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Card counting

Let's get one thing straight: you don't have to be some sort of mathematical genius to count cards.

Even if the casino is using multiple decks, keeping track of the cards is a only a matter of counting. All you really need to count cards is the ability to count up to plus or minus twelve or so... by ones.

Through mathematical computation, it was determined that the card that has the most influence on the deck being in a favorable condition (for the player) was the five. When the deck is low in fives, the player has a higher advantage than if it's sparse in any other card. Logic dictates that, for a very simple card counting strategy, simply keep track of the fives. This is the basis of the "Five Count" system.

Of course, there are several different card counting systems. Typically, the more complex a system is, the better your advantage can be, should you master it. However, the difference between two systems will usually be so small that ease of using the system becomes more important than gaining a tiny advantage.

This discussion is restricted to a single card counting system: the high/low (also called the plus/minus) point count.

The quick and dirty reason why card counting works is this: the player gains an advantage when a deck has a shortage of cards valued two through eight. When a deck has a shortage of cards valued nine, ten, and Ace, the player is at a disadvantage. If you can tell when the deck is rich in nines, tens and Aces you can do one of the following things:

  • Bet more money when the deck is favorable to you.
  • Alter your basic strategy play to account for the favorability, thereby increasing the odds of winning a particular hand.

Now lets discuss the plus/minus point count. As you can see from the small chart to the right, a plus value is given to low cards, and a minus value is given to high cards. Notice that seven, eight and nine have a value of zero. This is because their overall effect is negligible, as compared to the others.
PLUS (+1)
MINUS (-1)
2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | A
1 | 1 | 1 | 1 | 1
0 | 0 | 0 | 1 | 1

There are 20 cards in a deck that are valued +1: two through six. There are 16 ten value cards and four Aces in a deck (20 total) that are valued -1. The remaining 12 cards (seven, eight and nine) have a value of zero. At the end of a deck the count should be zero. (If you enter a game mid-way between the deck or shoe, flat bet until the cards are shuffled. Once the cards are shuffled commence counting from zero.)

What if there are four, six, or more decks instead of just one? I recommend that you perform a true count, rather than trying to remember different betting strategies for different number of deck games.

In blackjack card counting, the true count is found with the following equation:

Divide the running count by the number of decks remaining.

It doesn't matter how many decks are used, you just have to have a good eye at estimating the number of decks that are left in the shoe. The thickness of a deck of cards is roughly five-eighths of an inch.

If you have trouble keeping the count straight in your head, try using your chips to jog your memory. After every hand tally up the net count and update the running or true count by rearranging your chips.

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