What you can make per hour at a Blackjack game is basically a combination of three factors: your overall advantage, your average bet size and the number of hands per hour that you play.
I chose $20 an hour as a target winning rate for this article because most of you will have to play what I call an “average” game and Blackjack is more a means of entertainment to you than a way to keep rice on your table. If your aspirations are higher, read my article, “$100 an Hour at Blackjack“.
Making $100 an hour is tough at a 6-deck game where the dealer hits soft 17, which is the basic game I chose to write about here. I think it’s fair to say that most of you have access to decent 6-deckers, but maybe not
The basic rules for the game I’ll analyze here
In order to make $20 an hour at a game like this, your average bet has got to be in the $22-25 range, your average advantage needs to be over 1% and you’ll need to play about 80 hands per hour, which is not likely to happen at a table with 5 or 6 other players.
That alone pretty much rules out playing at a $5 minimum-bet table, unless you’re at a gigantic casino that offers a lot of $5 games. More likely, you’ll have to play at a $10 minimum-bet table and even then, play during “off” hours where you can get some one-on-one time with the dealer or sit at a game with only 2 or 3 others, at most. Consequently, the bet schedule I used here calls for a $10-$160 spread. I’ll discuss bankroll requirements a bit later, but that’s not really the focus of this article because I’m assuming (yes, I know it’s foolish to assume) that most “serious” recreational players will not set aside a specific Blackjack-only bankroll, but will take a certain amount of $$$ from their current cash flow and, should it be lost, just replace it from their next paycheck. Those who depend upon their Blackjack earnings to pay the bills simply can’t afford to manage their $$$ that way.
The bet schedule I’m recommending here looks like this: $10 at a True Count (TC) of 1 or lower; $20 at 2; $60 at 3; $120 at 4 and $160 at 5 or higher.
This is a 1-16 bet spread, which is wider than the 1-12 spread that I usually recommend, but in a game with 75% penetration, the TC will get to 5 or more only about 4% of the time, so the vast majority of your bets will be in the $10-$120 range. While I won’t go into the specifics of it here, playing two hands when the count is plus can give the “pit critters” the impression you’re actually betting only a 1-8 spread. Should that be something that you might need to do, email me and I can give you the proper betting schedule.
Okay, that’s enough background information, time to move on to the plan itself. First of all, in order for this to work, you will have to use the Basic Strategy variations that are in the Advanced Course portion of my lessons. These are where you vary the play of your hand according to the True Count.
For example, Basic Strategy says to always hit 12 versus a dealer’s up card of 3, but if the count is high enough, you would stand. These variations increase your edge somewhat; perhaps 0.2% or so, but they’re necessary in this scenario because our overall advantage is usually only about 1%, which is what I consider the minimum. Another thing you’ll need to do in order to get the most out of this plan is to leave the table when the count drops significantly. I know most recreational players prefer to find a friendly table, plop themselves down and spend the next four or five hours playing, but as you’ll see in the simulations I ran, the “play all” approach cuts into your potential profits quite a bit. However, instead of having you leave when the TC drops to -1 or lower, I ran some sims where you leave when the TC drops to -2 or lower. Such an approach will keep you at the table longer and might allow you to leave for bathroom breaks, to “see how my friend is doing” or, “oops, gotta call home” and so forth. Just know and understand this: The less you play in minus counts, the more $$$ you’ll ultimately make.
Simulation # 1:
Six decks, dealer hits soft 17, double on any first two cards, double after split, no surrender. Basic strategy variations are used to play the hand. Never leave the table (“Play all”). The bet schedule: $10 at a True Count (TC) of 1 or lower; $20 at 2; $40 at 3; $120 at 4 and $160 at 5 or higher.
Overall Advantage: 0.89%. Average Bet: $19.00.
Comment: You can easily see this is marginal at best. Were you to play 80 hands per hour, your bets would total 80 x $19.00 = $1520. If your overall advantage is 0.89%, your expectation would be to make 0.0089 x $1520 = $13.53 per hour and that’s not $20. Sure, it beats losing, but your edge is so small that you could play for several hundred hours and still show a loss, due to variance (“luck”) alone! We can do better.
Simulation # 2:
Six decks, dealer hits soft 17, double on any first two cards, double after split, no surrender. Basic strategy variations are used to play the hand. Leave the table when the True Count drops to -2 or lower. Same bet schedule. Overall Advantage: 1.10%. Average Bet: $25.00.
Comment: Now we’re getting somewhere. While an overall edge of 1.10% isn’t great, it’s above the minimum I believe you need, plus the average bet is increased to $25. This happens because you’re not making all of those $10 “waiting” bets in shoes where the True Count goes below minus 2. If you were to play 80 hands per hour, your total bets would be $2000 and, with a 1.10% average advantage your expectation would be to make (drumroll, please) $22 an hour! As I always say about simulations, they are far more accurate than we humans, so you should subtract about 10% to arrive at a realistic result. Do that here and we’ve just about attained our goal of $20 an hour.
This is a fairly simple plan to take an enjoyable “hobby” like playing Blackjack and turn it into a (modestly) profitable venture. If the average casino patron plays Blackjack 300 hours a year (six hours a week), bets $25 a hand and does not count the cards, then s/he has an expectation of losing 0.64% of all the $$$ bet. That’s because the casino using the rules listed above has a 0.64% edge over the player who uses perfect Basic Strategy (and most don’t.) The losses for a year amount to 300 hours, times 80 hands, times $25, times 0.0064 = $3840 or about $75 a week, minimum. On the other hand, a player who follows my advice can expect to make about $20 times 300 hours or $6000, which is nearly a $10,000 swing!
Can you do better? Sure, just play more hands per hour, leave the table sooner when the count drops or find a better game. For example, here’s a simulation for a game where the dealer stands on soft 17:
Simulation # 3:
Six decks, dealer stands on soft 17, double on any first two cards, double after split, no surrender. Basic strategy variations are used to play the hand. Leave the table when the True Count drops to -2 or lower. Same bet schedule. Overall Advantage: 1.26%. Average Bet: $25.06.
Comment: If nothing else changes, the expectation is to make 80 times $25.06, times 0.0126 = $25.26 per hour. Throw in late surrender and you could easily make $22-23 an hour, even after deducting 10% for the sim’s accuracy that you won’t have.
A quick word on bankroll requirements, then I’m outta here. Because recreational players have the means to replace their losses (through what’s called a job), they only need to bring a “session” bankroll with them on each visit to the casino. For the bet schedule I’ve recommended here, I’d feel comfortable carrying 12 top bets of $160, which is about $2000 for five or six hours of play. About one trip in 25 (twice a year if you go once a week), you’ll lose all your $$$ and have to go home early. Hopefully that won’t happen your first two weeks in a row, but it’s possible. However, if you’re playing with an honest-to-goodness edge, a total commitment of no more than $6000 should see you end a year’s play with some sort of profit, maybe as much as $5000 or $6000, which is a nice return on your investment. As we say here in Missouri: “It sure beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”