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Blackjack Card Counting
Card counting in blackjack is one of the more popular blackjack topics that has been around for a long time but has recently resurfaced with the glorification of it in movies such as 21 and books like Bringing Down The House. The skill of card counting was arguably perfected by the MIT blackjack team who were a group of students that frequented Las Vegas casinos throughout the 90's using a highly sophisticated team style of deception to enable them to count cards and take Vegas casinos for millions of dollars. While the methodology of counting cards is relatively simple, implementing it in live casino play is an entirely different story and involves sharp wits and good deception in order not to be discovered. It is important for players to note that card counting is not illegal, but is detested by the casinos for obvious reasons and they will through you out and ban you if they think that you are using this strategy. Now that we have a little background on the history of card counting, let's dive in and learn how the masters did it and made millions of dollars from the unsuspecting Vegas casinos.
How Card Counting Works
Card counting is simply a number system that assigns values to all of the cards used in blackjack to help determine when the shoe is full of good cards and thus when the player should increase his or her bet. As you can see in the graph on the right, each card in the deck is assigned a value of +1, 0 or -1 which is used to track the running count throughout the shoe. In card counting the higher the count, the more likely a winning hand will be dealt to the player. Once you have memorized the value of the cards, the next step is to try and track the running count throughout a shoe, which sounds easy enough but is actually quite difficult especially with fast dealers as you need to keep track of every card and figure out how that is affecting the total count throughout the game.
For example, say that you are playing heads up against the dealer and you are dealt a 6 and a 10 and the dealer's up card is an 8. In this situation, you would add the card values together to figure out the running count. We know that the 6 is +1, the 10 is -1 and the dealer's 8 is a 0, so this would mean that running count is still set at 0 (+1 + -1 + 0 = 0). This is essentially how card counting works in its simplest form when used at the tables, however lots of external factors (waitresses, other players, security) can make it very difficult to keep track of the cards. Now that you know the basics, let's look at how you should bet according to the count.
Calculating The True Count
Once you have learned and memorized the proper strategy to keep track of the running count during a given show, you will need to become familiar with True Count in order to give you a truly accurate portrayal of how positively or negatively stacked the deck is in your favour. The true count involves simple math calculations and it is used to effectively predict the real value associated with a given shoe. What this means is that obviously a +10 running count would be more favourable with 2 decks remaining rather than 8, so the true count serves as a purpose to figure out what the real perceived advantage is for the player. To calculate the true count, all you need to to is divide the running count with the number of decks that you estimate are left in the shoe (which can be done by scanning where the cut card is placed in the shoe). For example, a running count of + 10 with an estimated 2 decks remaining in play would give a true count to the player of + 5 by using the formula of dividing the running count by number of decks remaining. That is all that is involved in calculating the true count and even though it is simple it is really important that you always calculate the true count to ensure that you refine the running counts accuracy.
Betting With The True Running Count
Assuming that you are accurately keeping tabs on the count, you know need to know how you should be betting to maximize your odds while using the system. The first step in this process is determining what your neutral bet will be at a count of 0 which will also be the bet you start the shoe with. Most counters use the table minimum however this is totally at your discretion, just keep in mind you will need a sufficient bankroll to handle the swings. Because of the recommending betting amounts when the count is low or negative, it is best to have a neutral bet that is above the table minimum at approximately 4 times that amount. As you continue to track the running count throughout the shoe, you should reference the suggested betting multipliers outlined in the chart to the right. These serve as a general guideline for how your betting should be fluctuated according to various count levels during play. By using these figures in conjunction with an effective counting strategy, you will be able to manipulate the house edge in your favour thus becoming a winning player at the tables. Although the bet multiplier tactic is effective, it is pretty obvious when it is being used in a casino and for this reason many counters choose to work in teams to avoid detection and signal each other.
Counting Effectively In Teams
As was the case with the MIT blackjack group, using teams to count cards is one of the most efficient and effective methods to go undiscovered by the casinos during play. Although card counting is not illegal, as mentioned it is despised by the casinos for the obvious advantage it gives the player and therefore if you are caught, they will most likely ban you from re-entering the casino as it is their private property. To count cards in teams properly, you will need between 4 and 6 people scattered throughout the casino floor. The roles of the players would look somewhat like the following using a traditional team strategy:
Player 1 - Spotter who stays back from the tables and watches for incoming security or danger to the players
Players 2-5 - All playing minimum bets at the tables counting and waiting for the count to become highly favourable
Player 6 - This player roams the casino floor waiting for a single from players 2-5 that a table is hot. When this signal is received, player 6 goes to that table and is notified of the count through a code said by the other player. Player number 6 will now buy in for a large amount of money and bet big knowing the count is high. This pattern will continue throughout the casino until all of the tables have run cold at which point the team will leave.
This is simply put how a team would operate to use card counting in a casino environment. The reason this strategy was so effective is because all of the methods were dispersed across a great number of people rather than one single player and therefore it was much harder for the casinos to catch. These days, casinos have started implementing auto-shufflers that re-shuffle the cards after each hand making it impossible to count cards. There are however still a number of casinos throughout the United States and Canada where you would be able to use card counting to your advantage, just remember to be smart and stay under the radar.