If you only read one section of this file, and you don't already know what Basic Strategy is, then this is the section you should read. Knowing Basic Strategy is critical to you gaining an advantage over the house.
The Basic Strategy for a particular set of rules was developed by intensive computer simulation which performed a complete combinatorial analysis. The computer "played" tens of thousands of hands for each BlackJack situation possible and statistically decided as to which play decision favored the player. The following three charts are the results of this analysis.
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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 10's,
picture cards and aces, then your chances of winning improve. On the
other hand, if the mix of unplayed cards contain an abundance of small
cards like 2 though 6's, 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 gets paid a bonus on a blackjack hand (3 to 2 payoff). Also,
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 does a player 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
for card counting purposes. 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 of the tags for each card that is played.
For example after the shuffle, your starting count is 0 (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 you 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 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 learn how to count, get a deck of cards, shuffle them, and then turn
one card over and recite the tag for that card. For example if your
first card is a 6, recite "plus 1". If the next card is a queen recite "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 and flip the cards over one-at-time and
keep the running count. For example if the first card is 5, you 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 0 (this is how you
can check the accuracy of your counting).
Now you are ready to cancel the tags of a group of cards to make
counting even easier. Instead of flipping over one card at a time, flip
2 or 3 cards at one time. Glance at the cards and cancel every high card
and low card. When you learn this technique you won't have to count
every single card that you see on the layout.
Keep practicing card counting with your deck of cards until you can
count down a deck accurately in 30 seconds or less.
In part 2 of this series on Advanced Blackjack Strategies I'll show you
how to bet based on your running count.
In Part 1 of this series we showed how a blackjack player can gain the
long-term advantage over the casino by card counting and showed how card
counting works. Here, we'll show you how you can use the information to
beat the single deck blackjack games.
The single deck blackjack game has an inherent advantage over multiple
deck blackjack games. First, the casino's edge against a basic strategy
player is close to 0. Secondly, you will experience positive counts more
often therefore you do not need a very large bet spread to beat this
game (a 1-4 bet spread will do just fine). The only negative aspect of a
single deck game is that it generally draws more attention from pit
bosses because they know card counters can beat single deck games more
readily compared to multiple deck games.
The first thing you must do is evaluate the rules of the single deck
game because some games have good rules and other not so good. By
referring to the table below, you will get an idea of how the mix of
rules effect the casino's edge (CA) in single deck games and a list of
some of the casinos that offer these games. The worst rules for single
deck games occur when the casino restricts doubling to a two card 10
and/or 11. The best rules allow unrestricted doubling or replace the
double down rule with resplitting of aces. Better yet are casino's that
offer single deck games in which the dealer stands on soft 17 rather
than hit (you can actually have the edge without card counting in a
single deck game where the dealer stands on soft 17).
As a general rule, you'll find more single deck games with favorable
rules in Las Vegas than elsewhere.
Another very important variable that determines whether a single deck
game is worth your time is the penetration or percentage of cards that
are dealt from the deck prior to the shuffle. Some casinos offer single
deck games but shuffle after one or two rounds. Forget these games. You
want at least 50 and ideally 75% of the cards to be dealt. The more
cards that you see prior to the shuffle, the greater will be your
advantage with card counting. This is very important so shop around for
the best penetration.
For camouflage purposes do not increase your bet from 2 to 4 units
unless you also won the hand. Also do not increase or decrease your bet
size following a push. These are important betting rules if you are a
green ($25) or black ($100) chip bettor since you will get more scrutiny
from the casino bosses compared to a player betting red ($5) chips. If
you are a $5 minimum bet player your betting spread would be $5 to $20.
Likewise for a $25 player it would be $25 to $100.
To withstand the normal short-term fluctuations in your bankroll that
will occur when you play blackjack, you should have a bankroll equal to
125 times your maximum bet. That's $5,000 if you spread $5 to $20 and at
least a $12,000 if you spread $25 to $100.
Another advanced strategy is how to compute the true count. You will use
the latter to vary the size of your bets in single and multiple deck
games and also when to deviate from the basic playing strategy.
Why do you have to convert your running count to a true count? Because
the running count doesn't take into consideration the number of unplayed
decks of cards and therefore you can overestimate your advantage. For
example, a running count of +6 with 2 decks unplayed in a 6-deck shoe
game is a greater advantage for the player than the same running count
with 5 unplayed decks of cards. To compensate for this difference, we
normalize the running count by dividing the number of unplayed decks in
order to get a true count per deck.
Mathematically, true count is the running count divided by the number of
decks unplayed. Suppose your running count is +6 after the first round
in a six-deck shoe. There is essentially 6 decks left unplayed so the
true count is +1. If instead there were only 2 unplayed decks, your true
count would be +3.
You can determine how many unplayed decks of cards there are in a
multiple deck game by eyeballing the number of decks of cards in the
discard tray. For example, if you are playing in a 6-deck shoe game and
you estimate 3 decks of cards in the discard tray, then there must be 3
unplayed decks left in the shoe. Likewise, if 2 decks are in the discard
tray, then there must be 4 uplayed decks in the shoe.
You don't have to be super accurate in estimating the number of decks in
the discard tray. In fact if you practice at home, you'll see it's not
that difficult to estimate the number of decks in a stack of cards.
Remember that you will be converting your running count to a true count
just for a split second so you know how much to bet then you revert back
to keeping the running count of the cards.
The more positive the true count, the greater will be the counter's
advantage on the next hand. As a general rule, each additional unit of
the true count will add 0.5% advantage to the player. In a typical 6
deck game, the casino's edge after the shuffle is about 0.5% (that's
equivalent to a true count of 0 or a neutral deck). When the true count
is +1, the player is playing even against the casinos and when the true
count is +2, the player has a 0.5% edge and at a true count of +3 the
counter has about a 1% edge.
In Part 2 of this series we described how you could use the running
count in single deck games to vary your bets. It's also possible to
compute a true count in single deck games
(which you will need in order to vary your playing strategy). The
equation is running count divided by the number of unplayed cards.
However, an easier way to do this conversion in single deck games is as
follows:
Running count = true count during the play out of the first quarter deck
Multiply the running count by 1.5 for the play out of the second quarter
deck
Multiply the running count by 2 for the play out of the third quarter
decks.
Notice that in single deck games the true count is always greater than
the running count whereas in shoe games it's the other way around.
Let's try an example so you see how easy this is. If you are playing in
a single deck game and during the play out of the second quarter deck
your running count is +2, your true count is +3 (+2 running count times
1.5). If your running count is +2 during the play out of the third
quarter deck your true count is +4 (+2 running count times 2).
In single deck games a bet spread of 1 to 4 units is sufficient to gain
the edge. A suggested betting scheme is to bet 1 unit when the true
count is 0 or negative, 2 units at true count +1, then bet 3 units when
the true count is +2, and 4 units when the true count is +3 or more.
For double deck games, I would suggest a 1 to 5 bet spread using the
above betting schedule except bet 5 units when the true count is +4 or
more.
For 6 deck games, you will need at least 1 to 8 and preferable 1 to 10
betting spread. For 8 deck games your betting spread should be 1 to 10
or 12. An easy to remember betting schedule for 6 deck games is to just
bet two times the value of the positive true count. If your true count
is +1, bet 2 units, at a +2 true count bet 4 units, at +3 bet 6 units
and +4 bet 8 (or 10) units. For an 8 deck game I'd suggest a slightly
more aggressive betting schedule with a top bet of 12 units (+1 bet 3
units, +2 bet 5 units, +3 bet 8 units and +4 or more bet 12 units).
The above betting schedule is not absolute. The key point is that your
big bets need to be larger than your small bets because the very
positive true count situations do not occur that often especially in
shoe games. In fact most of the times you will be playing at a
disadvantage making small "waiting" bets until the advantage turns in
your favor and then should bet more.
Another more practical and easier way to bet using the true count is to
parlay your bet when you win and have the advantage. In fact this method
of betting helps disguise the fact that you are card counting. I'll
discuss this point more in part 4 of this series along with another
important variable, the penetration or the percentage of cards that are
played prior to the shuffle.
In the previous three articles in this Advanced Blackjack series I
described in detail how it's possible to gain a positive expectation
playing blackjack by learning how to card count. However, it's important
that you just don't jump in and play any old blackjack game. You've got
to know what are the most important factors that make a blackjack game "beatable"
or not.
The most important criteria for card counters is the penetration or the
number of cards that will be dealt before the dealer shuffles. No casino
will deal every single card before shuffling because a counter would
have a tremendous advantage on the last few hands. Therefore just about
every casino will deal only a certain percentage of the cards.
We have studied the effect of penetration on a counters advantage in
great detail. In one study, using typical Las Vegas playing rules and a
1 to 4 bet spread in a 2-deck game, a counter playing heads up with the
dealer would have a 1.0% advantage if 70% of the cards were dealt. If
90% of the cards were dealt, the counter's advantage would increase by
80% to 1.8%. If instead only 50% of the cards are dealt, the counter's
edge would decrease by 50% to only 0.5%.
There have been many other computer studies by scores of other blackjack
theoreticians that have proven this fact over-and-over, namely that the
penetration has a major effect on your winnings.
Most counters will not make a single bet unless the penetration is 75%
or more. This means in a typical 6-deck game, the dealer cuts off only
1.5 decks of cards. Likewise you are wasting your time and money trying
to count in a game with only 50% penetration.
Most casinos are fairly strict about the placement of the cut card by
the dealer after the shuffle and cut. Many have a measuring device on
the side of the dealing shoe that indicates to the dealer where to
position the cut card. However, there are still many casinos that only
give guidelines to the dealer as to how many decks to cut off. It's
possible therefore to find a dealer who gives a more liberal cut, say
cutting off only 1 deck instead of 1.5 decks in a 6-deck game.
Another important criteria that card counters use to evaluate a blackjack
game are the playing rules. For example, the fewer the number of decks
of cards the greater will be the edge to the player. Also rules that
allow doubling after pair splitting, late surrender, and the dealer
standing rather than hitting on soft 17 are favorable for players. But a
word of caution is in order. Some games with marginal rules can still be
beaten if the penetration is good. For example most counters shun an
8-deck game but if the rules are decent and the penetration is 75% it
would be a better game compared to say a 6-deck game with similar rules
but only a 50% penetration. Likewise a single deck game with bad rules
but 70% penetration is more profitable than one that deals less than 50%
of the cards with good rules.
It's to a counters advantage to play at tables which are not crowded
with other players. The best is playing head up with the dealer. This
allows you to see more cards before making your playing decision. Also,
when the count gets high, you will have just as much chance as the
dealer of getting the aces and tens. Counters can also spread to 2 hands
in high-count situations giving them an even greater chance of drawing
the aces and tens. Playing at less crowded tables will increase the
number of hands per hour dealt and a counters win rate.
Another important point is whether or not the pit boss will allow a
decent bet spread. In single deck games you'll need to spread at least 1
to 3-4 betting units and in 6-deck games, 1 to 8-10 betting units. If
you are limited in your bet spread by a nervous pit boss that gives you
"heat" every time you make a large bet, then your profit potential
decreases.
As you can see, learning the theory of card counting is one matter, but
applying it to generate winnings is quite another task. Finding good
playing conditions is very important. But there are other skills that
must be mastered like balancing profits with risk, disguising your
skills when you play, and knowing the typical countermeasures that
casinos employ against counters. I'll cover these other important topics
in future articles in this series. Until then, go out and get a
blackjack.
In the previous series on advanced blackjack playing strategies I
explained how to use card counting to vary your bets and gain the edge
over the casino. In essence you bet more when the count tells you have
the advantage and bet less when the count indicates the dealer has the
better of it.
Besides using card counting to vary the size of your bets, you can also
use it to vary the basic playing strategy. When you think about it, it
makes sense. If your count tells you that the remaining unplayed card
are rich in ten value cards, then hitting a hard 16 when the dealer
shows a 10 face card might not be the best play in this situation.
Likewise, taking insurance when the dealer shows an ace upcard might
also make sense in this situation (since you are betting that the dealer
has a ten in the hole).
Blackjack computer software can be used to determine the value of the
true count that a player should deviate from the basic playing strategy.
These values, called indices, have been published in a host of blackjack
books including my Blackjack: Take The Money & Run.
When just starting to play blackjack, people spend weeks memorizing
tables of indices. For every hand and dealer upcard an index was listed.
For example for the popular Hi/Lo card counting system, the index number
for hard 12 vs. 2 was +3. Normally the basic strategy play is to hit a
hard 12 if the dealer shows a 2 upcard. But the index number of +3 tells
you that when your true count is +4 or higher you should deviate from
basic strategy and stand. The reason of course is that with a true count
of +4, the unplayed cards are rich in tens and if you drew a card you
would have a high probability of busting. There are no guarantees you
will win if you stand but you will win more money in the long run if you
stand when the true count is +4 or higher (likewise you should hit if
it's +3 or less).
Memorizing 50 or so of these strategy indices was no fun. Worst I was
making a lot of mistakes while I was playing because I would forget the
right index number. Then some thing wonderful happened that changed
everything. Don Schlesinger (author of Blackjack Attack) published an
article in Blackjack Forum in which he calculated that it was not
necessary to learn 50 or so indices. In fact, you'll realize about 90%
of the potential gain by just learning a handful of plays.
The table at the end of this article summarizes the true count index for
these plays (Hi/Lo count). You should use the basic strategy play for
all other decisions. Here are some examples of how to use the
information in the table.
Suppose you are dealt a 7,4, the dealer shows an ace, and your true
count is +4. The dealer will first ask if you want to take insurance and
you would since your true count is above the insurance index number
where taking insurance is profitable in the long run. In the unlikely
event the dealer doesn't have the ten in the hole, you would have to
play out your hand. The basic strategy play for hard 11 against a dealer
ace upcard is to stand. However, the index for this play is +2 (see
table) which means you should double down if your true count is greater
than +2.
If you still find the task of learning 16 indices to daunting, then I'd
recommend you try learning this simplified version which groups the
strategy changes by true count. I've simplified things a bit by
combining some plays under the same true count number. The error in
doing this is very small and you'll still be benefiting from most of the
gain.
Here are some examples of how to use the above information. Suppose you
are dealt a 9,3 (12) and the dealer shows a 6 with a true count of -1.
In this case you would vary your basic strategy and hit rather than
stand. Likewise if you are dealt a 6,4 (10) against a 10 and your true
count is +5 you should double down.
As a general rule strategy changes are more valuable (important) in
single deck games compared to multiple deck games. It's possible, in
fact, to get the edge in single deck games by just flat betting and
varying your basic strategy based upon the count (although I recommend
you also vary your bets in single deck games as well).
Take insurance when:
True count is 3 or higher (2.5 or higher in double deck games and 1.5 or
higher in single deck games)