Card Counting Bankroll: How Much Money Do You Need?

Jack of Spades With Numbers and Cash Images

Blackjack card counting requires a great deal of skill. After all, it’s an advantage gambling method that can provide an edge over the house.

Therefore, most blackjack players think that counting cards is all about the skill. They believe that if they’re good enough, they’ll make profits no matter what.

This belief is true to some degree. However, one also needs a large bankroll to guarantee profits.

The following guide covers why you need significant money to make it as a counter. It also discusses how to determine the right amount of funds for when you are counting cards.

Most Card Counters Don’t Start With Enough Money

The average card counter doesn’t make it very far. They quickly flame out due to one or more reasons.

Here are some common reasons for why most card counters fail:

  • Not skilled enough
  • Not able to keep up with the dealer’s speed when counting
  • Getting easily distracted by the casino environment
  • Not knowing when to increase and lower bets

All of these are crucial problems that can derail a card counter before they even get started. But as you’ll notice, bankroll management isn’t listed among the above reasons.

Far too many aspiring advantage players (APs) don’t account for money management. Failure to consider this aspect is one of—if not THE—biggest reasons why skilled card counters are unsuccessful.

Of course, nothing is stopping you from embarking on a card counting journey with $250. As you’ll find out later, though, $250 doesn’t provide much of a safety net.

Volatility – Crushing Card Counters Since the 1960s

People have been successfully and unsuccessfully counting cards since 1961. This is the year when Edward Thorp dropped his famous book Beat the Dealer, which taught numerous gamblers how to count cards.

Of course, most early APs didn’t make it very far. They might have picked up on Thorp’s counting advice, but they didn’t know much about volatility.

The latter is crushing to any underfunded card counter. Most APs only gain between a 1% and 1.5% advantage through counting.

Blackjack Player Edward Thorp

A 1% edge is enough to make long-term profits with large bets. However, it isn’t a big enough advantage to guarantee profits every night.

You may experience really hot nights and win big some days. On others, though, you’ll lose to the casino even when doing everything right.

Again, the 1% advantage provides enough of an edge to win. But it also leaves you quite vulnerable to volatility.

You Need Enough Money to Properly Spread Bets

Casinos force you to wait until the beginning of a shoe before playing real money blackjack. They indicate this with signs on tables that read, “No mid-shoe entry.”

Therefore, you have no advantage upon first sitting down to a table and playing. You must count cards until verifying that a deck is rich in 10-value cards and aces (i.e. a positive count).

Until determining a positive count, you should only make the table’s minimum bet. The minimum wager ensures that you don’t lose much money when the house holds the advantage.

Once the count becomes positive, you want to increase your wagers to capitalize. This act of “bet spreading” is where you make profits.

Here’s an example on how to properly spread bets:

  • A table features a $10 minimum bet.
  • You increase your wager to $25 with a +1 count.
  • You increase your bet to $50 with a +2 count.
  • You increase your wager to $75 with a +3 count.
  • You increase your bet to $100 with a +4 count or higher.

Once you start risking $50 or more per hand, you’re essentially playing high-stakes blackjack. At this point, you need significant money to bet $50, $75, or $100 on every hand.

You can’t do this for any sustainable amount of time with $500 or less. Instead, you need enough funds to comfortable bet up to $100 no matter if things are or aren’t going your way.

Guidelines on How Much Money You’ll Need to Count Cards

You can take one of two main approaches to card counting:

  1. Playing by yourself
  2. Playing with a team

In the first case, you don’t need as much money to get started. After all, you’re the only one placing bets and taking profits.

You should be able to comfortably count cards with a $7,000 or $8,000 casino bankroll. Of course, having more than this is even better.

As for counting with a team, you need both “spotters” and a “big player.” Spotters spread out to different tables and count cards.

Two People Playing Blackjack Table in Casino

However, a spotter never raises bets, meaning they’re always facing a house edge. The spotter’s main role is to signal the big player (BP) when the deck is hot.

A BP can then sit down and immediately start placing big bets. In this manner, they never attract suspicion from casino staff members for bet spreading. They simply look like a high roller who’s benefiting from good fortune.

With spotters and a BP, card counting teams need additional starting capital. For this reason, a team should begin with anywhere from $18,000 to $23,000.

Calculating a More Specific Casino Bankroll

You can likely get started with little trouble when using the aforementioned general guidelines. However, you might also want to develop a plan that’s specifically tailored to you.

The best way to come up with a plan is to consider variables (e.g. average bet size, hands played) that meet your situation. You’ll need time to develop accurate guesses on these variables.

Here’s a generic example on getting started with calculating your bankroll:

  • You count for around 300 hands per night (approx. three hours).
  • Your average bet size is $40 when including the minimum wager and bet spreading.
  • 300 x 40 = $12,000 in total wagers
  • You hold a 1.5% edge.
  • 12,000 x 0.015 = $180 theoretical profit per night

As seen in this example, you’ll bet $12k on average during each outing. You stand no chance of losing all $12k in a single night.

You’ll probably never lose 50% ($6k) of this amount either. However, you might lose up to 10% or more of your bets during a really bad night.

Using the above example, losing 10% of these bets means shredding $1,200 of your bankroll in one day. Assuming you go with the $7k or $8k general requirement, though, you can handle terrible nights.

The key is that you have enough money to get through the rough points and eventually make profits. You have the edge; you just need enough cushion to absorb losing nights and soldier on.

Gambling Cost Considerations

Your expenses likely won’t stop at just blackjack bets. You may also need money for traveling and food.

Assuming you choose to become a professional gambler, you’ll undoubtedly need to travel at some point. The longer you count cards, you will eventually be banned from one or more casinos.

However, you can prevent or at least minimize the amount of times you get banned by moving around. For instance, you may count in Las Vegas for one month, Atlantic City for another month, then finish the trip in Mississippi.

Atlantic City Casino

Your goal should be to move around and count cards as cheaply as possible. You can stay in cheaper hotels and eat at reasonably-priced restaurants. Other expenses will crop up as well, such as entertainment, fuel, and clothes.

Of course, you might not have many additional expenses at all when only counting locally. The downside to this, though, is that you stand a bigger chance of getting banned.

Casinos will be better able to recognize you in this case. Assuming you’re really serious about card counting, then you’ll want to consider traveling rather than staying in one spot.

Get Serious About Counting Cards Today

Counting cards can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. You can always walk into the casino with a few hundred dollars and hope for the best.

If you want a real shot at winning serious profits, though, then you should bring more money rather than less.

As covered earlier, $7k to $8k is adequate for a solo counter. A team, meanwhile, should have between $18k and $23k.

You can always use variables from your own counting experiences to get a more-concrete solution on your bankroll. You may need more or less money based on your bet sizes and how many hands you play. Please reference the earlier example if you need help getting started in this area.

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