Romes
Posted by Romes
Jul 24, 2015

Introduction

Card counting! There, I said it. These are two words that you more than likely aren’t very welcomed to utter around any casino establishment. It’s a topic, which over the years, has been branded by the casino industry as something shady, cheating, and even illegal. I want to shatter these myths and unveil the truths about card counting. In the following three articles I’ll discuss what card counting is, where it came from, the ins and outs of employing such a technique, and how it is used in conjecture with other ideas to enable any one person to be able to beat the casinos. Finally, I’d like to use these articles as a discussion point to answer the following questions:

Is card counting a viable option?
Is card counting still worth it?

One thing I’d like to take the time to mention now, as will become quite evident throughout the three articles, is this is no easy task. At the end of the day it’s taking a simple concept and marrying it to several other simple concepts to form an overall technique known as Advantage Playing, or AP for short. Advantage Play, in the context of this article, is any wager or game in which an individual has a statistical advantage over the other party involved. In this case, the other party will be “the casino.” Thus, advantage play is only playing casino games that a player can get a known, and more importantly proven, statistical advantage. While these vary wildly from casino to casino I assure you the opportunities are plentiful if you have your eyes open and know what to look for. The primary focus of these will be the well known form of advantage play, card counting, in blackjack.

Now, you might be asking yourself, what credentials does this author have to be issuing such information? I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science as well as a minor in mathematics. I enjoy probabilities and statistics and can often be found doing statistics on numerous casino games or other events for fun. I’ve read over 100,000 pages of literature on the subject of card counting. After reading through the 99 pages of threads on WoV, 199 pages of threads on Blackjackinfo.com, listening to podcasts/interviews, reading books, I came across a lot of repeating questions over the years that I’d like to try to sum up in to one thread as sort of a beginner “How To” explanation of card counting. I am a part time counter averaging about 5 hours per week. I have been counting for nearly a decade, and can personally tell you I’ve learned most of what I’m about to share by going through the process entirely on my own the first couple years, before finding amazing sites like WoO! More importantly, I know (and can prove) I have a winning game and I am a profitable player. All of this is good and well, and I could go on and on about my experiences, big wins, losses, etc, but at the end of the day what gives me the credentials is my partner in crime, mathematics. I can, and will, use simple math to prove to you the game can be beat. In a sense of put up or shut up, always trust the guy with the correct math!

The following can be treated as a table of contents for this article, highlighting the topics that will be covered:
1) History
2) Basic Strategy
3) Pick and Practice a Counting System
4) Illustrious 18 & Fab 4
5) Playing Conditions
6) Bankroll & Bet Spread
7) READ A BOOK
8) Understanding It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

History

There is a plethora of information one can find by simply googling “The history of card counting.” There is a fantastic article written by Louden Often on blackjack apprenticeship’s website here: http://www.blackjackapprenticeship.com/resources/history-of-blackjack/. The main points I’d like to focus on come from the one and only Dr. Edward O. Thorp, the father of card counting. Dr. Thorp was introduced to the article “The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack” by a professor at UCLA. The authors of the article, the four horseman, Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott can and should be honored with creating both basic strategy and card counting. Dr. Thorp modernized their ideas with the power of computers and simulations. Dr. Thorp taught himself how to program and thus wrote simulations to determine the effect of card removal on a pack of cards. This means, given a standard 52 card deck, what is the effect, in respect to a player in a blackjack game, if a single ace is removed? From this small concept spawned a train of thoughts. What happens if all the aces are removed? What about all of the ten valued cards? What about all of the fives? Through programming and millions of simulated deals Dr. Thorp found removing the ten valued cards to be disadvantageous for the player, and on the flip side found removing “small” cards (2 through 6) to be advantageous for the player. This isn’t all too hard of a concept to imagine. If I have a single deck of cards and remove all four aces, the player has no way to achieve the best hand in the game, blackjack! Whereas if I remove all of the “small” cards then the odds of getting two higher valued cards clearly goes up. The big advantage here is highlighting the traditional rule that when I player is dealt a blackjack they receive a payment of 3 to 2, or 150% of their original bet, where as when the player loses they only lose their original bet. Thus, if one were to trade blackjacks back and forth with the dealer in a deck full of nothing but tens and aces, the player would win. More high valued cards also means the players double downs and splits become more profitable. Lastly, due to the house rule that the dealer must hit on any 16, this means the dealer will bust more often. Dr. Thorp realized this and developed his first counting system to keep track of the ten valued cards in a deck, the Tens Count, and thus formally, card counting was born.

Card counting works because blackjack is one of the very few casino games in which every hand is not an independent trail. The hand you’re playing now is dependent on the previous cards removed from the deck or shoe. This creates a “state” in the shoe, where at anytime the shoe could be rich in big cards, or depleted of big cards. Card counting is the ability to recognize what state the current shoe is in and then bet/play accordingly. One should note that although there are some advanced techniques, any beginner should be warned that you can not count a Continuous Shuffle Machine (CSM). These are machines where the dealer inserts the discarded cards back in to the machine after nearly every hand of play, thus resetting the state of the cards.

Card counting requires nothing more than your brain and some practice, which is why no matter what the casino tells you, it’s not illegal. The last time I checked every player “technically” has a brain, whether or not they use it, and anyone can choose to practice in their own spare time. Thus, you have nothing available to you that isn’t available to every other player at the table. Although the casino would like it to be illegal to use your brain in a casino, many courts have ruled that using your brain to play to the best of your ability is well within the rights of the players. However, what most people do not realize is card counting alone will not enable a player to beat the casino. There are a plethora of other techniques that must be used in conjecture with card counting, and even through every single one of them is simple, this union is often found to be quite difficult. So start somewhere simple, like basic strategy.

Basic Strategy

Every card counting story begins here. Basic Strategy is a predetermined mathematical approach to every decision that can be made in blackjack. This means when you get your two cards and you see the dealers up card, of your available choices to hit, stand, double, split, or surrender, one of them is always mathematically the best choice. Basic strategy was thus invented by The Four Horseman, however with the power of computers and simulations today we have a refined basic strategy for any game or rule set of blackjack. Any number of basic strategy engines can be tailored to your specific playing rules, but even a basic strategy card from a casino is generally 99% accurate. Memorizing basic strategy is literally just that, memorization. It takes no special talent or skill, just time and memory. There’s a link later in playing conditions for a basic strategy engine. Make sure you’re memorizing the right strategy for the right game/rules as the strategy will change slightly with some of the different rule changes!

Pick and Practice a Counting System

There are almost too many counting systems today. Dr Thorp’s first counting system was the Tens Count, but he developed the ever popular Hi/Low (the same count the infamous MIT Blackjack team used). Here is a fantastic reference I found on Blackjackinfo.com forums (actually points to Qfit) for their subtle differences: http://www.qfit.com/card-counting.htm. I personally recommend the Hi/Low count, even after all of this time. While this is a simpler level 1 count, it is revered by many as the count that packs the most punch for your dollar. A few others might feel high and mighty with their Uston SS count and their .99 Betting Correlation, but these more complex non-balanced counts will absolutely lead to more time needed training, and more player errors in the long run. The amount you give up in any one category to a more complex count you will make back 10 fold with less player mistakes. The system you’re most comfortable with (i.e. will make the least amount of mistakes with) is the “best” system for you.

Another big reason that I find is often unreferenced is the fact that the majority of other counters generally use Hi/Low as well. Thus, if you look over the questions in this forum (or others), I’d guess that 85% of counting questions have to do with the Hi/Low count. It will be a lot more difficult to get specific questions answered about other less popular counts, which fewer people seem to use. A fantastic reference for a quick intro to the Hi/Low system can be found on the Wizards main site: http://wizardofodds.com/games/blackjack/card-counting/high-low/

First, practice your count in general by running a deck down. Having read up on your count (assuming Hi/Low), you should know the count of a deck (or any number of full decks) will start and end at 0. Shuffle and pull 1 card out of a deck face down and set it aside (this can also be a cute magic trick at parties after people have been drinking), then flip cards over one at a time and count the rest of the deck. At the end you should know the card previously set aside’s value. When you can do this in less than 30 seconds (ideally 20) then try a more advanced method of counting a deck down; flip over 3 cards at a time and count a deck down all the same. This will hopefully teach you the famous “cancelation” principle. When cards are coming out on a blackjack table don’t count them one at a time, instead wait for the 2nd round of cards so you can cancel big cards with little cards. There’s a plethora of phone apps, web apps, etc, to practice both counting and basic strategy. Here’s some from BlackjackApprenticeship.com:
http://www.blackjackapprenticeship.com/resources/blackjack-training-drills/. When you can do this consistently (key word) then you’re ready to learn some more advanced things such as deviations/indexes.

Another important note to remember is that casinos aren’t quiet! When you’re practicing, you should be doing so with as many distractions as possible. Turn the TV on and try to watch/listen to an episode of a show you like. Have a friend deal to you and talk to you about their day; you’ll see later why the ability to have a conversation and play is quite important! Go on YouTube and find some slot machine noises to play in the background. If you can pressure yourself with all of these distractions at home, you’ll find that when you make it to a live casino it’s much, much easier than you’d expect!

Illustrious 18 & Fab 4

If you have the ability to track whether the deck is rich or not in high cards, it’s only a logical thought that you could use this information to play more efficiently. After all, if you know there’s a ton of extra high cards, you’re probably squirming in your seat thinking about hitting your hard 16, even though that’s what basic strategy is telling you to do! Well, there are different times when counting that you do want to play differently because of this information. These are called deviations (or indexes) because one is deviating from Basic Strategy according to the count. The reason there’s 18 of them is they were found as the top 18 most valuable. The Fab 4 references the 4 deviation surrenders that are a better play than hitting/standing. There are dozens and hundreds of deviations/index plays, but the opportunity to use them is less than a fraction of a percent of the time because the situations with which they occur (true count +10 for example) are so rare, which is why it’s not wroth learning them, for the most part. Again, these are changes in play because the count indicates the composition of the deck has changed (i.e. more ‘big’ or 10 valued cards, or more 2-6 ‘little’ cards). Thus, if a deck has a high composition of 10 valued cards, you’ll want to stand on a hand where you normally wouldn’t (i.e. TC +3, 12 stands to dealer 2). Both the illustrious 18 and fab 4 can be found just about anywhere online, even in the link above to the Hi/Low intro! This is again memorization. It takes no special talent or skill other than remembering numbers.

Playing Conditions

To an extremely new counter this is one of the things I’ve found they often don’t think is too important. They think “I can count cards; I can beat any game of Blackjack!” This is simply not true because you’ll find different rules at different casinos. Hell, you'll find different rules at the SAME casinos! Whether or not you can double on any two cards, double after split, what number of hands you can split to, surrender, or if the dealer hits or stands on soft 17 (A-6) are all very important! Enjoy this information provided by the Wizard on his main blackjack page at WoO (note: this is in comparison to the benchmark rules 8D, S17, DAS). What the effect means is the effect the rule has on the house edge. If one were to plug the rules in to the Wizards house edge calculator and find that a game has a .5% house edge, then if the rules were changed to add/subtract the following rules, the associated affect would be added or subtracted from the preexisting house edge. Thus, if you find an 8 deck game without surrender that comes out to be .5% house edge, this means if you can find another game with the exact same rules, plus now you can surrender, you can subtract .08% from the house edge. The same game, but with surrender, only carries a .42% house edge.

Penetration

So one might think, for 6 or 8 decks early surrender or the dealer standing on 17 are commonly the biggest advantages I can get! Wrong again. While these are indeed important the most important ‘rule’ hasn’t even been listed yet; penetration. Penetration is how deep the dealer puts the cut card after a shuffle. That is to say, all of the cards after the cut card will not be played. So if a dealer cuts off 2 decks of an 8 deck shoe after the shuffle, the game is said to have 75% (6/8) PEN. A game with deeper penetration will yield more variance in counts as fewer decks are left and more opportunities to have an advantage, and thus bet bigger. To sum that up again, the more penetration you get, the more opportunities you'll get to bet bigger! Ideally you’ll want to find a 6 deck game with 1.5 decks cut off, or less (75%+), an 8 deck game with 2 decks cut off, or less (75%+), or a double deck game with at least 60% penetration (i.e. more than one deck cut off). This is the most valuable rule to the player, followed by the other rules as listed above. I can not stress this enough. I have seen so many players ask over and over if they can beat a game. They’ll list out all of these great rules for the player and not even mention the penetration. When I respond and inquire, they’ll say “oh they cut half off the 8 deck shoe off.” That’s only 50% penetration, and that’s horrible! You’ll spend hours at that game never raising your bet simply because you won’t see as many good situations occur because of the penetration. There seems to be about one new thread per week that has to do with an online live blackjack game with decent player rules and 50% (or less) penetration and someone asking about how to beat it. The simple answer is, you can’t! Without having the penetration to get good situations you will have to take full advantage of any situation you can. This leads to very high bets in smaller positive counts which fluctuates your variance wildly requiring a huge bankroll just to sustain all of the natural swings of the game. Again I’ll say, the simple answer is you can’t beat these poor penetration games!

Number of Decks

I want to expand on a playing condition briefly mentioned in the rules set above, which is the number of decks. As one could probably tell from the effects, the fewer number of decks a casino uses the better the game is for the player. Let’s show why with some math!

Example: 1 deck you are dealt an ace, there are 16 (4x4x1) ten valued cards that could give you blackjack, and 51 cards remaining (dealers card face down not counted yet). Thus, your chances of blackjack after receiving an ace are 16/51 = 31.37%. Change that to an 8 deck game… There are 128 (4x4x8) ten valued cards that could give you blackjack, but this time there are 415 total cards remaining. So your chances of blackjack after receiving an ace are 128/415 = 30.84%.

However, most of the lower deck games, such as double deck (DD), quite often come with a higher table minimum. In Vegas however, you can easily find $5 and $10 DD games off the strip. Catch the names/places in threads or consult the Wizards Vegas Survey: http://wizardofvegas.com/guides/blackjack-survey/

Heat

Another playing condition that is not listed is “heat.” This is a term used to describe how much the pit bosses/casino are sweating your action. Some places are notorious for backing players off (El Cortez) if they’re just on a hot streak and not even counting cards! Every casino has a different tolerance for bet spreads, etc. Just as every casino has different tolerance at different betting levels ($10 tables, $25 tables, $50 tables, $100 tables, etc). You might be able to spread 20-1 on the $10 tables, but only be able to spread 4-1 on the $100 tables before getting asked to leave. This is also dependent on whether you’re playing a shoe game or a hand held single or double deck game. The common knowledge is that for a double deck game spreading anything over 8-1 will get you heat. This is a skill that can only be honed with experience over time. Suggested bet spreads that should get minimal heat will be provided later.

Wonging

While it could be considered by some to be an ‘advanced’ playing condition, I believe it’s just too important not to touch on. Wonging is the art of table hopping at the right time, essentially. It’s jumping on to a table when the count is good and leaving a table or sitting out once a count goes bad. Most casual players, such as myself, don’t hardcore wong (as in back count a table and only sit down with a positive count and leave the moment the running count even goes negative). This can be highly profitable, as you’re never playing when the house has any kind of edge. However, this can be super boring as you’re standing around for hours and some nights you might not see very many positive counts. Also, wonging can generally bring you a lot of heat. Casinos have known about card counting for a long time. If they see someone standing behind multiple different tables, then jumping in and betting huge for a couple hands, only to leave and do it again, they’ll more than likely take an issue with you. In my opinion, you might as well put a bullseye on your back. This isn’t to say it can’t be done tactfully, but for beginners I do not recommend it. I start at fresh deals, so at TC = 0. I generally will play down to a TC -1 then sit out for a bathroom break, phone call, or tell the dealer “I’ve lost too many in a row, I need a break!” Experience will provide you with endless excuses to sit out from a negative count, but this is absolutely something you should do. It’s harder to do at double deck games or games that have ‘no mid shoe entry,’ because once you’re out you can’t come back in until the next shuffle. Also, if you do it too often then it’ll be viewed the same as pure wonging, which again will bring heat. However, for any 6 or 8 deck game it should be a standard to not play (whatever excuse you can come up with) when the TC is -1 or worse. You’ll see later on how these hands negatively affect your overall Expected Value (EV). After you see that, it’s simple to say “So if I sit out at TC -1 instead of TC -2, I’ll make an extra $X per hour? Wow, sitting out makes me money!

In general when selecting rules, I wouldn’t play tables that are more than .45% house edge. This might be high to some, low to others. It depends on where you live, if you have multiple casinos near you, or if you’re more/less forced to play slightly poorer rules. Again, this number can be defined with a basic strategy engine. Simply plug in the rules of the game and it will not only tell you the basic strategy, but also the house edge. Here is one from Blackjackinfo.com: http://www.blackjackinfo.com/bjbse.php

Bankroll & Bet Spread

In my opinion, from both my personal experience and having viewed thousands of threads on this forum and others, I most often see that people who are new to counting, or even some mid-level experienced counters (oh no!) have the same questions/issues: “What should my bet spread be?”, and “How much should my bankroll be?” Well here’s the answer!!! …It depends.

Quite often one will define the other. Sometimes playing conditions will define what spread you can get away with, which would drive your bankroll requirements. If you’re not a full time counter (most of us are not) and you’re just taking a trip, then how does that affect your spread/bankroll? I’ll break this down two ways, professionally, and non-professionally.

Professionally

I’ve read over and over that you should never bet more than 1% of your bankroll as your big bet. I’ve also read over and over that you should have 100x your big bet as your bankroll minimum, though this is a more dated approach now that we have computer software that can simulate our games and more accurately give us bankroll requirements. Using Kelly Criterion you can determine what your average bet should be, as well as your bet spread. For example, here’s mine for a $10DD game: *Please note this is for a TRIP so it’s slightly more aggressive*

*Note for TC +2 and up the Bet is divided in to 2 hands*

** Bottom Calculations from WoO **

This is for a Vegas trip where I planned to play 3,000 hands. This is also pretty aggressive since it’s a 1-8 spread, but I go to two hands. It’s a trip and I have a lot of places to play in Vegas, so I’m being aggressive.

I understand these numbers can be quite overwhelming and confusing, but they’re all quite simple in retrospect. Break them down one at a time. First, I used an online calculator (listed above) to get the house edge of the game I'm interested in. Secondly, I looked up the Frequencies in which the True Counts appear for the number of decks in my game (you can find them in Wong's book or online by googling 'Blackjack hand frequencies double deck'). Third, I took each TC and calculated the new advantage. I used a more exact method above, but for generics that are pretty close, each TC is worth ~.5% of an advantage for the player. Thus, if you're playing a 'standard' game where the house edge is -.5%, then when the TC is +1, all you've done is erased their advantage, and you're not yet the favorite! Once you have these factors, the rest are pure calculations. Play with the bet spread you believe you are a) comfortable with, and b) can get away with at the casino. From there the calculations are spelled out, except Gain Per Hand:

Gain ($ Per Hand) = (Bet * Frequency Per 100 Hands) * Advantage... note: Excel rounds, thus why the image above 'looks' off by a fraction of a percent.

From above you’ll note a few interesting things I mentioned earlier. Take a look at the Gain Per Hand for the TC = -2 row. This means, in the long run of things, every time I place a $10 bet in a TC = -2 situation I can, on average, expect to lose $1.31. So when referencing wonging, if I simply don’t play when the TC = -2, then that’s the same as adding $1.31 to my hourly Expected Value (EV). It’s simple to see from here why wonging is so powerful to the player. You’re overall hourly EV is the sum of all of the bad counts you play as well as the good counts. Thus, if you remove all of the bad counts by sitting out, leaving, etc, then your hourly EV will go up a significant amount.

Non Professionally

I would consult the Wizards trip Risk of Ruin (RoR) calculator to define a bankroll and a risk of ruin (going broke) that you’re comfortable with:  http://wizardofodds.com/games/blackjack/appendix/12/

Again this could be variable… What if you just want to do this part time, so it’s not a trip? Is your bankroll replenishable? It comes down to this: Find out what table limits you are comfortable playing at, pick a spread, and compare. So unlike the advice your mother gave you when you were younger, my advice to you is… play with it! Start out with a 1-15 spread for 6 or 8 decks, and a 1-8 spread for DD, at the limits you want to play. See where you stack up (not actually at the tables, but on paper). Let’s look at an example:

I want to play 6D $10 tables. My starting “unit” or bet is $10. So my big bet on a 1-15 unit spread would be $150. For this spread professionally you would need 150x100, or $15,000 as a minimum bankroll. Given that I’m part time and willing to risk 2% as my big bet, I would only need $150x50 = $7,500 (p.s. you should never go more than double Kelly (2%), it then becomes a mathematical certainty that you will eventually bust). If this is too large, then perhaps I’ll take a look at a 1-10 spread so that my big bet is only $100 (understanding that the less you spread the less EV you’re getting). Then I would only need $5,000. If this is still too large you can play with more risk of going broke with a shorter bankroll, but understand that is exactly what you’re doing and that that is absolutely not advised for any level of serious or professional play. Another note to be made is you do not have to have your entire bankroll on you when you go to play. You can take a “session bankroll.” For this example when I go to the casino to play my 10 tables, I’ll generally take about 10 max bets, so about $1,500 for the 1-15 spread.

In the end most players jump the gun (over bet their bankrolls) because they’re too excited to play. I say this because that’s exactly what I did. I practiced for hours a night for months on end. I was a machine. I had $1,000, no clue what RoR nor bankroll management were, and found a great double deck game that was $25 min bet. So what did I do? I played it… Spreading 8-1 over 2 hands (4-1 each hand). Variance was on my side, and I had 13 winning sessions in a row of at least $300. I later came to realize just how lucky I was (extremely), but my point is, you’ll probably jump the gun a bit too; just don’t expect the same results! For a trip, weekend, or part time player this is “ok” as long as you realize you’re jumping up your odds of going broke big time if you hit a down swing of bad “luck” (variance).

If over all you don’t want to do the math and you just want something that is ‘profitable’ as a part time red chip player I can suggest the following:

6D/8D, HE .45-.55, spread 18-1 over two hands with a bankroll of 50 big bets.
2D, HE .25-.45, spread 10-1 (if you can get away with it) with a bankroll of 50 big bets.

A VERY simple and very barely profitable spread that would be simple to remember, thus good for practice, would be a 5-1 spread. You shouldn’t get any heat at 6 or 8 deck games either. Whatever the true count is, that should be your bet. TC +1 = 1, TC +2 = 2, TC +3 = 3, etc up to 5 units. Any TC < +1 is the table minimum, 1 unit.

*If you note 18-1 over two hands breaks down to 9-1 per each hand. I like to play $10 tables. This results in two $90 bets. Why? Because the dealer calls “checks play” to alert the pit boss of a big bet at $100 bet or more at my local casino. I found they don’t do that if I bet two hands of $90. These are things you must learn with experience per casino.

READ A BOOK

The reason I listed this near the bottom is from my own experience. I actually think it was more valuable for me to learn counting through an online intro, practice, learn I18 and F4, try to figure out my bankroll/spread BEFORE reading a book. The reason being is I feel I took so much more away from the books I’ve read after having some base knowledge on the subject. They provided me with a ton of “ah ha!” moments to the long standing questions I had and others I wouldn’t have even known existed had I read them before learning things on my own. If you read them as a beginner I’m sure there will be several things that will go over your head and you might feel like they’re just throwing crazy numbers at you from out of no where (maybe you even feel like that now)! With a base knowledge in the subject you’ll at least be able to figure out what they’re talking about or where the numbers came from. I would highly recommend the books I’ve read: Ed Thorp’s Beat the Dealer, Standford Wong’s Professional Blackjack, and Lawrence Revere’s Playing Blackjack as a Business. For my opinion Wong has the best when it comes to raw numbers, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading Thorp’s stories of how it all began, the back off’s, the cheating, etc. Beat the Dealer, that’s where I recommend starting. It is commonly referred to as “The Bible for card counters.

Understanding It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Whether you’re a trip, weekend, part time, or professional player you must understand some things that most new players come to the subject not knowing:

- This is not a get rich quick scheme. You will not make millions of dollars (especially non professionals).

- Keep track/statistics of your play! This can be an indicator of your play after a while. It’s very important to know how many hours you’ve played, your starting and current bankroll, average house edge, average session win/loss, etc. You can use this data to compare with your EV and Standard Deviations (SD) to see just how you’re doing.

- Counting is a bit alienating. If you don’t have a partner/friend doing it with you, then you spend a lot of time going to casinos on your own. When you’re at the casino you’re not yourself… You’re acting like a ploppy there to lose money. When your friends don’t understand the math or the game they might look at you as a degenerate gambler, so you’ll generally not tell them you go to the casino every weekend. At first this second ‘secret’ life is exciting, but after a while it gets lonely; hence why we congregate to online forums to share strategies and stories!

- You will lose more hands than you win. You’re set up to lose ~48% of the time, push ~9% of the time, and win only ~43% of the time. That’s just the math of the game from the first card dealt ( http://wizardofodds.com/games/blackjack/appendix/4/ ). There are four main reasons the game is profitable:

1) You get paid 3-2 on your blackjacks, the dealer does not.
2) You can put more money on the table by splitting your pairs, the dealer cannot.
3) You can put more money on the table by doubling down, the dealer cannot.
4) The dealer will bust more often.

- You shouldn’t expect to “win more often” in super positive counts. The dealer will bust more often, you will get more 20’s and blackjacks (so will the dealer), but do not think because the TC is +5 that you are a huuuuge favorite to win your next hand. You’re not. Remember, one of the biggest things we’re leveraging here is the fact that we get paid 3-2 (150%) on our blackjacks, and the dealer does not. This can be quite frustrating when you count all night, put out your big bet, and the dealer gets the blackjack instead of your hand. You must remember your expectations and not think you’re going to win every hand youbet bigger on.

- You must have a tolerance for swings of bad luck (variance). This can be frustrating after counting for hours for a positive shoe then losing all your big bets. This can be maddening when you have losing streaks that gofor days, weeks, or even months. I personally have had months of losing that ended up balancing out to my EV over time. It made me question everything I was doing and reevaluate my play to see what I could do better. You WILL question whether or not counting works. You WILL question whether or not you’re doing it correctly, and you SHOULD question these things to be constantly re-evaluating your play. This is where all of those fun stats about your play can be quite handy.

- This is a system that provides you, on average, a one to two percent advantage. Thus, over the course of “the long run” (estimated at 1,000 hours for one standard deviation from my readings) you will grind out a profit over the casinos. If you are not a professional then you should do this for your own reasons, but one of them should not be to become rich; I personally do it for fun. I have a math minor and enjoy probabilities.I’m rather competitive and I love beating casino’s that stack the odds against the player. I love using my brain to flip those odds back at the casino. I do it because I believe casinos prey on the weak minded. Ido it for the cat and mouse game knowing I’m doing something they don’t like, and they’re trying to catch me. I do it for the comps, because after beating the casino having them give me free things to try to keep me playing (because they think I’m a losing player like most others) is just ironic justice.

Lastly, I do it because it’s a great life experience. It’s taught me a tremendous amount about risk/reward, business, investing, patients, and statistics/probability. Not a lot of people can say they were comped rooms at luxurious hotels, given free food, drinks, and then took to the floor betting anywhere from $10-$200 per one hand of Blackjack (I’m just a red chipper), and that they were the favorite! I’ve paid for my last 6/7 Vegas trips that I shared with girlfriends, friends, and/or family. While I doubt I’ll ever play the game professionally, as long as they don’t continue butchering the games beyond being playable, I’ll continue to play the game as one of my many hobbies, and I invite you to do the same.

Now, you're ready to hit the tables. In the next article I’ll be discussing some more advanced techniques associated with card counting such as: Scavenger Plays, Promotions, Cover, Rat Holing, etc. I will alsobe reviewing what to do if a casino asks you to stop playing, leave, or attempts to “backroom” you. When it comes to counting cards and blackjack I always say: Don't think you have a winning game, know you have a winning game.

Comments

tomchina123
tomchina123 Aug 31, 2015

that is a definetly good article.

i am enlighted by many points stated here.

thanks.

i will read the 2 and 3 soon.

Romes
Romes Sep 01, 2015

I'm glad you found the article useful... There's always something new to learn! Feel free to ask questions here or in the forums if you have any.

pnork
pnork Oct 16, 2015

Thanks Romes - great article, has given me a few things to think about. I especially like the advice to new players that being an AP is not just knowing how to count cards - there's more to it than that.

Romes
Romes Oct 30, 2015

Being a full AP is wayyyyy more than that, but certainly outside the scope of these articles =p. I'm glad you found the article useful, and hope you enjoy/find the other articles useful as well!

mrxsleepy
mrxsleepy Nov 30, 2015

Wow you covered everything that I need to know. Thanks for the great write up.

ZenMasterFlash
ZenMasterFlash May 04, 2016

The only problem that I have with this VERY well-penned article is the often promulgated nonsense that Edward Thorpe invented Card Counting.

I have several OLD books that refer to Card Counting in the 1940's and 1950's in Las Vegas.
In those decades "counting cards" was called "Casing the Deck"

Romes
Romes May 09, 2016

Thanks Flash. Given your usual 'rough edges' =P I appreciate the compliment. There's a fair amount of debate as to who "invented" what, but Thorp's book is certainly one of the first to accurately discuss Effect of Removal, as well as put together an actual counting system (the Tens Count) from the this theory and his computer simulations. I'd be interested in at least reading anything prior to him for fun. What are the older books?

Ibeatyouraces
Ibeatyouraces Sep 17, 2016

"1) You get paid 3-2 on your blackjacks, the dealer does not.
2) You can put more money on the table by splitting your pairs, the dealer cannot.
3) You can put more money on the table by doubling down, the dealer cannot.
4) The dealer will bust more often."

5) You can take insurance when the deck is rich in tens, the dealer cannot.
6) You can surrender(when available) a bad hand/situation, i.e. 16 vs 10. The dealer must hit their 16.

Romes
Romes Nov 28, 2016

Both true IBYA =P, though surrender isn't exactly a common rule anymore =(. Insurance is pretty important though... half the value of the I18!

LostWages
LostWages Dec 10, 2016

For blackjack newbies: From Aug to Sep 2016, it took me several WEEKS just to read Article 1! At least 50% of the content was way over my head. Articles 2 & 3 weren't as difficult. Then I got my blackjack "initiation" from 4-8 Oct 2016 at the Cal

http://wizardofvegas.com/member/lostwages/blog/#post1411

If you read my blog, I had some luck on my side. But more than winning a little in cash, I think I won A JACKPOT of experience, learning about other players, playing conditions, confidence, and more. I also attribute my enjoyable blackjack experience to the countless tips and advice I enjoyed from other WoO forum members. They really made a difference!

So don't be daunted by Article 1. It will be a brain buster if you are math challenged and game challenged (I never played blackjack before) like me. But after you play your first tables, you will appreciate and enjoy Article 1 much more. Just remember, like Romes says, "Playing it correctly means you've already won!"

Today is Dec 9, 2016, and I re-read Article 1 (every single paragraph) in under 25 min. Some of the math and tables are still over my head, but I can piece together a lot more than I even realized. I'm getting ready now to read Articles 2 & 3, and then I'm preparing a new forum thread about card-counting (still learning), estimating the TC and remaining decks in a DD game, betting, and ramping.

Great Articles, Romes! The INTERNATIONAL blackjack community should appreciate you and thank you!

LostWages
LostWages Feb 26, 2017

Today is 27 Feb 2017, almost 3 months since I've read Article 1 (two times already). This time, I've read the Article like a fine-tuned instrument. I did not feel intimidated this time, and felt like I had a "smooth" read. And yes, in my case (little experience), I've uncovered multiple "Aha!" moments. I hope this translates into positive outcomes in my April 2017 trip to Las Vegas.

It is worth your time to click on every link in Article 1, and you'll be rewarded. In my case, I had 2 major rewards:

Reward #1 Blackjackinfo.com has been updated and looks really great. The best part is that the BJ trainer can now be played on your iPad!

Reward #2: I finally figured WTH is Illustrious 18, and Google and read until I found this neat regrouping of the 18 deviations.

Insurance: Insure at +3 or higher.

Stand/Hit:
12 vs 2: Stand at +3 or higher, otherwise hit.
12 vs 3: Stand at +2 or higher, otherwise hit.
12 v 4: Stand at 0 or higher, otherwise hit.
12 v 5: Stand at -2 or higher, otherwise hit.
12 v 6: Stand at -1 or higher, otherwise hit.
13 v 2: Stand at -1 or higher, otherwise hit.
13 v 3: Stand at -2 or higher, otherwise hit.
15 vs T: Stand at +4 or higher, otherwise hit.
16 v 9: Stand at +5 or higher, otherwise hit.
16 vs T: Stand at 0 or higher, otherwise hit.

Double/Hit:
9 vs 2: Double at +1 or higher, otherwise hit.
9 v 7: Double at +3 or higher, otherwise hit.
10 vs T: Double at +4 or higher, otherwise hit.
10 vs A: Double at +4 or higher, otherwise hit.
11 vs A: Double at +1 or higher, otherwise hit.

Split/Stand:
TT vs 5: Split at +5 or higher, otherwise stand.
TT vs 6: Split at +4 or higher, otherwise stand.

Note that the ten split indexes are often ignored, because they are considered to draw too much attention from the pit personnel.

phoebeanne
phoebeanne Mar 20, 2017

Wow. This looks awesome! I will need some serious time to just get a gist of the statistical data, but, I think there is a great deal to learn here. Cool.

Romes
Romes Aug 21, 2017

Thanks phobeanne, and LW for giving your personal experience through the journey that is learning to have a winning game counting cards at blackjack. It takes time, practice, practice, and practice =).

theoriemeister
theoriemeister Aug 21, 2017

Hi Romes,

Am re-reading the first article again. I think one of the best things I think I've learned so far from the forum is to take losing in stride, when a couple of years ago I'd be bent out of shape if I lost my session bankroll. I think I understand the nature of the game better. For example, the other night I had a small bankroll ($100) and I play red chips. After 1.25 hours I was completely bust, and during that time I received ONE blackjack--and the dealer pushed! It's hard to have a positive outcome if one doesn't get blackjacks! But I realize that it was just one of those nights. *Sigh* Still, although I wasn't happy about getting my butt kicked, I enjoyed playing (as that's the real reason I play--to have fun.)

I still have a ways to go as far counting goes, but I have learned to Wong out very consistently. And since my sessions are rather short (1-2 hours usually), I notice that the game I play (6D) will rarely get a TC of more than +1 or +2. But I'll keep practicing!

I appreciate your knowledge of the game and willingness to share.

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