Counting cards in blackjack for dummies

I posted this on a private message board and thought I might as well put it here, because it’s a rare time that I have an unaltered writing sample. (People can look at my music reviews and think that’s how I always write. It’s just the way KSCU wants them!)

Well, let’s not scare him off completely. I will start from the beginning; thankfully these threads are private. This isn’t the only way or the best way; it’s just my way.

First of all, the count. The standard hi-lo count, with 7-8-9 being 0, 10s and aces being -1 and 2-6 being +1 is all you need.

Secondly, the game. Don’t play any game that doesn’t pay 3:2 for a blackjack. No matter how good you are at counting cards, it’s not going to let you overcome a blackjack that pays even money or 6:5. If it means playing a shoe, play a shoe.

Use a 1-6 spread only. Of course you can make more money with a 1-10 or 1-20 spread. But people will notice that. The only real exception to this is if you have been unlucky (more on this in a bit) and have a really positive count, you can comment on your bad luck and go “all in.” It looks like something any ol’ ploppy would do, and you’ll get to perhaps put 10 units or so out there without looking suspicious.

Being unlucky…. Just because you have an advantage doesn’t mean you will always win. Think about the shitbag players that hit 16 vs a 5 and draw to 20. The ones that stand on 13 vs a 10 and win because the dealer busts. The one that splits 10s and gets two 20s and wins when the dealer draws to an 18. It’s no different than the guy winning at Texas Hold’ Em when he plays rags. Sometimes you win, usually you don’t. But if you count correctly, even with just a 1-6 spread, you will win in the long run. You won’t win a lot, but you will win.

About that 1-6 spread. Even though a zero count means a negative house advantage, I still bet two units. I only bet one unit when the count is negative. This makes it easier to move to six units when the count is positive. If you’re betting one unit when the count is negative OR zero, you’re betting one unit too often. The biggest psychological difference is the one between one chip and two, because it’s double. A single chip just makes you look like you’re grinding it out until your free drink comes, and a four or five-chip bet is more noticeable when you’ve been betting one chip for a long time. Let’s say you’re at a $5 table. When you sit down at the beginning of a deck/shoe, bet $10. If the count goes negative, go to $5. If the adjusted count (may not be the right term, will explain in a bit) is +1, bet $15. If it’s +2, bet $20. It will be rare when it is +4 or even higher, but when it is, that’s when you go to $30. That’s about the most you can do without people noticing. There are exceptions, of course. If you find a table where someone else is betting quarters or some other higher amount, you’ve got tremendous cover. You can bet a little more when the count is positive without worry.

Obviously, if you play a six-deck shoe, you can have a +10 count pretty easily. That doesn’t mean you bet a whole lot more: That +10 is relative to how many decks are left. So let’s say after two decks (look at the stack of used cards to see how many have been played) you are a plus-10. That means there are four decks left. 10 divided by 4 is 2.5, so with a +2.5 count at a $5 table, you’d bet either $20 or $25. In a situation like this I see what I’ve been betting lately. If I’ve been around $10 or $15 I can go to $25 easy, but if I was betting $5 (maybe the last hand had everyone getting a lot of low cards, five-card 20s etc.), I’d only go to $20. If the next hand doesn’t dish out a bunch of tens, then I can always move up the next hand, if the count warrants it.

If a count gets really negative, and you’re on a shoe. You can piss away $5 a hand if you want, or you can use that opportunity to go to the bathroom. (This is called reverse wonging, incidentally. Search for Stanford Wong on Wikipedia to learn more.)

Especially on a single or double deck pitch game, if the dealer gets to choose how deep the penetration is (how many cards are used before he shuffles), you want to “encourage” the dealer to dig deeper on those good decks. To do this, any time I am putting a five or six-unit bet, I try to bet a dollar for the dealer too. You can’t do it too often because it eats into your profit margin, of course, but even if you are able to do it now and then, it can help. Some dealers count as they go. If they know what you’re doing, they might cooperate because they realize you’re making both of you money. (Dealers live on tips, just like bartenders and Karl when he is doing his exotic dancer bit in Vegas.) Obviously he can’t move the cut card on this pack (in some circles they call them this; kinda neat for us card collectors), but when he shuffles up, he may go for deeper penetration next time (so to speak). Take note: If he is still only giving 50-60% penetration even after you’ve tipped a few times, he’s not going to suddenly get nicer about it. And of course after this much time, the dealer likely is going to be broken anyway. (Typically they work 40 minutes and get a 20-minute break, although some do three 20-minute shifts at three tables and then get a 20-minute break.)

Unless you haven’t had a chance to make a lot of big bets, you want to leave after you’ve doubled your buy in (wait till the end of the pack/shoe) or after about an hour or so. You aren’t going to get caught playing at such small stakes for such a small period of time.

Remember, it should be fun, not work. And if you forget what the count is, just go back to two units for the rest of the pack/shoe, although if you see a bunch of small cards come out, you can try a few more units if you want.

1 Comment »

  1. 1
    Roger Says:

    Good basic info. but for a new counter, I would recommand the main count. It’s more precise and not that much harder to learn or use. Remember that 90% of players will never learn a system. Off the remaining 10%, 90% will learn only one system and use it for life. The main count might just give you a 0.1% extra advantage but over a lifetime of play, it’s worth the initial effort.

    As for the bet size, I always make it as close to the optimum for the count. If I don’t go overboard with the bet size, it’s not a problem in most circomstances. I try not to be the outside better at the table, as long as other players are betting more and less then me, I have some protection. Obviously, the last comment doesn’t apply when I’m the lonely player at the table.


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