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Last Updated: August 13, 2017

How to Determine a Betting Strategy

Negative Swings

Over the years I have come across very talented card counters, all of who practiced extensively. Despite these steps they are still unsuccessful players. So the question is why is this? The short answer is that when even the most prepared player doesn't understand the statistics variance they don't size their bet properly to their bankroll. Often times over betting their bankroll. As expected this leads to disastrous results. Here we will go over a few things to consider when determining a blackjack betting strategy. A player can then test their strategies at the 888casino's blackjack page. The statistical swings in blackjack are pretty wide; losing periods can extend beyond what a typical player would consider reasonable, so testing strategy is a necessity.

When playing for any length of time, it is certain that they will experience extended periods of heavy losses. Many will get overly discouraged and leave the business all together. To give you an idea of the variance involved if a player were to play a game where they would have a 2% advantage ( extremely optimistic) over the casino, after 2,500 hands of play there is a 20% chance of you being negative.

In real world examples I was once playing solo and after one week of play and 1,600 hands I was down $15,000. The following week I made $16,000 in 1,200 hands. The swings can be pretty violent so it's vital that you have enough of a bankroll to withstand the negative ones.

Earnings Versus Risk

There is a trade off in risk versus earnings for a static bankroll. Consider two players A and B. Player A decides to bet from $1 to $10 dollars. The chance of Player A losing $10,000 is very low. The actual odds are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 in 2000. The win rate is approximately $6 per hour.

Player B is a very aggressive player and bets from $100 to $1000. The approximate likely hood of Player B going broke is about 4 in 10 (a winning player never has more than a 50% risk of ruin). However, the win rate for Player B is around $600 per hour. The player or team must determine their threshold for earning versus risk.

3% and 5% Elements of Ruin

Aggressiveness varies between teams. The MIT Blackjack Teams played to a 2-3% Risk of ruin and some of the more aggressive teams like the legendary Al Francesco. Big Player teams played to a 5% risk or ruin. This gives the player a failure rate of 1 chance in 20. A common method for teams is to reduce the unit size by 50% when the bankroll has been halved. With this approach the player sets their risk of ruin to 1 chance in 300.

Earning Expectations

Several of the most respected casino gaming authors have estimated the earning expectations of professional counters to be at least 3%. But through my own playing and conversations with other player's (which easily includes a million hands), we have concluded that a win rate of 1.5% over the long term is a reasonable expectations.

There are a few reasons for the disparity. The first is that many of the authors use computer simulations as a basis for their assertions. No player can play as accurate as a computer; they are bound to make periodic errors. There are several on the fly calculations that the player has to make. Keeping track of cards, adjusting for ace rich or ace poor decks and true count conversions are some of those calculations. This also has to be done with the pit bosses lurking and making the player nervous. With all this to consider, errors are just part of the game. All players make errors, the really good ones make very few.

Even when playing perfectly, it is still not possible to execute the right play. You have to occasionally lay cover plays and some strategy moves have to be avoided because they draw to much attention. For instance splitting 10s is an instant attention getter from the pit.

Lastly, some dealers do cheat. One casino in particular in downtown Las Vegas has a deep reputation for cheating. I don't think that this is a big enough problem to lower the counters edge.

These are a few things the player has to consider when determining their betting strategy. Each strategy is different and the great players are able to mix and match some of the few main pieces and coming up with a few of their original ideas. When the right balance is reached it can be a very profitable endeavor.


Written by: Dustin Jermalowicz

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