• Bankroll management for recreational blackjack players is important to maximize profits when the cards are going their way and minimize the chance of going broke.
  • Good and bad streaks are inevitable, but you can’t be a winner if you bust out fifteen minutes into your playing session. Therefore, the size of your bets in relation to your bankroll will minimize this risk and keep you in the game. 

Everyone who plays blackjack in a land-based or online casino has the goal of having fun, trying to win money, and avoiding losing his or her bankroll in a short time. The key to accomplishing all three is how you manage your money, how much bankroll you have, and how much you bet. What follows are tips that you can use to help you have staying power when you play, and with a little luck, be able to cash in on some short- term wins.

First, there are two important items that I want to state up front.

  1. The money you use to gamble should not, under any circumstance, be “scared money,” meaning money that you need to pay the rent, mortgage, food, etc. The amount you set aside to gamble should be discretionary income that will not cause you hardship in the event you lose it all. Bottom line: Don’t bet more than you can afford to lose! 
  2. Recommendations in this article are for recreational gamblers, specifically someone who is facing a house edge even under optimal playing conditions. If you are a card counter, your bankroll and money management strategies are different from those for a recreational gambler. (See Chapter 10 in my Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide for information on this topic.)  

Note: For the purpose of the following discussions, I’m going to assume a three-hour play session, which is about average for most casual players. 

 

blackjack chips

 

Session Bankroll

You should bring enough bankroll for each session so that you have a decent chance of winning money should the cards come your way, with a minimum risk of going broke. The latter is important.

For example, betting $25 a hand at blackjack with a $100 session bankroll is suicidal because you have over a 90% chance of busting out. The problem: the bet to bankroll ratio is too small.  You should have a reasonable spread between your minimum bet and your session bankroll. How much? 

  • Rule #1. For a three-hour playing session, have at least 50-times your minimum bet.

What this means is that for a $5 bettor, you should have at least a $250 session bankroll. A $10 bettor should have $500, and so forth. This will surely not guarantee a profit for every session, or even half of them, but it will allow you to stay in the game even if you experience a bad run of cards.

Total Bankroll

This is money you set aside to play blackjack. Each time you play, you bring one third of your total bankroll with you for your session bankroll. (Total Bankroll/3 = Session Bankroll.)

  • Rule #2: Have at least 150 times your minimum bet as your total bankroll.
  • Rule #3. Have it stashed away in a money market account (call it your “401-G,” where the “G” is for gambling). 

That means, for a $5 bettor, you should have $750 set aside in your 401-G. If you don’t have that much money right now to set aside for playing blackjack, I would suggest you wait until you can grow your 401-G to $750 before you start playing with real money. 

How It Works

When you complete a three-hour session, you are most likely going to have more, or less, than your starting $250 session bankroll ($5 bettor). Whatever that amount happens to be, deposit it back into your 401-G.

Remember that the bankroll in the 401-G is to be used solely for playing blackjack. It should not be used for other expenses such as drinks, meals, rooms, and transportation.

Why so much bankroll? Simply because blackjack is a game of ups and downs. You never know (or can predict) when you’ll experience a hot or cold streak at the tables. By having the recommended bankroll, you will be safeguarding yourself from going broke.

Proportional Betting

Over time, your 401-G is going to grow and shrink (hopefully, with some luck it will grow). What I recommend is that you always bet in proportion to the amount of money that you currently have in your 401-G (total bankroll)  to decrease further your risk of tapping out. This is how it works.

Suppose you are a $10 bettor and you want to play a three-hour session. You have a  $1,500 total bankroll in your 401-G ($10 times 150). You withdraw one third of your total bankroll ($500) for your session bankroll.

Let’s suppose luck wasn’t with you in this session, and you end up losing $300, meaning your session bankroll shrank to $200. After you deposit the $200 back into your 401-G, your total bankroll is now $1,200.

For your next three-hour session, you take one third of $1,200 or $400 for your next session, and your minimum bet should be $8 ($1,200/150). Likewise, if you win money in any session, you’ll be starting your next session with a slightly larger bankroll and minimum bet size.

The latter could grow your bankroll faster should you experience a good run of cards in your next session. The point is this: proportional betting will prolong your staying power, which will allow you to ride out losing streaks and still be in the game when winning streaks occur.

Just remember:

  1. Minimum bet x 150 = total bankroll
  2. Session bankroll = total bankroll/3

 

bj hand

 

Varying Your Bets

The “safest” way to bet at blackjack when you don’t have the edge is to make the minimum size bet on every hand. This will decrease your theoretical loss and reduce your risk of busting out quickly.

However, most recreational players find betting the same amount on every hand not very exciting. Therefore, they use some type of progressive betting system to vary their bets, where you increase or decrease your  bet based on whether your previous hand won or lost.

The bottom line on progressive betting systems is this: mathematically speaking, you can’t, and you won’t, gain the advantage over the casino using a progressive betting system. If you don’t believe this, I encourage you to read Chapter 7 in my Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide where you will see a mathematical analysis of one popular betting system.

Nevertheless, for those players who insist on varying their bets, I suggest using a conservative system known as Oscar’s Grind. It works like this.

You begin your progression with a one-unit bet and after every win, you bet one unit more than the previous bet; after any loss, you bet the same as the previous bet. The goal is to win one unit for each series of bets, with this stipulation: you never place a bet that would result in a win of more than one unit for the series. 

More Tips to Preserve Your Playing Bankroll

You can preserve your session (and total) bankroll longer by decreasing your hourly theoretical losses (due to the house edge). Here are some ways to do this.

  • Always use the basic playing strategy when you play in either a land-based or an online casino. You can reduce the house edge to roughly a half percent (playing-rules dependent), which will decrease your theoretical hourly losses. (Dominate the idea about how much money you will save by using the basic blackjack strategy is very important here)
  • Check the playing rules. You want player-favorable rules (e.g., doubling down after pair splitting; dealer standing on soft 17, etc. And you definitely want to avoid rules that increase the house edge, such as a blackjack paying 6-5 instead of 3-2, dealer hits soft 17, or no soft doubling allowed. (The greater the mix of player-favorable rules, the lower will be the house edge. For more on this, read Chapter 2 in the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide.) 
  • If you are playing in a land-based casino, get rated for your play. The comps the casino will give you have value, which can reduce the cost of playing. Depending on the value of the comps, you can end up playing even or enjoy a net positive expectation.
  • Take advantage of gambling coupons (e.g., match play, blackjack bonus payoff, free ace, etc.). These coupons give you an edge on a hand when you use them, which will save you money.
  • Play on crowded tables. This reduces the number of hands you play per hour (which decreases the exposure of your bankroll against the house edge), and correspondingly, reduces your hourly theoretical losses.

Online blackjack games are significantly faster than playing in a land-based casino with a live dealer. The more hands you play per hour, the greater your theoretical losses. If the software allows you to adjust the speed of play, I recommend that you dial down to slow play. In addition, you should shop around for the best new-player promotions (another money saver).

Lastly, I don’t want to leave you the impression that by using only the basic playing strategy with the above bankroll and betting suggestions, it will make you a long-term winner. Mathematically it won’t. However, as a recreational player you’ll be using the best playing, betting, and money management techniques to:

  • Reduce the cost of playing to a minimum
  • Reduce the risk of going broke during a three-hour playing session, and , 
  • Allow you, with a little luck, to have some exciting winning sessions. 

Good luck!

About the Author
By

Henry Tamburin is one of world’s most respected blackjack experts and a world-class player. He is the author of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide, and Blackjack: Take The Money and Run. He edited the monthly Blackjack Insider Newsletter, and was a featured blackjack columnist for Casino Player magazine, Midwest Gaming and Travel magazine, Gaming South magazine, Southern Gaming magazine, New England Gaming News, Jackpot, Bingo Bugle, and Casino City Times.