In the game of Blackjack, the player has many decisions to make. Many of these are related to card play and require a basic strategy for handling various situations. But even more important than knowing when to double down or split a pair is knowing how much to wager and when. Bankroll/chip management is the true key to winning at Blackjack, and that is why so many systems have been developed to help guide betting decisions.
Blackjack Bankroll Basics
In simplest terms, a Blackjack “bankroll” is the total amount of money a player has for wagering. It does not have to be a large amount. It is whatever the player is willing to put at risk over the course of a session, a day, a vacation, or any other selected period of play. When going on a trip to a casino, most players will take along a bankroll equal to the amount they would like to win and no more than they can afford to lose.
One of the most important lessons of money management every Blackjack player needs to learn is to never, ever exceed the bankroll. For some, this may mean leaving all ATM and credit cards where they cannot be accessed. The temptation to play “just a little longer” may be great, but the reason one sets a bankroll limit in the first place is to avoid the path to financial disaster. If the bankroll is lost, it is lost, and play should not resume until a new bankroll can be established.
That said, whatever amount is in the bankroll should be at least 50 to 100 times the player’s average bet. Many players make the mistake of sitting at a table where the minimums are too rich for their level. With a bankroll of $500, a player can comfortably wager $5~$10 a hand. To sit at the $25 table requires a bankroll of at least $1,250 and preferably $2,500 or more.
Managing a bankroll is also about managing expectations. Visions of turning $100 into $500 at a $2 table are unrealistic. Setting an expected “earning per hour” will most likely lead to disappointment, too. The player should have an achievable objective in mind, looking for no more than to double the bankroll and being happy to finish with a profit of 50% or more.
When the objective has been reached, the original bankroll should be put away and not touched again until the next session. Any continued play with “house money” should be treated as a completely fresh bankroll.
Managing Chips when Playing Blackjack
It is not necessary to buy in to a Blackjack table with one’s entire bankroll. In fact, it is not advisable at all. Instead, start out by exchanging about 40% of the bankroll for chips. More can always be purchased later, if needed.
As stated above, a reasonable average Blackjack bet is 1% to 2% of the total bankroll available. If multiple hands are to be played, the betting ratio should reflect the added risk. To play two hands, the average wager should be 0.5% to 1% of the bankroll; for three hands, it reduces to 1/3% to 2/3%
The most aggressive progressive betting system, Martingale, does not advise risking more than 63 units in a progression—equivalent to six losses in a row. With a $500 bankroll, $5 is the largest basic unit that can be bet and still allow a player to wager within the range. All other betting progressions, both positive and negative, are possible when wagering at the $5~$10 level with a $500 bankroll. The 1-3-2-6 betting progression, for example, would require a maximum bet of no more than $60.
Various versions of card counting do not advise making wagers that exceed the basic betting amount by more than six-fold. That means the largest bet one would make at a $10 table when the deck is most favorable would be $60, leaving sufficient chips for doubling down and even re-splitting pairs. Of course, smaller bets of just $5 are also possible when the deck is poor in desired cards.