An Overview of Card Counting and Different Common Counts
There are a lot of misconceptions about card counting. First off it is not illegal, despite what the casinos would have you believe, in fact it is not even against the rules of the game. The second misconception is in order to card count you do not need ‘Rainman’-like abilities, where you remember every card in the deck. While being able to do such a thing would be helpful, even the most advanced card counting strategy uses far easier count methods than this.
This look at card counting starts by looking at Edward Thorp’s contributions to modern card counting. Then how to card count and what it achieves is covered, followed by the importance of knowing when to increase your bets. Finally there is a word of caution regarding employing these tactics in modern casinos.
Blackjack Card Counting Systems
- Ace-Five Card Counting System
- Hi Opt Card Counting System
- Hi-Lo Card Counting System
- Knock-Out Count System
- Ten Count System
- The Zen Count System
- Uston Advanced Count System
Card Counting Methods – Edward Thorp’s Early Strategies
While forms of card counting had been around before the 1960s it was Edward Thorps 1962 book “Beat the Dealer” which really lifted the lid on the subject. Thorp was fascinated by the strategy and mathematical challenges set by the game, in addition to being a highly successful card counter in his own right. He was keen to experiment with the early computers and ran huge numbers of calculations for blackjack and other casino games.
The first edition of “Beat the Dealer” contained a description of the 10 Count system, which was the first mathematically proven card counting system brought to the public’s attention. A few years later the book was reissued and included the Hi-Lo Count, which Thorp developed along with Julian Braun. This counting system became a great success due to both its simplicity and accuracy. It is still the recommended as the first system to teach beginners and has been the foundation for other systems to follow including popular methods like Hi Opt 2, the Zen Count and even Ken Uston’s Advanced Count.
Card Counting Methods – What is Card Counting?
When you are card counting you are keeping track of deck and picking times when it is in your favor to bet larger. While it would take a great mind to keep track of every discarded card and work out exactly what was left, card counters categorizes the cards into different point values in order to make this job easier.
The most common points value you will see applied to cards are +1, 0 and -1. Such a system is used in the Hi-Lo Count, with the adding and subtracting of a single digit making the count easy to follow. For example in a Hi-Lo Count your values will look like this
- 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 = +1 to count
- 7, 8, 9 = 0 or no change to count
- 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace = -1 to count
As the count goes up it indicates that more low cards, which are bad for the player has been discarded from the remaining deck. When this happens there is a larger number of high cards remaining which are good for the player. More advance systems may also include a value of +/-2 or +/-3. While these experience greater accuracy you are better off working with the easier counts to begin with, rather than making mistakes under pressure.
Card Counting Methods – Knowing When to Increase Your Bets
Your different playing decisions are tied in accordance with basic strategy, the only way you can benefit from the added information your count provides is by adjusting your bet sizes. As the deck becomes richer in 10s and aces, the house edge actually reverses and goes in your favor. At these points you want to be wagering more to exploit this edge. Then when the count drops you should be lowering your bets as the edge is back in the houses favor so you want to risk less.
Most count systems include a way to scale your bets up so they are at their optimal levels. Normally this is done by converting your running count into what is known as a ‘true’ count. To do this you normally divide your count by the number of decks remaining. This then gives you a lower figure which you can use to scale your bets on.
While this is great in theory it pays to be cautious. While large swings in betting may be the most profitable approach to take, it is the approach most likely to catch the attention of the casino. Therefore in order to stay playing for longest if may be worth giving up some short-term value.
Card Counting Methods – A Word of Caution
Unfortunately casinos are well aware of the different signs of card counting and employ a number of methods to combat it. Floor staff are now quick to step in if they think you are taking advantage and either impose restrictions or remove you from the table.
Meanwhile continuous shuffle machines have become more widespread, ensuring you have a freshly shuffled deck each hand. Even ordinary shoes are shuffled too frequently to prevent you keeping a decent count.
While you may stumble across the occasional smaller establishment where you can get away with it, for the most part card counting is little more than a theoretical exercise and the large profits previously made by players are a thing of the past.