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Best of Henry Tamburin

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Blackjack card counting 101 - part 2

10 July 2009

In my previous article, I discussed the mechanics of card counting. In this article, I'll review additional important concepts that card counters need to understand to be successful.

Bankroll Fluctuation

Accurate card counting will give you about a 1 percent long-term edge over the casino in most games. It does not guarantee that you will win every time you play blackjack. In fact, 95 percent of the time, a counter with a 1 percent edge playing 5,000 hands of blackjack with an average bet of $10 most likely will wind up somewhere between a gain of $2,260 and a loss of $1,140 or any amount in between (even though his expectation is to win $500). The point is that card counters experience fluctuations in their bankroll over the short term and sustain losing sessions even though they have the long-term edge. These swings are normal and to be expected. Because they could -- and ultimately will -- go for long periods of time without winning, it is extremely important that they have enough bankroll to sustain them during these inevitable losing streaks. How much is enough? I use the Blackjack Audit software from Deepnet Technologies to determine exactly the amount of session bankroll I need to keep my risk-of-ruin to 5 percent or less (you can download a sample copy of the program at www.handheldblackjack.com). A quick-and-dirty guide is to have about 125 times your maximum bet. That's a $2,500 bankroll for a typical low-rolling counter that spreads from $5 to $20 maximum bet. If you bet more, then your bankroll requirements should be more. Use the program to give you the correct bankroll requirement.

Practice, Practice and Practice

It will take you about 100-150 hours of practice at home to become proficient at counting cards (you must be able to count down a single deck accurately in less than 30 seconds, meaning if you use the popular Hi Lo counting system, your final count should be 0). Then you've got to learn to count in a casino environment, which is not the same thing as at the kitchen table. There are, however, blackjack software programs that will drill you on your card counting skills. These programs can cut down on the time required to learn how to count accurately (I recommend several at www.handheldblackjack.com).

Adjusting for Multiple-Deck Games

Most casinos use multiple decks of cards rather than a single deck of cards. Card counters must adjust their count to take this under consideration because a running count of, say, +4 off the top of a six-deck shoe in not nearly as important as the same running count in a single-deck game. Counters normalize the running count to arrive at the true count by dividing the running count by the number of decks remaining in the shoe. Computing a true count is not as difficult a task as it first appears, but you've got to learn how to do it quickly and fairly accurately. Alternatively, there are "unbalanced" counting systems that eliminate this conversion to the true count.

Betting Spreads

You'll need a bigger bet spread in multiple-deck games to get the same edge as in single-deck games. A 1 to 4 bet spread is OK in single-deck games, but when it comes to six-deck games you'll need at least a 1 to 10 bet spread (this, of course, will increase your bankroll fluctuation).


Game Selection

You've got to be selective in deciding where you play blackjack. You must not only play where the rules are good. The most important variable for card counters is the penetration, or how far into the shoe the dealer will deal before shuffling. In fact, blackjack isn't worth playing no matter how good the rules if the penetration is bad. For example, multiple-deck games with 50 percent penetration are not very profitable for counters. At least 75 percent or higher penetration is ideal (that's a blackjack table where the dealer deals out at least 4.5 out of the 6 decks of cards prior to the shuffle). You definitely do NOT want to play on any table where blackjacks pay 6-5 or a continuous shuffling machine is being used.

Deviating from Basic Strategy

Once you learn how to use the count for betting purposes you also want to use it to vary your basic strategy. This will require learning what are known as index numbers, which tell the counter when to depart from the basic playing strategy depending upon the value of the count, and whether the count is positive or negative. For example, basic strategy says to hit a hard 12 when the dealer shows a 2 or 3. However, if a card counter has a moderately positive count the better play is to stand. Likewise, the insurance bet is a lousy wager for the average blackjack player but it becomes a profitable bet for a card counter when the count becomes moderately positive.

Casino Comportment

Since casino bosses are not enthralled with having blackjack players that know how to win playing on their tables (they much rather have players that know how to lose), you must disguise the fact that you are card counting. You obviously can't move your lips while you are counting (that's a dead giveaway), you must not increase your betting level in large increments no matter how high your count goes (big jumps in bet size is another giveaway that a player may be counting), and you need to keep your playing session short (one hour or less otherwise you give the casino folks too much time to analyze your play). Casinos in most gaming jurisdictions can and do bar suspected counters, especially those who bet large amounts of money. At a minimum if they suspect a person is card counting, they will shuffle up for no reason thus eliminating a counter's potential advantage, or simply back you off (i.e., ask you to stop playing blackjack).

Obviously, how much you bet and whether it's a single or multiple-deck game has a great influence on how much scrutiny you get from the casino bosses when you play. But don't let this stop you from becoming a card counter. By following the betting recommendations that you'll find in most blackjack books that cover card counting and casino comportment, it's possible to have longevity as a card counter (for more on this see the suggested reading at the end of this article).

To summarize here's what you got to master if you want to be a successful card counter.

  • Basic playing strategy
  • A card counting system
  • Speed and accuracy in keeping the count
  • Learning how to adjust your count in multiple-deck games
  • Playing in games with good penetration and good rules
  • Varying your bet size and playing strategy based upon the count
  • Having a decent betting spread for the type of game you are playing
  • Having the right bankroll to avoid going broke in the short term
  • Having the right "act" when you play to minimize scrutiny from casino bosses

Card counting is not rocket science, but it does require work on your part to become an expert, successful card counter. Most "wannabe" card counters fail, not because they can't count accurately, but because of these two main reasons:

  1. They overbet in relation to their bankroll.
  2. They underestimate the mental stress and frustration of losing for days, weeks and sometimes even months (your edge is long term; short term you can and will lose).

If you're still game and want to become a card counter, I'd suggest you get yourself a deck of playing cards and start practicing. In addition, you need to read these books for starters before you make your first bet.

  • Blackjack: Take The Money & Run (my book) for a basic book on the High/Low balanced card counting system.
  • Knock Out Blackjack by Olaf Vancura & Ken Fuchs for a basic book on the unbalanced K-O card counting system.
  • Blackjack Bluebook II by Fred Renzey. Good book for beginners who want to learn about card counting.
  • Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong. The pro's bible on the High/Low card counting system.
  • Blackjack for Blood by Bruce Carlson, another card counter's bible.
  • Blackjack Attack by Donald Schlesinger, the book that you must read after you learn how to count cards.
  • Burning the Tables in Las Vegas by Ian Anderson, a long-time blackjack pro. Will teach you everything you need to know on "how to get away with getting the money."
  • Blackjack Blueprint by Rick "NightTrain" Blain, a pro who offers sound advice on how to win money playing blackjack part-time.
  • Play Blackjack Like the Pros by Kevin Blackwood, the title of this book says it all.
  • Legends of Blackjack by Kevin Blackwood and Larry Barker, contains stories of card counters who beat the casinos at blackjack.

Here's another suggestion for average players who want to get the edge at blackjack: learn Speed Count, which is a revolutionary, new counting system that is easy to learn (as easy as learning the basic playing strategy), and very easy to use in the casinos. You can read about Speed Count in Frank Scoblete's book Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution! (www.rsucasinobooks.com).

Recent Articles
Best of Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin