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Playing Cards

Card Counting

BlackJack « «

The American mathematician, Dr Edward O. Thorpe, is generally considered the father of card counting with his book, “Beat the Dealer”, first published in 1962. Even before this, a small number of professional card counters were already in operation across America. The 1957 book, “Playing Blackjack to Win”, was the first to publish an accurate Basic Strategy and included a rudimentary card counting system. Famous gamblers like Jess Marcum and Joe Bernstein have also been credited for inventing card counting systems for Blackjack.

Blackjack is played in a variety of formats, and to familiarize yourself with these visit Casino.com NZ. Regardless of the form, the basic principles of card counting remain the same. As each card is dealt in Blackjack, the deck changes in composition, and so the odds lilt back and forth between Player and Dealer. The objective of the card counter is to identify those points along the deal where the odds favour the Player, and therefore he can bet big and win more, and those points along the deal where the odds favour the Dealer, and therefore he can bet low and lose less.

It should be noted that Card Counting systems are of little use unless you are going to play Basic Strategy. You can practice your basic strategy on demo/free play at any number of the many good online casinos that feature blackjack. Casinokiwi has good resources on casinos offering Blackjack as well as articles and guides to get people started playing online.

All we are doing in card counting is counting off the High Cards against the Low Cards. The Low Cards are 2-6 and the High Cards are 10-Ace. For every Low Card you count "+1" and for every High Card you count "-1". As you can see, we have 5 low cards and 5 high cards. So if you start on zero and count off a deck, you should finish on zero.

What we do know is that if we receive more Low Cards than High Cards, that further on along the deal we’re going to have to receive more High Cards than Low Cards.

It’s simple – if there are only 5 of each. Depleting one incrementally increases the chances of receiving the other. If you run out of low cards, then you only have high cards to receive.

In card counting, this is exactly what we are keeping count of – the Proportion of High Cards to Low Cards yet to be dealt.

The Simple High-Low Strategy

Since the days of Dr. Thorpe, ever more elaborate systems have been devised, from simple ‘Plus-Minus Systems’ to complex ‘Point Systems’ and ‘Side Counts’. As compelling as their proponents make them, reliability comes from being able to use a system flawlessly over hours and hours of play.

The system we will examine here is called the Simple Hi-Lo Strategy. For every Low Card we count ‘+1’ and for every High Card we count ‘-1’. Seven, eight and nine receive no value at all. We only count the Highs, 10 – Ace, against the Lows, 2 – 6.

The Simple Hi-Lo Strategy

Low Cards No Value High Cards
Card Face

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 J Q K A
Count Value

+1 +1 +1 +1 +1 - - - -1 -1 -1 -1 -1
The Count: 0

1 2 3 4 5 5 5 5 4 3 2 1 0

There is nothing particularly mysterious or complex about card counting. Proficiency comes in mastering the technique – being able to count the cards reliably at a rate that keeps you in the game. You should aim at being able to reliably count off a deck in 30 seconds or less. Then try counting multiple decks.

Playing the Count

When the count is even, and the deck favours neither High Cards or Low Cards, there is no particular advantage to either Player or Dealer (except, of course, the House advantage). But when the count goes high, indicating that the deck has proportionally more 10’s and Aces than it does 2’s to 6’s, now Play favours the Player and he will win more often than he loses. If he bets high, he will win more while he is winning more often.

However, when the count is low, indicating that the deck has proportionally fewer Aces and 10's then it does 2's-6's, then play will favour the Dealer and the Player will lose more often. If he bets low, he will lose less while he is losing more often.

But why should this be? Why does the Player win more often when the deck is rich in Tens and Aces? Firstly, because these are the two cards which make up a “Blackjack” – an Ace and a 10. And BlackJack pays 1 ½. Secondly, the Player wins more often because the high cards don't help the Dealer's "stiffs". The Dealer doesn't have a choice. He must draw on 16 and stand on 17. A deck rich in high cards sees him bust more often.

The Running Count and the True Count

The game of Blackjack as it is played in casinos around the world is a multi-deck game. That means that the significance of the count is reduced. In a single deck game, a count of +5 means there are actually 5 more High cards than there are Low Cards left. When there are only 20 of each that go into the deck in the first place, that’s a significant difference. But when there is a difference of just 5 among 312 cards (six decks), that fluctuation is barely a blip on the radar.

Therefore, players have devised a distinction between the “Running Count” and the “True Count”. The Running Count is the count we have as the cards come out of the shoe. This is what we see. This is what we count.

The True Count, on the other hand is calculated against the number of ½ decks still remaining in the shoe. In this way, we weigh the significance of the running count, against the backdrop of the number of cards yet to come. A count of +10 when there are 300 cards to come is a difference so insignificant our chances of receiving either a High card or a Low card remain even. But a count of +10 when there are just 20 cards to come means that there are more than twice the number of High cards to Low cards left to come, and our odds are very good.

In order to calculate the True Count you divide the Running Count by the number of ½ decks remaining in the shoe.

True Count = Running Count ÷ No. of ½ Decks remaining.

So a Running Count of +10 with 2 ½ decks remaining, we calculate the True count by dividing 10 by 5 – the number of ½ decks – and arrive at a True Count of 2.

The Conversion Factors tabled below are for six deck games.

Six Deck Conversion Factors

No. of Decks Discarded No. of Decks to be Dealt Conversion Factor
(No. ½ Decks left in the Shoe)
½ 11
1 5 10
2 4 8
3 3 6
3 ½ 2 ½ 5
Source: Ken Uston; Million Dollar Blackjack, Carol Publishing Group Edition – 1994, page 119

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