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Card counting basics

4 February 2011

Many players are confused as to just what is card counting and how it works. This time, I'll explain the basics of card counting.

It's possible for a blackjack player to gain the long-term advantage over the casino. This means you will win more money than lose over time. To do so, you must bet more when the odds of winning a hand are in your favor, and less when the odds shift to the dealer. In order to know when the odds shift from dealer to player, you must keep track of the cards as they are played. This technique, known as card counting, does not require a photographic memory (that's a misconception).

First off, you must understand that the probability of winning a hand in blackjack is very dependent upon the mix of cards remaining to be played. If this mix happens to contain an abundance of large cards, like 10s, picture cards and aces, then your chances of winning improve. On the other hand, if the mix of unplayed cards contains an abundance of small cards, such as 2 though 6, then the odds shift in favor of the dealer.

Here are some of the reasons why large cards favor the player and small cards the dealer. When you have a mix of unplayed cards that contain an abundance of large cards, there will be more blackjacks dealt. Yes, the dealer has just as much chance of getting a blackjack as a player, but the player is paid a bonus on a blackjack hand (3 to 2 payoff). In addition, when the dealer has a stiff hand (like 12 to 16) he must draw. If the deck is rich in large cards, the dealer will most likely bust. Unlike the dealer, the player does not have to draw on a stiff hand from a deck rich in large cards. Also, players will profit more when doubling down in a mix rich in large cards. Likewise, if a player has a pair, he can split the pair into two hands, a sometimes lucrative play when the dealer shows a weak face card. The dealer, on the other hand, will usually make good when he holds a stiff hand and draws from a mix of cards containing an abundance of small cards.

How do you know when the unplayed cards are either rich in large or small cards? You must keep track of the cards as they are played because with this information you can deduce whether the unplayed cards are rich in small or large cards.

In order to keep track of the cards you must assign a tag to each card. In the most popular card counting system (Hi-Low) the dealer favorable small cards (2, 3, 4, 5, 6) have a tag of +1 (plus one). The player favorable large cards (10, J, Q, K Ace) have a tag of -1 (minus one). The remaining cards (7, 8, 9) have a tag of 0.

Card counting is simply adding the tags of each card that is played. For example, you start your count at zero right after the shuffle (this indicates an equal number of large and small cards). As the first round of play begins and cards are faced, you must add the tags of each card. If player #1 shows a 4 and 6, your count is +2 (sum of +1 tag for the 4 and +1 tag for the 6).

Continue to add the card tags for every card that you see. If it's a small card, you increase your count by 1. If it's a large card, you decrease your count by 1. At the end of the first round, your count will be either a plus or a negative number. If your count is positive it means that there were a lot more small cards than large cards played in the previous round. That means the reverse must be true for the unplayed cards - namely, the unplayed cards contain a slight excess of large cards over small cards. This is precisely the point at which the edge swings to the player on the next hand, and, therefore, the player should make a larger bet. Likewise, when the count is negative, the edge is with the dealer and the player should bet the minimum.

To try counting, get a deck of cards, shuffle them, and then turn one card over at a time and recite the tag for that card. For example, if your first card is a 6, say "plus 1." If the next card is a queen, say "minus 1." Continue to do this for the entire deck of cards to help you associate the tag for each card.

Next, take the same deck of cards, flip the cards over one at a time, and keep the running count. For example, if the first card is 5, your count is "plus 1." If the next card is a 3, your running count is "plus 2." Assume the next card is a 7. Your running count is still "plus 2." Continue to flip each card and add the tags. When you are finished counting a deck of cards, your running count should be zero (this is how you can check the accuracy of your counting).

To be successful at card counting, you must count down a deck of cards accurately in less than 30 seconds. Once you master the counting, you must learn other skills. They include: how to bet based on the count, when to deviate from the basic playing strategy; how much bankroll you will need; an understanding of risk-of-ruin; and how to play in a manner that will not draw attention to the fact that you are playing with an edge.

Card counting is not rocket science. It's a skill that can and is mastered by average players.

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