopefully at this point I’ve convinced you the importance of knowing exactly what to bet to maximize your profits (EV) and minimize your risk. There are a few ways to figure out what to bet:

  1. BJA Bankroll Management Calculator (included in our Membership). You enter your bankroll size, choose between a 2 deck or 6 deck game and either H17 and S17. From there it will give you a variety of bet spread options and their corresponding EV (expected value/ profit) and Risk of Ruin.  Then you can decide which bet spread best fits your risk tolerance and goals.
  2. CVCX (Windows-based Betting and Simulation Software). If you’re a professional card counter or want to have laser-sharp betting and EV decisions, this is the best software out there. You need a windows-based computer and it has a bit of a steep learning curve. But you can run your own simulations or adjust your bet spreads based on deck penetration, various rules, counts, rounds/hr, risk levels, and lots more.
  3. Personalized Bankroll Coaching (with me). This isn’t the cheapest option. But if you want me to custom tailor some bet spreads for you, I will do it for $199. After a decade of running teams and training professional card counters, I’ve got plenty of experience massaging bet spreads to give you as much EV as possible, balanced with trying to avoid unnecessary heat and mitigating risk. Again, not the cheapest option, but if you want my assistance, I promise I will take your investment seriously.
  4. Simple Practice Bet Spread. If you’re not playing in a casino yet and just want to be practicing at home, I recommend a simple bet spread where you add a chip per true count. You can go up to a true 6 or 8 or even 12. This will get you comfortable calculating the true count and changing your bets. But this likely isn’t what you’ll want to use in a real casino because there are much more “optimized” bet spreads that will make you more money for lower risk (see above 3 options to calculate better bet spreads).

The Best Betting Advice I’ve received (to get the casinos’ money)

My hero, Tommy Hyland, once told me that his team made up for “not being the smartest card counters” by having aggressive bet spreads. By “aggressive”, he means betting very small when the casino has the advantage and betting as large as your bankroll can afford when you have the advantage.

I know some people don’t like hearing this because they’re afraid of the heat it may cause. But Tommy Hyland has made millions as a card counter, and it wasn’t from being timid. This is also the same strategy I’ve used personally and the teams I’ve run have used. By using aggressive/dynamic bet spreads, it keeps risk low and EV high. And if you want the casino’s money, this is the best way to do it.

There are creative ways to bet that cost some EV for the sake of longevity at the casinos, but that is more appropriately discussed in our Member’s Forum (I don’t want to give my secrets away to the casinos).

Conclusion / TL;DR

Don’t guess at your bet spread. If you’ve invested in your skills (perfect basic strategy, perfect counting, and deviations), put the same effort and investment into having an optimized bet spread. Anything less than that is disrespectful to your hard earned money. Treat your bankroll well and I guarantee you… your bankroll will thank you.