Online Blackjack Odds

Hi/Lo Card Counting

By Howard Moon

…Continued from Blackjack Card Counting Introduction.

Card Counting

High cards – tens, Jacks, Queens, Kings and Aces – are good for the player and low cards – 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are bad for the player. By keeping a ratio of good cards to bad cards the player can make an assessment of whether the cards still to be played will benefit or hurt them. Many people hold the mistaken view that card counting requires incredible intellect or a photographic memory – this simply is not true. Whilst the first card counting systems developed by Edward O. Thorp in the middle of last century were clumsy and difficult to apply, they quickly evolved into much simpler methods that far surpassed their predecessors in terms of effectiveness.

In this article I am going to look specifically at the Hi/Lo counting system. I would however recommend that anyone seriously intending to learn to count cards does some research before they begin. There are a multitude of different legitimate counting systems available today – ranging from the simplest unbalanced systems – to the far more complicated multi-level count systems with various side counts. I have chosen to focus on the Hi/Lo count as I feel it to be the best balance between power and simplicity and it has the greatest durability for extension to more powerful strategies.

Running Count

The Hi/Lo count assigns the following card values: 2-6 (the low cards) +1, 7-9, 0, and cards 10, J, Q, K and A (the high cards) -1. Start the count after the shuffle at 0 and every time you see a card with a face value of 2-6 add one to the count, if you see a card valued 7-9, do nothing and every time you see a 10 or A subtract one from my count. The resulting number is called the Running Count (RC) and this indicates how many extra high or low cards have been dealt. When extra low cards have been dealt (i.e. the count is higher than 0) it means that there are extra high cards still to come and consequently the deck is more favorable to the player. For example, if the following combination of cards was dealt during the first round of play:

Player 1: A,10

Player 2: 3, 7

Player 3: 8, 9

Player 4: 5,9

Player 5: 4,6

Dealer : 10

It should be counted as follows. The RC starts at 0; player 1 has 2 high cards so the RC is now -2; player 2 has 1 low card and one neutral card, the RC is now -1; player 3 has 2 neutral cards so the count does not change; player 4 has 1 low card so the RC increases by 1 to 0; player 5 has 2 low cards so the RC increases again to 2; finally, the dealer is showing a high card so the RC drops by one, resulting in an overall RC of 1.

True Count

We now require a method that can quantify just how favorable the remaining cards in the deck are for the player. Each extra high card in a deck of cards adds 0.5% to the player’s advantage, so we need to know how many extra high cards per deck remain to calculate our exact advantage. This is especially important as today the game of Blackjack is rarely played using a single deck, far more often it is dealt using 4, 6 or 8 deck shoes. To work out how many extra high cards remain per deck simply divide the RC by the number of decks left to be played. This new number is called our True Count (TC) and gives us an assessment of how advantageous the remaining cards are to the player. So if the RC is 15 and there are 3 decks still to be played simply divide 15 by 3 to get a TC of 5. Similarly, a RC of 8 with 2 decks remaining would result in a TC of 4 and so on.

House Advantage

There is however one fact that we have yet to account for – namely that the player always starts at a disadvantage. This is how casinos make money in the first place. What we need to know now is at what point the player overcomes this initial house advantage. To calculate this we must analyze the rules of each specific game of Blackjack we are considering playing. The number of decks of cards being used in a particular game (1, 4, 6 or even 8 ) should also be noted. As this is just a short article on the subject and I have no desire to re-invent the wheel, I will instead refer you to a fantastic website designed to calculate the house edge (this website has a huge amount of quality information on every casino game imaginable and is well worth looking through – Michael Shackleford is a highly respected and knowledgeable member of the gambling community): http://wizardofodds.com/blackjack.

A little down from the top of this page, under the heading ‘Rules of the Game’, is a link to the house advantage calculator. Use this to calculate how much of a disadvantage you will start with for the specific game you intend playing. If the disadvantage is 0.5%, or less, subtract 1 from the TC before calculating your bet. If the disadvantage is 0.75%, or more, subtract 1.5 from the TC. If the initial disadvantage is any higher than 0.75% you should not be playing the game at all. By adjusting the TC to take into consideration the initial house advantage the TC becomes an accurate assessment of the advantage a player has at any give point in a specific game of Blackjack.

Continue to the next part of our card counting tutorial with information on blackjack betting and bankroll basics for card counters.

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