A professional blackjack player is someone who makes his living playing blackjack.
Since blackjack is a negative expectation game unless you use some kind of advantage gambling technique – usually counting cards – it requires a lot of skill to pull off.
It’s beyond the scope of a single blog post to explain in detail how to become a professional blackjack player.
But it’s within the realm of possibility to provide a clear introduction to what it takes to make a living playing blackjack.
I try to cover the basics of what you need to know here along with some suggestions about where you can find more details to help you succeed at going pro.
Mastering More Complicated Card Counting Systems
You could theoretically become a blackjack professional by just using the Hi Lo system. That’s the basic card counting system that almost everyone starts with. For recreational players, it’s perfect because it’s easy and effective.
But if you want to make your living playing blackjack, you’re probably going to need to milk the game for every tenth of a percent that you can.
The way to do this is by adopting a more complicated counting system that will increase your edge over the casino by being more accurate when it comes to when to raise your bets, being more accurate when it comes to deviating from basic strategy, or both.
The Hi Lo system is a single-level system. You’re only increasing or decreasing the count by one every time a card is played.
In a two-level system, you have two values that you use. You might increase or decrease the count by one or two depending on which card you see. This requires more practice, as it’s harder, but it also provides you with 10% more winnings per hour than you might expect with a single-level system.
That might not mean much to the average recreational card counter. It might mean a few hundred dollars per year in earnings. That’s not worth the trouble for that type of player.
But a big player – one with ten times the bankroll spending two to three times the amount of time at the table – might make a few thousand dollars more per year. That’s significant.
Let’s look at the math.
Suppose you’re playing for $50 per hand on average, meaning you’re probably ranging your bets from $10 to $100. Let’s also assume that you’re getting in 200 hands per hour.
You’re putting $10,000 per hour into action.
If you have an edge over the house of 1%, that’s $100/hour in expected return.
With a better counting system, you’re looking at $110/hour in expected return instead.
Let’s now suppose you’re playing for 15 hours per week, 50 weeks a year. This means you’re earning $1,500/week with the Hi Lo, or $1,650 per week using the more complicated count.
That’s a significant difference, but if your average bet size is two to three times that, the difference becomes far more significant. You’re looking at a difference of $15,000 or $20,000 a year.
That’s a life-changing amount of money.
And 15 hours a week is a pretty cushy work schedule, too.
But it’s not as easy as just switching to a harder counting system. You need to improve all your aspects of play, too.
You Need to Have a Big Enough Bankroll
To calculate your bankroll requirements, you need to understand your tolerance for risk. A recreational player has, of course, a higher tolerance for risk than a professional. If you’re playing blackjack recreationally and go broke, no big deal. You just quit playing.
But if you’re playing blackjack professionally and go broke, you no longer have a way to earn money. You have to find a new career.
I recommend having 1,000 betting units or more. This means that in the above scenario, where you have a betting spread of $10 to $100, you’d need a bankroll of $10,000 to play. That limits your risk of ruin to less than 1%.
You could try to earn a living as a card counter at that level with a smaller bankroll, but you risk going broke. If you have $5,000, you have only a 10% chance of going broke.
Don’t forget that to make a living or even to succeed recreationally as a card counter, you need to be able to play perfectly. A single mistake on a single hand in an hour can reduce your hourly expectation to 0. Most blackjack players just aren’t good enough to maintain that kind of accuracy for any length of time.
Just How Good at Counting Cards Do You Have to Be?
I always suggest practicing counting through a deck of cards at home. I also suggest using a timer to see how fast you can accurately count through a deck of cards.
Until now, I haven’t provided much specific guidance beyond that, as most people don’t need it.
If you want to go pro, you need to practice counting through multiple decks – at least six. And you need to be able to count through those six decks in two minutes or less.
That’s going to seem humanly impossible at first. Keep practicing and logging your times, though. You’ll get there eventually if you keep practicing.
You Need to Be Absolutely Perfect at Basic Strategy, Too
Remember how I said just one mistake per hour will wipe out any earnings that you might expect?
This includes making basic strategy mistakes.
You must know basic strategy cold. You need to automatically know exactly the right decision to make in every situation at the blackjack table. Eventually, you’ll need to be able to adjust that strategy based on the count, but until you’ve completely mastered basic strategy, that’s a fool’s errand.
You can buy training software to help you memorize basic strategy and test yourself, and I recommend doing so.
You might think that just dealing hands from a deck will provide you with the training you need, but some of the harder basic strategy decisions come up on hands that happen less often than you might think.
With training software, those hands will come up more often so that you can learn them. These software programs also grade your progress. You should be able to consistently score 100% every time you sit down for a training session before even considering trying to play blackjack for a living.
So far this is a lot of prep work – easily two or three weeks of full-time work. (And I’m talking about 40-hour work weeks here, not 15-hour work weeks.)
How to Practice in the Casino
Being able to do all these things in the privacy of your home is one thing, but being able to do this in a noisy casino is an order of magnitude harder. You’ll only know what you’re up for by trying it in a live casino first.
Try playing with perfect basic strategy at the low-stakes tables first. See how well you do. If you’re unsure about how to play a hand, look it up. You shouldn’t move on to the next step until you’re 100% confident that you won’t ever make a basic strategy mistake again.
Next, try playing with perfect basic strategy while also maintaining a running count and converting it to a true count. Just flat bet for this part, and don’t bother deviating from basic strategy based on the count, either.
At this stage, you’re just trying to see if you’re ready to move up to the next step. Only move up to the next stage of practice when you’re 100% confident you’ve got this part mastered.
Then, you’ll use perfect basic strategy, count cards, convert the running count to a true count, and raise the size of your bets based on the count.
Finally, you’ll work on doing all of the above as well as adjusting your basic strategy decisions based on the count. Since the composition of the deck has changed based on the count, the correct plays to make in various situations also change.
So yes, you must practice at home. But when you feel confident, you need to move on and practice in the casino next.
How to Find Blackjack Games You Can Beat
It’s not enough to have the wherewithal to play blackjack at a professional level. You must also be able to find blackjack games where the rules are such that you can get an edge using your skill.
In fact, finding good games might be one of the most important arrows in your quiver. You can often do more to increase your expected winnings/earnings by finding a better game than you can by improving your skills.
In fact, if you were paying attention to the last section, you won’t even consider going pro until your skills are close to maxed out, anyway.
And I’m not just talking about finding the best game in town, either. You need to consider shopping around for the best blackjack games in the world. Every tenth of a percentage in professional blackjack counts.
Of course, this requires a certain amount of discernment on your part. But that shouldn’t be too hard to acquire. If you can count this accurately and play perfect basic strategy at this level, you can learn to recognize which rules differences have the most effect on the house edge.
Becoming a professional blackjack player is no mean feat. In fact, it’s probably harder to make the kind of money playing as a blackjack pro as you would playing professional poker, for example. Pro sports bettors probably also make more money for less effort, too.
But if blackjack is your game, I’m not one to discourage you from pursuing it professionally. It takes a special kind of temperament and a willingness to work really hard to succeed. Even a tiny error rate can have grievous consequences to your bankroll.
You’ll find plenty of useful advice about what to do in the above post, but it’s obviously not possible to create a complete guide to professional blackjack in a single blog post.
You’ll need to do some studying elsewhere on this site and probably buy a few of the many good “how to win at blackjack” books on the market. You might even need to subscribe to some of the online learning tools for aspiring professional blackjack players.
Even that might not be enough, but you’ll never know until you try.
How to Make a Living Playing Blackjack in CasinosDecember 23, 2018