Taking Blackjack Table Limit Up a Notch

My typical blackjack table limit is $25/hand.  I raise my bet by ~20% per winning hand in a progression system that limits my losses when going poorly and accelerates my winnings when I hit a hot set of cards.  This has worked well, but as my risk tolerance and win targets increased I’m looking at moving up my table limits.

I’ve been experimenting with starting my play at $100 minimum bet tables with $25 tables as my fall back plan in case of a cold run.  This obviously adds more risk to my play, however winning a couple hundred bucks at a $25 table isn’t going to get me to my goals and if I trust my system the results should bear fruit.

This strategy comes from a review of my most recent wins and losses.  The losses have come no matter what table limits I’ve played and the significant wins have come from the $100 limit games.  Obviously I’m setting myself up for the chance of losing my bankroll more quickly, but it will force me to focus my play and follow all of my rules to generate the best odds for winning without the safety net of lower limits.

My next trip to Vegas is in three weeks so I’m practicing my $100 limit strategy in the coming weeks and will see if I have the stomach for it once I get off the plane.

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Same Blackjack Shoe: Surrender Adds $250 vs. No Surrender

I’ve preached the benefits of using surrender* as part of a successful blackjack strategy for the past few years.  I’m convinced that using surrender is one of the most important pieces to a profitable blackjack session since it gives the player a little more control over the flow of the game.  I tell anyone who will listen that they need to use it and I don’t get very excited to play at casinos that don’t offer it.

I wanted to find a way to ‘prove’ surrender is better to myself in tangible terms.  Obviously I’m a big fan, and the math nerds say that using surrender increases your odds of winning slightly, so I came up with the best way I could think of to test the difference between using surrender and not – an A/B test of the same shoe played both with and without surrender rules.

An A/B test is fairly simple – you test two alternatives by keeping all other variables constant.  In this case the other variables are the cards and betting strategy.

I’m no scientist and this was only one shoe so I don’t contend that this either a perfect test nor an exhaustive study, but here is how I constructed my test:  I took my 6-deck blackjack shoe and played it with a $300 buy-in and $25 minimum bet using surrender rules first and when I had the first surrender event (16 vs. dealer 10) I noted my chip count (405) and from that moment on kept the cards in the exact same order as they were dealt so that I could play them back again using non-surrender rules.

At the end of the surrender shoe – during which I surrendered twice – I ended with a total of $585.  A profit of $285.

At the end of the same shoe using non-surrender rules I ended with $335.  Still a profit at $35, but $250 LESS than the same shoe using surrender strategy.

One shoe does not equal a definitive study and I’m certain there are many shoes out there where playing non-surrender strategy will net out to a higher profit.  In this case the results played out in a way to support my theory and I truly believe that this same test would produce similar results, if not as dramatic, on a consistent basis.

I’m going to replay this test in future home sessions in order to have more data points for comparison.  I’ll continue to report the results here so I can keep track of the cumulative results.  Until I see differently for myself I’ll continue to sing the praises and play surrender strategy in my own game.

*Surrender in blackjack is when you ‘give up’ your hand after the initial deal for half of your bet amount – so if you have a $50 bet and your cards are a 16 and the dealer has a 10 showing you can surrender your hand at which point the dealer will take half your bet ($25) and give you half ($25) back.

How Much Money Should I Bring to Casino?

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When you walk into a casino they have a plan to take as much of your money as possible so your best defense is to be prepared as possible.  My first rule is to only walk into a casino with as much money as you are prepared to lose that day.  If you start to hit the ATM it is easy to lose track of how much you’re in for the session and before you know it you’ve gone too far.

One piece of the budget puzzle is how many opportunities you have at the tables.  In order to maximize your chances you want to make sure your buy-in amount is appropriate for the table minimum.  If you buy in for $100 at a $25 table you likely won’t have enough chances to get rolling, but if you buy in $500 at a $5 table and the momentum goes the wrong way you could quickly lose more than necessary.

My general rule is to buy-in for 10-15x the table minimum.  That gives you enough chances to get on a roll, but doesn’t put you in so far that if things go south you’ve buried your bankroll in one session.

For those following along at home:

  • $10 table = $100 – 150 buy-in
  • $15 table = $150 – 225 buy-in
  • $25 table = $250 – 375 buy-in
  • $100 table = $1000 – 1500 buy-in

Buy in for an amount that is comfortable for your budget and have a plan of attack going into the session and you’ll have a much better chance of having a great day at the blackjack tables.

At Casinos Time Usually Means Less Money

In the movie Casino there is a great scene where Robert De Niro fakes a broken private jet to keep a high roller in town for another night knowing that he would lose back the money he had just won.  This is a perfect illustration of a rule that everyone in the casino industry knows to be true -> more time at the tables = more money for the casino.

It is simple math – if every game has better odds for the house than for the players then the longer you play the more money goes into the vault.  The dealers and pit bosses know this fact and they almost always will give you the advice to take your winnings and run before you give it back, even though they know you probably won’t listen.

I’ve known this to be true since I first started playing blackjack, but it has consistently been the hardest thing for me to get right.  A perfect example is my last trip to the tables when I won around $1000, but came home with only $500 because I was too stubborn to step away or at least change tables when I was ahead and the momentum started to turn against me.

The worst part of my mistake is that I knew the cards had gone cold, the dealer knew my luck had turned, there were plenty of other tables available, and I had no one to blame but myself.  This was a self-inflicted loss and it is hard enough to make money playing blackjack so you can’t help the casinos and expect to end up on the right side of the balance sheet on a regular basis.   

(Bet) Size Matters

I was playing by myself at a $25 table yesterday and a young guy sat down to join me.  I almost picked up my chips and walked, but he seemed like a good kid and he only bought in with $100 so I figured he wouldn’t last long enough to impact my game.  I should have gone with my gut and walked away from the table, but that is a post for another day.

The kid took all the good cards, he was on a strong run and I was not getting anything decent.  My stack was dwindling and the kid was barely making money.  At first I couldn’t figure it out, how was he winning most of the hands and not making any real money.  After a few more hands I realized he had never switched his bet size from the minimum.

I don’t meddle in other people’s blackjack play at the table unless they ask for advice so I kept my mouth shut and watched.  The kid’s luck started to turn and as he lost a few hands in a row including a double and he was back down to his original buy-in.

If my young playing partner had played using a Momentum Blackjack ™ bet sizing strategy he would have likely walked away with a nice win.  By staying with his minimum bet size for the entire session he didn’t maximize his winning run and when things turned sour he was losing as much as he won on the way up so he walked away without the win he deserved.

I didn’t play this table very well either so maybe I can’t blame the kid for the way he played, but my guess is he wasn’t self-aware enough to even realize the error of his ways so hopefully he gets some direction before his next session so he has a better chance of winning.

Productive Day at the Casino

I took the day off work and drove the nearly 3 hours each way to my local casino today.  It was a productive day at the blackjack tables with plenty of new content ideas for this blog which you’ll see in subsequent posts.  Overall I played my system well and although I didn’t follow a couple of my own rules as consistently as possible the ride home felt shorter than the ride there thanks to the win.

The quick recap of the day has a very similar sequence as most of my one day casino trips.  It started with a $300 buy-in at the one empty $25 table which had me even for the first round and a half until someone joined me and shifted the cards enough to wipe out my buy-in.  After that quick loss I kicked myself for not stepping away from the table earlier when I knew things were going south.

I headed to the high-limit room and the $50 tables which have the no mid-shoe entry rule.  The combination of no mid-shoe entry and the higher limit allowed me to play by myself as I prefer.  Once I started playing in my element the tide turned in my favor.  I took a seat with a half-played shoe and bought in for $500.  I turned that $500 into $1200 before sliding back to $800 when I decided to take another quick break since I was back to even for the day.

Since I hadn’t come all this way to break even I switched $50 tables and bought in for another $500.  This time I was either going to lose the $500 and call it a day or turn it into a meaningful win and drive home ahead.  I played the first couple of shoes at basically even until I hit a solid run and went up a couple hundred dollars.  The next shoe went even better and I was up $600 as the shoe was nearing an end – the last few hands didn’t go my way which brought my total day’s take back down to $500.

I continue to learn to trust my system and need to remind myself to stick with it in order to bring home even more money by making just a couple of small tweaks.  Not bad for a day’s work.

Prepare Today for Blackjack Tomorrow

I’m taking a day off from work tomorrow to hit the blackjack tables.  It’s about a 2.5 hour drive for me to get to the nearest casino and I don’t get to play as much as I’d like so when I do take the time to play I try to make the most of the trip.  I strongly believe that being as prepared as possible is your best chance for success in whatever you are doing in your professional or personal life.

So how do you prepare for a day of blackjack?  For me it starts well in advance in some ways and in some ways I’ll adjust on the fly.  The furthest advance planning comes in bringing cash with me to the casino – I have a policy to not use an ATM at a casino.  I don’t travel with a huge sum of money, but by bringing only the amount with me that I’m prepared to lose keeps me from getting in too deep in any given visit in case the cards run cold.

With my cash on hand the next step is practice.  I treat blackjack like my tennis or golf game, if I don’t practice regularly and in the conditions I expect to play in then I can’t expect to have the best possible results.  My typical practice routine involves the Blackjack 21 Pro app.  I adjust the settings to the same set-up as the casino I’ll be visiting to simulate my situation as close as possible.  I’ll also review my bet sizing options for various table limits that I may play.

Once in the casino I’ll take my time and review the situation as best possible in real-time.  I’ll take time to see what tables are available and create a plan of attack that usually starts with my lower-limit of $25 tables and then adjusts up depending on early results.  Knowing what is available makes a difference as the day goes on so that you can find upside when things are going well and minimize downside if momentum isn’t on your side.

Wish me luck tomorrow – hopefully planning will pay – I’ll report back on the outcome in a future post.