So, you have decided to try your hand at mastering card counting – one of the most popular money-making strategies for professional gamblers ever crafted for a casino game. Does it work? Is it worth it? The answer to both those questions is a resounding yes, but it’s far from an easy way to make money.
To become successful at card counting, you must practice the ability to memorize large amounts of numbers at a time and countdown a deck with great speed, all the while looking like your average joe player having some casual fun at the Blackjack table. Moreover, the amount of variance in Blackjack means that card counting can prove a fruitful method only in the long run, after hundreds of hours of play.
With that in mind, let’s begin.
Initially introduced in the distant 1963, the Hi-Lo card counting is the most efficient and naturally most difficult method out there. However, don’t let this strike fear into your heart, as the difficult part lies in dedicating yourself to practice and memorization for a longer period of time, not having to tinker with advanced mathematics.
The strategy itself is simple to grasp. The basic concept of Hi-Lo card counting is increasing your bet when the true count (more on that later) is high, and decreasing it when it is low. Worry not, we will guide you right through it!
To begin with, we must assign value to each card. Cards 2,3,4,5 and 6 have a value of “+1”, whereas cards 10 through A are valued as “-1”. 7, 8 and 9 are neutral cards with a value of “0”.
|10, J, Q, K, A||-1|
|7, 8, 9||0|
These values are fixed and serve as the backbone to the Hi-Lo card counting method. They will help us determine something called the “running count.” This is easy, we just combine and subtract the values of the cards that have been dealt so far.
For example: If the cards dealt so far have been 10, 2, 5, 9, Q and K, the running count would be -1.
10 (-1) + 2 (+1) + 5 (+1) + 9 (0) + Q (-1) + K (-1) = -1
One of the most delicate parts of Hi-Lo card counting is that you must always know the running count, and there are no shortcuts to success here – practice makes perfect. Remember that you must maintain knowledge of the running count based on ALL visible cards, including the dealer’s.
Next, we must determine the “true count.” To do this, we divide the running count to the number of decks that are still in the game.
Example: If the running count is +4, and the number of decks remaining is 2, the true count is then 2.
Of course, it’s impossible to know the exact number of decks left in-game just by looking at the pile of cards still left, but a rough estimation will suffice. If there are about 120 cards left, rounding it up to 2 decks is fine. You will get a much better feel for this over time.
Finally, what remains is for you to follow through with the basic premise of all card counting systems, which is increasing your bet while the true count is high, and vice-versa. How much exactly to bet and exactly at which count will depend on you – the player.
Many casinos nowadays have software trying to prevent card counting that knows all the things you do about it, so being a little unpredictable can go a long way to your long-term success. This is why it is also highly recommended you vary up your bet sizes but always stick to a predetermined minimum and maximum bet.
That is all as far as Hi-Lo card counting is concerned. As you can see, the strategy itself is simple to understand, but make no mistake – it’s far from simple to implement. Theory and practice are completely different beasts here.
Keeping score of the true count while attempting to avoid suspicion in a real-life environment packed with pressure can be quite a challenge. This is why we recommending you start your card counting ventures by mastering the Knock Out system, explained below.
KO (Knock Out)
The KO is a much more beginner-friendly variant of Hi-Lo card counting. The basics of the KO are similar to the Hi-Lo method, with only a few changes that remove the need of keeping a true count, simplifying the system by a great deal. You can still keep track of the true count in the KO without compromising the system’s accuracy, but in that case why not use the Hi-Lo card counting method, to begin with.
The card values in the KO are very similar, but this time we value the 7 as a +1.
|10, J, Q, K, A||-1|
One more important difference in the KO system is that the running count does not start with 0. Instead, you will have to calculate it by taking the number of decks in play, multiplying that number by -4, then subtracting 4 from that amount.
A game with 8 decks will have an initial running count of -28. (8 x -4) -4 = -28. Don’t forget that crucial minus, otherwise, you’d be going all in on the first round.
The cost of the Knock Out’s simplicity is in its efficiency. Simply put, it’s not as accurate as Hi-Lo card counting, but it’s still good enough to start with.
Ridiculously Easy Knock Out (REKO)
Indeed, it gets even easier than the KO, but the REKO is not necessarily worse in terms of efficiency.
The REKO determines the initial running count by multiplying the number of decks by -2. In an 8-deck game, the initial running count would be -16. (8 x -2) = -16. All card values remain the same as in the KO.
The most interesting aspect about the REKO is that instead of it being simply a less accurate version of the KO, its accuracy only dwindles as the number of decks decreases. Because of the way the initial running count is calculated, REKO is a strategy which is more accurate the higher number of decks in-game. This makes it useful even to masters of the Hi-Lo card counting method.
Ace to Five Count
The Ace to Five count was devised to work best on tables with 4 to 8 decks, and it is without a doubt the easiest card counting method in existence. At least, the easiest method that is actually profitable. It also has the added benefit of greatly minimizing your risk of looking suspicious, since you are only paying attention to the A and 5’s.
However, it is detrimental that you establish your minimum and maximum bets, just make sure those numbers are a power of 2. As for the initial running count, it is always 0.
This is how the Ace to Five works:
- At the beginning of each deck shoe, bet your minimum. Each 5 that you spot will add a +1 to your count, whereas each A takes -1 from your count.
- If the running count is equal or greater than 2, you should double your last bet. Doubling your last bet should be capped in accordance with your maximum bet. This is why it is important to determine it beforehand.
- If the running count is equal or less than 1, bet the minimum.
Here are more game rules which make the Ace to Five even more beneficial to you.
- Blackjack pays 3:2 (always a must)
- Dealer stands on soft 18
- Double after splitting is allowed
- Re-splitting aces is allowed
A higher betting spread will yield higher return using this method, but even with a low spread, you can expect a 0.30% advantage coming your way in the long run. Assuming you are doing everything correctly, that is.
Blackjack Basic Strategy
If you feel you are ready to take on the challenge of card counting and making a long-term profit off of it, do remember that you must know how to play blackjack and knowledge of basic strategy. It is a set of rules which point to the best play in every possible scenario, hence its importance.
Learning basic strategy has to do more with memorization rather than practice, but keeping full knowledge of basic strategy is a great helping hand regardless if you are trying to count cards or not. Even seasoned veterans of the game will play out most of their bets based on basic strategy, so it’s a no-brainer that a beginner should do the same.