What Kind of Blackjack Bankroll Do You Need in 2019?
Published on June 08, 2019
If you’re new to casino gambling in general or blackjack specifically, you might be wondering what kind of blackjack bankroll you need.
In fact, if you’re REALLY new, you might be wondering what bankroll management even means.
On the other hand, even if you’re a long-time blackjack player, you might have some questions about what kind of blackjack bankroll you should have.
This post tries to answer those questions for the greenest players and the seasoned players alike.
Feel free to scan through the stuff at the beginning if it’s stuff you’re already familiar with. The second half of the post is probably more appropriate for the blackjack players who have some experience playing and counting cards already.
Most people have a general idea of what a bankroll is, but for a post like this, we need to get a lot more specific.
Your bankroll is the amount of money you’ve set aside to gamble with.
You might have specific bankrolls for various games based on various goals. If you play games where you’re satisfied with a negative expectation, the size of your bankroll compared to the average size of your bets is what determines how long you’re able to play a specific game.
If you’re a professional gambler, though, you’re probably more interested in avoiding going broke in the short run. Gambling is based on random chance, and even if you have a long-term advantage, you can still go broke in the short run because of variance.
Here’s a simple example of how that might work.
Suppose you’re playing a simple gambling game with a buddy where you have a 52% probability of winning, and she has a 48% probability of winning. She’s willing to bet you straight-up, too — if you win, you get $100 from her, and if she wins, she gets $100 from you.
Suppose you only have a bankroll for this game of $100.
Can you see how you’d have a good probability of going broke even though you have a distinct mathematical edge?
In the long run, your results should resemble the mathematical, theoretical prediction, but in the short term, anything can happen.
The goal of having a large bankroll relative to your bet size is to avoid going broke while you’re waiting for your long-term edge to kick in.
But that only applies to gamblers who have an edge.
If you’re playing a negative expectation game, you’ll eventually lose all your money. The trick is getting the most entertainment for your money while you’re doing so.
When it comes to blackjack, it doesn’t matter whether your goal is to get a mathematical edge or not. You must use basic strategy if you want to master blackjack bankroll management.
What’s basic strategy?
It’s just the mathematically optimal means of playing every hand in every possible situation.
It’s easy to find basic strategy charts for blackjack. These are usually presented as a grid with the dealer’s 10 possible face-up cards across the top with the player’s 30 or so possible totals across the left. Cross-index your hand with the dealer’s face-up card, and the table tells you how to play the hand.
When you see estimates for the house edge in blackjack that say the casino expects to win just 0.5% of every bet you make, those estimates are assuming you’re playing each hand with the correct basic strategy. If you ignore basic strategy, you can add maybe 2% to that number.
What does that do to your hourly loss rate for a recreational gambler?
If you assume $100 per hand and 50 hands per hour, you’re looking at putting $5,000 into action per hour. A basic strategy player expects to lose an average of 0.5% of that, which is $25 per hour. The guy who ignores basic strategy, though, expects to lose an average of $125 per hour.
If you have a blackjack bankroll of $250, you can probably play for ten hours or so if you use basic strategy. That’s only worth two hours of play if you ignore basic strategy, though.
That’s a pretty dramatic difference between a basic strategy player and one who doesn’t use basic strategy.
Your goal changes when you’re counting cards, though. Instead of hoping to get as much action as you can from your bankroll, you’re hoping to stay in action long enough for your long-term edge over the casino to kick in. In other words, you don’t want to accidentally go broke before the long run.
If you’re playing online blackjack for real money, I recommend that you do so purely recreationally. You should bet as little as possible per bet, too. For most players, that’s $5 per hand.
If you’re so rich that $5 per hand means absolutely nothing to you, you have my blessing to bet $100 or even $500 per hand. The goal is to enjoy yourself, after all.
But most of my readers are committed low rollers. The difference between playing $5/hand and $10/hand probably doesn’t change anyone’s enjoyment of the game much, so you might as well lose your money more slowly.
Also, you can’t count cards or otherwise get an edge when playing online blackjack for real money. This means that your bankroll considerations have everything to do with getting the most value from your bankroll.
Here’s how you calculate your online blackjack bankroll requirements.
Start by deciding how much time you want to spend playing blackjack over the next month. Maybe you hope to get in an hour a day every day, so you’ll plan for 30 hours of entertainment.
Next, assume you’re going to play 200 hands per hour. You couldn’t get nearly this many hands in per hour in a brick and mortar casino, but in internet casinos, this is no problem.
That’s 6,000 hands of blackjack in a month.
Now multiply that by the amount you’re planning to bet per hand on average. If you’re a low roller, go with my recommendation of $5 per hand.
That’s $30,000 in action over the course of a month.
Now assume that you’re playing a blackjack game with a 1% edge. You might get more specific than that and research your specific casino, but that’s getting a little too bean-counterish for me.
This means you can expect to lose $300 over the course of a month.
Deposit a little more than that just in case you’re unlucky, and you’re looking at a bankroll needed of maybe $400.
You can change those numbers to suit your situation. If you’re playing for $100 per hand, you might need a bankroll of $8,000 instead.
Under no circumstances should you play blackjack online for real money unless you can afford to lose that money. There’s no guarantee that you’ll win.
You can use the same thought process when deciding how much money to take to Las Vegas with you if you’re a recreational blackjack player. The biggest difference is that you won’t be playing as many hands per hour, but you probably won’t be spending a month there, either.
Let’s assume you’re going to spend a week in Vegas, though, and you want to play blackjack for at least four hours per day. That’s 28 hours.
You should estimate 50 hands per hour in Vegas. You might get more than that if you’re playing with a dealer heads-up, but you’ll probably spend at least part of your trip at a table with other players. That’s 1400 hands of blackjack.
If you’re a low roller, and you’re betting $5 per hand, you’re putting $7,000 into action. With a house edge of 1%, that’s a total of $70. Take $140 with you, and you can play blackjack in Vegas all week—as long as you stick with the $5 bets.
You might even get some free stuff while you’re playing, like a buffet or a meal in the coffee shop.
But, just as I pointed out in the last section, under no circumstances should you gamble with money you can’t afford to lose.
That’s the big question — how much CAN you afford to lose playing blackjack?
I’m a firm believer that you should never gamble with money you need for another purpose. In other words, if you’re behind on your child support, you need to take care of your business before playing even a single hand of blackjack.
This means that your rent’s caught up, all your utility bills have been paid on time, and you have appropriate insurance. It also means that you have some savings for an emergency and some more savings for retirement.
If you’re young, you might not need a lot of money in your retirement fund, but if you’re over 25, that needs to start becoming a concern. Turning 50 without having any retirement savings is an utter drag.
Most bankroll management experts advise you to divide your overall bankroll into smaller session bankrolls. This can be helpful, but it isn’t necessary. Mostly, it just depends on how flexible you are with your goals.
In the example above, where you’re in Vegas, you might want to play in a morning session and an evening session every day. Each session might last two hours that way.
Your expected loss per hour is only $2.50, but you’ll need a bigger bankroll than $5 per session. You might sit down with your entire bankroll, or you might ask the dealer what the minimum buy-in is for a $5 player.
I’ve played for literally hours on $50, but I’ve also gotten destroyed in 30 minutes when I sat down with $50. Don’t forget that we’re still dealing with a game that has a huge luck factor.
Things get more interesting and complicated when card counters and blackjack teams start looking at their bankroll requirements. At this point, you start looking at factors like “risk of ruin” and “The Kelly Criterion.”
Risk of ruin is just the probability that you’ll go broke before the long-term expectation kicks in. The bigger your edge is over the casino, and the bigger your bankroll is compared to your average bet, the lower your risk of ruin is.
Someone with a 400-unit bankroll has a much lower risk of ruin than someone with a 200-unit bankroll, for example.
The Kelly Criterion is a mathematical principle used by gamblers to determine their optimal bet size relative to the edge they have over the casino.
I’ve seen many gamblers suggest that your bankroll should be at least 100 times the average size of your bet, but I’ve also seen card counting experts suggest that you need a much bigger bankroll than that.
I’m friends with a pro poker player who loves to talk about how it’s okay to “take a shot.”
That’s what you’re doing with a bankroll of 100x the size of your average bet. You’re taking a shot. Even with a 1% edge over the casino, you probably have a 40% or 45% probability of going broke before getting into the Law of Large Numbers and the corresponding correlation with your mathematical edge.
On the other hand, with a bankroll of 1,000x the size of your average bet, your risk of ruin drops to less than 5%.
The size of your bankroll, then, depends on how serious you are. An amateur card counter just getting his feet wet might be able to afford to be more aggressive.
On the other hand, a card counting team might need to be far more conservative in their bet sizing relative to their bankroll size.
You’ll notice, too, that all the blackjack bankroll management advice I’ve given you suggests thinking about your average bet size. I have some thoughts and advice about that, too.
For the most part, I think you should bet the lowest amount that makes you feel like you’re in action. If you’re Warren Buffett, you probably won’t get much of a thrill out of wagering $5 per hand.
On the other hand, if you had to save for months to get $200 together to gamble with on your trip, you sure don’t want to risk $100 at a time.
John Vorhaus suggests in one of his poker books that you should take enough money to play poker with that it hits your “gulp limit.” In other words, if you lost your wallet, and it had that much money in it, you’d swallow hard with disappointment. It wouldn’t ruin you financially, but it would be a drag.
That amount is different for everyone, but I suggest keeping your gulp limit in mind when you’re planning your bankroll for your gambling excursions.
Bankroll management is as important in blackjack as it is in any other gambling endeavor. It’s also just as important for recreational gamblers as it is for professionals or aspiring pros.
Not everything you read about money management applies, though. Many gambling writers suggest that managing your money and having win goals and loss limits increase the probability of winning. That’s not true. The math is the math.
But you do need to know your blackjack bankroll requirements to achieve your blackjack goals.