Blackjack Card Counting, Does It Work?

Blackjack Card Counting

In this article we look at counting cards in Blackjack. This is a complete guide and a lot read, we go through how the system workd and importantly how to do it.

Blackjack always has been a popular game at casinos. Its popularity didn’t explode until the 1970s, though, when professional players and mathematicians began developing systems for beating the game.

They had discovered that blackjack could be predicted mathematically, so they devised methods of tracking the cards in a game. These counting systems allow players to see when the cards are in their favour.

Is Card Counting Legal?

The Legality of Card Counting

So, is card counting illegal? Casinos prefer that you think so. They want you to feel it is illegal, unethical and above all else, fattening.
The fact is that card counters simply have more ability than your normal blackjack player.

Nevada Courtrooms have regulated that blackjack players are at liberty to use any information available, provided there is no prior agreement between player and casino employee. For example, if a dealer by mistake deals cards in a way that the player can see the dealer’s hand on the table, the player can use that information without breaking any law.

As explained before, many theories have arisen from the effectiveness, or not, of following some sort of card counting strategy. All in all, the basics of card counting are logical, practical, and totally usable.

Maybe the myth of card counting has grown to such proportions that people believe that only Mensa members can use the method and make a killing at the casino.

However, the truth is that it isn’t as hard as it appears to be. Bottom line, it can work.

Does it live up to all of its hype?

Maybe … maybe not.

How Card Counting Started

The craze for attempting to count cards in blackjack all started with Edward O. Thorp’s 1962 book, Beat the Dealer. Thorp began as a mathematics professor with a love of playing blackjack. He discovered, however, that the house’s advantage could be overcome, giving an advantage to players, by counting the cards used in the game.

This led to his development of the Hi-Lo method, the very first card counting system. Since then, other blackjack players have built on what Thorp started, giving birth to even more accurate methods of counting cards over the years. Now the arena is full of choices, with methods both balanced and unbalanced, Ace-reckoned and not. But as the practice continues to gain popularity, casinos look for newer and better ways to detect counters in action.

This is the nub of the debate over card counting in blackjack: Casinos consider card counters to be cheaters because their calculations can reduce the house edge.

Blackjack players consider card counting to be merely a subtle strategy to determine how to play their cards against the house. Be aware that if you choose to use a card-counting system as part of your blackjack strategy, it’s best to keep it to yourself.

How Card Counting Works

Every card counting system is a little different. In a card counting system, each card is assigned a specific value, either positive or negative.

For example, in the Hi-Lo system, all 4s are assigned a value of +1, while all 10s are valued at -1. The running count starts at zero in most systems, and each card’s value changes the running count over the course of the hand.

  • So if the first card dealt were a 4, the running count would change to +1.
  • If the second card were another 4, the count would be +2, and so on.

The secret to any counting method, and the way players know when to bet, is the running count. No matter what system you use, there’s a simple rule in card counting: the higher the count, the better your advantage.

Each system has its own unique set of values and calculations to estimate the advantage. Some are incredibly easy to use, requiring only a running count. Others are much more advanced, with as many as four counts plus conversion calculations.

The less complicated methods are easier for novices to learn, while the more complicated methods are more accurate in determining the player’s advantage. The method you use will depend on your style of play and calculation speed.

Balanced vs. Unbalanced Methods

There are two types of card counting methods: balanced and unbalanced. A balanced system is a method that uses values such that the running count will always return to 0 after the entire deck has been counted.

While a balanced system offers a higher level of accuracy than an unbalanced one, it requires more work. In multi-deck games, most balanced systems require that the running count be converted into a true count before betting decisions can be made.

This conversion is accomplished by dividing the running count by the estimated number of decks left to be dealt with.

It’s this sort of deck estimation and count conversion that can trip even advanced players at first.

Unbalanced systems, on the other hand, provide a much easier form of counting. These types of methods are designed specifically to avoid conversions. Since players need only keep track of a running count, unbalanced systems can offer some truly surefire counting.

However, they aren’t quite as accurate as balanced systems, because unbalanced systems only keep track of cards already dealt. They make no allowances for any fluctuations that could occur when multiple decks are in use.

Balanced versus unbalanced is one of the most important choices you can make when selecting a method for counting cards.

Different Ways to Count Cards

There are plenty of card counting methods out there. Here are just a few of the most popular and/or significant methods:

Hi-Lo Method – Created by Edward O. Thorp in 1962, the method is discussed in-depth in his book, Beat the Dealer.

This was the first system for counting cards ever publicized. Originally developed for single-deck games, which were more readily available in the 1960s and ’70s, this method doesn’t work quite as well in the multi-deck blackjack games most casinos offer today.

Hi-Lo Card Point Values

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Hi Opt 1 Method – Short for “Highly Optimum,” Charles Einstein developed this method in 1968. Einstein took the foundation poured by Thorp and built an even stronger method out of it.

The cost, however, was more complexity. This complexity arises from the lack of Ace-reckoning in the method.

Aces do not have any effect on the count, so players must keep a running side count of all the Aces that have been played. Like all balanced systems, Hi Opt 1 requires a true count conversion in multi-deck games. When the count is high and only a few Aces have been dealt is when this method truly shines.

Hi Opt 1 Card Point Values

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0+1+1+1+1000-10

Hi Opt 2 Method – Lance Humble took the Hi Opt 1 method and made it better in the 1970s, producing Hi Opt 2.

This is an extremely advanced system designed for professional players. Its complexity is unrivaled, requiring not only a running count, but also side counts of the 8s, 9s, and Aces.

A true count conversion also must be done when this balanced system in used in games with more than one deck. Players with heaps of skill and years of experience will do well with Hi Opt 2.

Hi Opt 2 Card Point Values

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+1+1+2+2+1+100-20

Knock-Out Method – Ken Fuchs and Olaf Vancura revolutionized card counting in 1998 when they published Knock-Out Blackjack. In their book they described a new, unbalanced method of counting cards.

Many balanced systems require multiple and various calculations to determine the player’s advantage. The Knock-Out method was created specifically to avoid all those complications.

The result is card-counting system with a high level of accuracy that’s extremely easy to use. Players need only keep track of the running count for the Knock-Out method to give them a leg up on the house.

Knockout Card Point Values

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Omega II Method – The Omega II method was created in 2001 by Bryce Carlson. This balanced system requires true count conversion, but offers a much higher level of accuracy than other systems.

Since the method is not Ace-reckoned, players sometimes keep an optional side count of the Aces in play.

Omega II Card Point Values

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Zen Method – One of two powerhouse methods created by Arnold Snyder in 1983, the Zen method is a straightforward balanced system.

Snyder outlines the method in his book, Blackbelt in Blackjack. Though the method requires a true count conversion in multi-deck games, the Zen count maintains a level of simplicity not found in many balanced systems.

There are no side counts, and the system is Ace-reckoned, so players need only track the running count and make true conversions.

Zen Count Card Point Values

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Red 7 MethodBlackbelt in Blackjack by Arnold Snyder also discusses the Red 7 method. An unbalanced system, Red 7 incorporates unique counting rules to offset the inaccuracies that can crop up without a true count conversion.

First, this system need an initial running count (IRC) of -2 times the number of decks in play. This compensates for the change caused by the second rule, which is that only the red 7s (diamonds and hearts) have a value of a +1, while black 7s (clubs and spades) are valued at 0.

Though the extra rules add more difficulty, the lack of a true count calculation makes Red 7 a fast-paced system.

Red 7 Card Point Values

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Revere Point Count Method – In the 1970s, Lawrence Revere took the discoveries about card counting made by Edward O. Thorp and refined them. Revere’s calculations led to the development of the Revere Point Count method, a balanced system with a unique true count conversion found in Revere’s book, Playing Blackjack as a Business.

Instead of using true counts only in multi-deck games, the Revere Point Count requires them even when only one deck is being used. To provide more accuracy, Revere created a system that calculates the true count by dividing the running count by the estimated number of half-decks left to be dealt.

This means even single-deck games can benefit from the accuracy of a true count.

Revere Point Count Card Point Values

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Revere Plus-Minus Method – Lawrence Revere refined his counting methods even further in 1980 with the Revere Plus-Minus method. However, the Revere Plus-Minus was designed solely for single-deck games, and as a result, has fallen a little out of favor.

The method utilizes no true count, nor is it Ace-reckoned. While it may not provide much help in today’s readily available multi-deck games, it’s still a powerful system if you happen to find a single-deck game with a seat open.

Revere Plus-Minus Card Point Values

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Unbalanced Zen 2 Method – George C. (who kept his full name secret) turned the Zen method on its head in 1995, creating the Unbalanced Zen 2 method. As the name implies, this method unbalanced, so players need only worry about keeping track of the running count.

It’s Ace-reckoned, as well, so players don’t even need to count the Aces that have been dealt. Unbalanced though the system may be, this method offers a good amount of accuracy at a rapid pace.

Unbalanced Zen 2 Card Point Values

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Wong Halves Method – A very advanced system, Stanford Wong published his Wong Halves method in 1975. Wong Halves is unique in that it incorporates ½ values into the count.

This creates a much more complex count than any other, and can give novices plenty of trouble without practice. This Ace-reckoned, balanced system can provide tremendous accuracy when calculating the player’s advantage with a true count.

Some players alter the method by doubling all the values, thus eliminating the half values from calculation. This isn’t recommended, though, as changing the values can have an effect on the outcome of count conversions..

Wong Halves Card Point Values

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Card Counting and Casinos

Ever since the existence of card counting became public knowledge, casinos have been battling the practice.

Unaided card counting, or card counting done entirely mentally, is not illegal. Casinos can, however, ask you to leave the premises if they suspect you are counting cards.

They do this because card counting eats into the casino’s profits. Card counters are overcoming the house’s advantage, and casinos can’t make a profit if players can maintain an advantage. Many newer card-counting books even discuss techniques for camouflaging your actions and fooling pit bosses into thinking you’re just lucky.

One of the biggest inadvertent impacts card counting had on the gambling industry was the creation of Griffin Investigations.

Founded in 1967 by an astute young private investigator named Robert Griffin, the firm still operates today, providing security for casinos in Las Vegas. Griffin created the famous “Griffin Books,” a series of volumes that work like police mug-shut books.

The Griffin Books have carried photos and information on suspected card counters for more than 40 years. Today Griffin Investigations has put its knowledge online, with its Griffin OnLine Database (GOLD). The firm continues to train casino personnel how to spot card counters.

The bottom line for blackjack players who want to use card-counting methods to increase their probability of winning: Be as subtle about it as possible, unless you want to end up in the Griffin database!

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