A betting spread strategy is a necessary component of card counting at blackjack. You can think of a betting spread and card counting like peanut butter and jelly. You can try them separately, but they’re a lot better when combined.
In truth, counting cards without using a betting spread is defeating the purpose of counting. Without a betting spread you will never be able to take advantage of a positive count and therefore leave a lot of profit on the blackjack table.
What is a Betting Spread?
The key to making money as a card counter is raising your bets when the deck is hot and lowering them when the deck is cold. This variation in bet size is known as the betting spread. The range of an individual’s blackjack betting spread depends on a lot of personal factors such as comfort level and proficiency in card counting.
$5 (Table Minimum) – $200 (Table Maximum)
The example above illustrates the possible range at a $5 minimum table. The possible range is simply the minimum and maximum table bets. You can place a bet of any size that falls within the range on any given hand.
To successfully use a betting spread, however, you need to determine your effective range. In short, this is the least and most you are personally willing to bet. Some players are unwilling to go beyond a certain comfort level when sizing their bets. These players might have an effective range which looks like the following:
$10 (Minimum) – $100 (Maximum)
Players with an effective range like this one are comfortable betting between $10 and $100 per hand.
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Using the Betting Spread
Once you have determined your own effective betting spread the next task is to apply that spread effectively while counting cards. To determine the appropriate bet size we need to start at the minimum and scale upwards in proportion to the count.
We know that most card counting methods begin the count at 0. Using the effective range example above a player will be betting the minimum– $10 – at that level. Using this starting point a player can determine an effective range for the betting spread.
The player must estimate the top end of the count. In other words, how high does he expect the count to get in a session? A simple rule of thumb, which also simplifies the betting spread, is to estimate a count of 10. In this example calculating the betting spread is very easy. The top end of the player’s effective range is $100, a multiple of 10. When we divide 100 by 10 we get 10. The betting spread in this example will consist of 10 bets which increase proportionally with the running count.
…and so on until at a count of 10 the player is making the maximum $100 bet.
The Key to a Successful Betting Spread
What makes a betting spread work is that it allows the player to bet the most money when the odds in their favor are increased. When the count is high the player needs to get the most money into play because their odds of winning are better. When the count is low the player needs to be betting the least amount of money because their odds of winning are worse. Simple, right?
Not so fast. For one thing, a player cannot sit at the blackjack table and mechanically apply a betting spread. For one thing, this will create suspicion on the part of the casino (see our article on camouflage betting). Secondly, the betting range also needs to encompass a few other factors which must be taken into consideration.
The key to winning at blackjack is to increase your positive expectation. Each time the count goes higher the house edge is reduced. Therefore, it makes sense to continue betting the minimum until the count becomes high enough to justify a significant return. In our example this would occur when the count hits 7 or 8.
The problem with this is that jumping your bet from 1 unit to 7 units suddenly will draw the casino’s scrutiny. You must gradually increase the amount of your bet, but at no time should you increase your bet out of proportion with the count. That is the key. In other words, betting less than units when the count is at 4 is okay. Betting more is not.
When it comes to betting spreads the real skill is not knowing how to use them but knowing when to use them in a way that is undetected by the casino. Using them robotically will get you banned from the blackjack table.