Tipping the odds in the player’s favor

It is true that the house is always at an advantage when it comes to blackjack and following the basic strategies can help even out that advantage and put both players and house on a n even footing ensuring that players do not lose their savings when playing Blackjack. For recreational players this is a great achievement. However if a player is serious about the game and wants to take home serious winnings, then it is essential that the player learn to tip the odds into his favor. For that the first step is to learn to count the cards.

What is Card Counting in Blackjack?

Counting the cards in Blackjack is not about being a wizard with numbers and math but using basic logic to keep track of the cards that have been dealt and the cards that are yet to be played. Novices overestimate the talent of card counters and think them to be geniuses who are able to remember every card that has been dealt with. Thorp in his in-depth analysis clearly outlines how the smart blackjack player keeps track of the statistical likelihood of winning a hand and then adjusting betting and playing accordingly.

The idea behind card counting is simple gambling strategy. Professional gamblers will expound that the way to win at gambling is to bet more when the players have the advantage and bet less (or not at all) when they do not. It is that simple. In blackjack, certain cards remaining in the deck are good for the player and certain ones are not. If the player is able to “count” these cards, then he will always know when he has the advantage.

Based on this simple premise, Edward O. Thorp’s confirmed that 10’s and Aces remaining in the deck were beneficial for the player, while 5’s and 6’s remaining in the deck were bad for the player. He worked out the circumstances under which particular combinations of cards remaining in the deck gave the player an advantage over the house. He also presented the first two card-counting systems, Thorp’s five-count and Thorp’s ten-count. The latter, which is more powerful, was based on determining the ratio between 10’s and non10’s remaining in the deck. Card counting was born from irrefutable logic: Keep track of the cards: make small bets when the deck favors the house and large bets when it favors the players. This analysis was further worked upon by statisticians and mathematic experts like Julian Braun, Lawrence Revere, Peter Griffin, Stanford Wong, Ken Uston, Arnold Snyder, and Lance Humble to come up with more card counting techniques that are followed by die hard players of blackjack.

Cards that matter

The object of card counting is to keep track of cards that are advantageous to the player. The card most beneficial to the player is the 10. 10’s are advantages to the player for several reasons. One, they will cause the dealer to bust since he is required to take cards based on the rules of play. He may not take other factors into account while playing (like you do!). Two, they turn hands that you double down on into very strong hands (which is why you double down on those hands, by the way). Three, they are used to create blackjacks. Remember that blackjacks are more beneficial to the player since getting one pays 3 to 2 but losing to one only costs the original bet! Another important card for the player is the Ace. Aces present soft doubling (and hitting) opportunities and they create blackjacks. Remember – blackjack is more important to the player than to the dealer or the house!

The least beneficial cards for the player are the 5 and the 6 (and 2, 3,and 4 to a lesser degree). The reason these do not bode well for the player is simple – they are beneficial to the house. Since the house is forced by the rules of play to take cards on any hand lower than 17, the 5 and the six present the possibility of very strong hands for the dealer (remember that 10’s are not advantageous to the dealer since they make “busts” of these hands).

Before understanding the rules that guide how to count cards, it is vital to know how this knowledge will help us. You should remember that the purpose of counting is to know when the player has an advantage and when he does not. This knowledge will do nothing for the player unless he or she does something with it. What the player should want to do is to adjust the betting and the play based on the available advantage.

Adjusting Your Bets

Adjusting your bets is very straightforward. It is based on the very simple logic that when the composition of the deck is in the player’s favor, they bet more and when it is not, they bet less. Learning just this can give the players as much as a 2% advantage against the house. If that advantage does not sound like much, keep in mind that many casino slot machines only produce a 2 – 3% advantage for the casino and that is enough to make billions of dollars of profit for the casino. Granted, this is at a much higher volume than what the players will play at but it is also vital to remember that bet sizes are much smaller.

Adjusting Your Play

Learning to adjust the play based on deck composition is not an easy task, but the rewards are unparalleled. Taking this step can increase the player’s advantage by another 2% for a total of 4% against the house. The good news is that constant practice can help in mastering the tactics to adjust the play. The main concepts are simple but mastering this level of play takes countless hours of practice.

An expert card counter will adjust play in many different ways depending on the composition of the deck. It is common for an expert card counter to do things that “break the rules” of basic strategy like:

  1. Standing earlier if the deck is very 10 rich — if the dealer can bust, so can you!
  2. Standing later if the deck is very 10 poor.
  3. Splitting 10’s when the deck is extremely 10 rich.
  4. Doubling down on A, 9 when the deck is extremely 10 rich.

What should be remembered at all times is the fact that the most important play adjustment is always deciding when to start playing at a table and when to stop.

A very simple card counting system

Once a player has understood the basic strategies that even out the odds when playing blackjack, the next step is to learn a simple card counting technique that will tip the odds in the players favor. This technique involves a simple count, a running count, bet progressions and a few minor adjustments to play. The first thing to learn is the technique of counting the cards. This count will keep track of 10’s and A’s on one hand and 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, 5’s, and 6’s on the other. The player should start by keeping a running count of the advantage or disadvantage. In the interest of simplicity it is ideal to start with a single deck. A deck of cards has 4 A’s and 16 10’s ( 4 each of 10, J, Q, and K) for a total of 20 cards that benefit the player. The deck also contains 20 cards that are advantageous to the dealer ( 4 each of 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6). As defined earlier, 5’s and 6’s are “better” for the dealer than 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s but this is a simple count. Much more sophisticated counts exist but it is best to master this one first and then begin to look at the more complex systems.

The player starts with a running count of zero. Twenty cards for the player, twenty for the dealer – no advantage – zero. As play begins, the player adds 1 to his “count” for every 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 that is dealt. For each 10 or Ace, the player subtracts one. The idea is simple. If a 5 is dealt, the deck now contains 20 “10s” and 19 of the “other” cards. More tens add to the player’s advantage so the player adds one. If a 10 (or J, Q, K, or Ace) is dealt next, the advantage is back to 0 (19 to 19). This is how the players have a running count. As long as play continues with the same deck the player adds 1 for every 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 he sees and subtracts one for every 10 or every Ace he sees.

The next step is to adjust the running count so that the player is able to build a “real” count for the entire shoe. In a one deck game (which is rare), this is simple; but in a multi-deck game the advantage will be significantly different (though still an advantage). Compare our one deck example with a six deck game. Let’s assume in our one deck game you have seen 11 “10s” and 14 of the “other” cards. This gives the player a running count of +3 (0 plus 14 minus 11). In a six deck game the same running count exists but the advantage is not as great.

Looking at the actual number of cards the difference can be clearly noted. In the one deck example, there are 9 “10s” left and only 6 of the others. If there are six decks in the shoe, and the same numbers of cards have been dealt, you have 109 “10s” and 106 “other” cards. It is clear that a 9:6 advantage is much different than a 109:106 advantage.

The easiest way to adjust for multiple decks is to divide the running count by the number of decks. In the example, the player would have an advantage of +3 if there were only one deck, but an advantage of +0.5 if there were six decks. ALL OF THE BET ADJUSTMENTS NEED TO BE BASED ON THE “REAL” COUNT. If the player has a real count of +0.5, then the player has the advantage. If the real count is any number less than +0.5, then the advantage is not with the player.

Once the player masters the art of counting down, it is time to discuss what can be done with that knowledge. Looking at a simple bet adjustment strategy that can be mastered by anyone the first step is to start with a base unit for betting. The bet on each hand should be calculated based on this base unit of betting as follows. The “default” bet is 2 times the base unit. When the “real” count drops below 0, drop the bet to the base unit. When the “real” count is greater than or equal to one, then the player should increase the “default” bet by the amount equal to the base unit times the count.

Here is an example. If the base unit is $5, play would go as follows. When the count is positive but less than one, the player can bet $10 ( 2 times $5 ). When the count is below zero, the player can bet $5 (base unit). When the count is +1, you will bet $15 ($10 + $5 times count). If the count is +3, the bet will increase to $25 and so on.

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