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Blackjack Betting and Bankroll Information

By Howard Moon

This article is part 3 of learning how to card count by a blackjack professional. Part 1 is an introduction to card counting. Part 2 is using the hi/lo card counting system.

Deck Penetration

At this point I think it is necessary to give some thought to what is called ‘penetration’. Casinos nowadays never allow their dealers to deal the deck(s) down to the last card. The reason for this rule is that dealing down to the last card provides some very powerful opportunities for the Card Counter. Casinos overcome this by “cutting off” a certain amount of the deck with a plastic card known as the ‘cut card’. When the cut card comes out, the dealer finishes that round of play and then re-shuffles the deck. Penetration is the number of decks played through before the cut card appears and is usually referred to as either a percentage or a number of decks. For example, if I was playing a 6 deck game and the dealer cut off 1 and a half decks, I would refer to this as 75% penetration or 4 and a half decks. Penetration always refers to the number of decks that we get to see during play and not those left out of play behind the cut card. As a rule the more cards the player is allowed to see the better. Never play any game using 4 or more decks that offers less than 75% penetration. For single and double deck games never play if the casino is offering less than 66% penetration.

Unit Size

To calculate what your betting unit should be take your entire bankroll (everything you have to bet with) and divide it by 500 – this will be considered your unit. So a theoretical bankroll of $10,000 would give you a unit of $20 ($10,000 / 500). A bankroll of $50,000 would give a unit of $100.
It is VERY important at this point to emphasize that you should never play with money that you cannot afford to lose. Card Counting does give you an advantage; it does not however guarantee that you will win. Never, ever, play with money that you cannot live without. In fact if you are seriously considering learning to count cards, it is a very good idea to put money aside that will not be used for anything other than your exploits at the table.

Bet Spread

Before going any further, it is necessary to define a very important concept – bet spread. Bet spread is the difference between the lowest and highest bets you will place at the table. If a player states that he/she is implementing a bet spread of 1-8, this means that their largest bet is 8 times the size of their smallest bet. So if their minimum bet is $10 their maximum bet is 8 times this, or $80. A bet spread is necessary in order to overcome the changes in advantage a player will experience as successive decks are dealt. An advantage player realizes the importance of betting low at times the deck favors the house and progressively higher as it swings in favor of the player. Unfortunately, bet spread is one of the main indicators used by a casino to detect card counters; it is of paramount importance that a counter has a good understanding of a particular casino’s tolerance of large bet spreads if they are to avoid detection. This is a simplistic way to explain bet spread that will serve as a general rule of thumb; it is far from perfect. Your bet spread in practice will be affected by many conditions including the rules of the game, the penetration being offered and the tolerance of a particular casino to large bet spreads.

Maximum and Minimum Bets

Never place a bet in excess of 5 units on any hand you play – this will help to limit your risk of ruin and keep the positive and negative swings in your bankroll to a minimum (yes that’s right bankrolls go up and down – dramatically at times – but the longer you play the greater the chances of your bankroll remaining on the positive side of the curve). You should place your maximum bet of 5 units at a TC – after adjustment for the house advantage – of 5 or greater. Now you are aware of what your maximum bet should be and when to place it – it is easy to work out what your correlating minimum bet should be and any bet increments falling between the two extremes. To calculate your minimum bet simply divide your maximum bet by whatever spread you intend to use. So if you are playing a 6 deck game and intend to use a 1 to 12 spread, you would divide your 5 unit bet by 12. For example, a player with a total bankroll of $150, 000, playing a six deck game and spreading 1 to 12 would calculate their maximum and minimum bets in the following way:

Unit: 150, 000/500 = $300

Maximum bet: 5×300 = $1500

Minimum bet: 1500/12 = $125 (or round down to $100 for ease of play and to increase you advantage slightly!)

Read the conclusion of the card counting series as Howard Moon gives the final card counting techniques and additional resources for players.

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