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Card Counting

Let’s start out with what counting is and, more importantly, isn’t. Card counting is a means of tracking the relationship between the high-value cards (good for the player) and the low-value cards, which are good for the dealer. When people ask me what I "do" (except at the tables) I tell them I’m a "Statistical Probability Analyst." Why are the low-value cards good for the dealer? Well, the dealer has to follow rigid rules regarding hitting. She must hit if she has less than 17. The most important card in the deck for the dealer is the lowly-appearing five, as this will make at least 17 out of any stiff hand. Card counting allows us to know when there are more high cards than low left in the deck(s), and we raise our bet accordingly, because we now have an advantage over the house.

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How large is this advantage? On certain individual hands this can be as high as three or four percent, but overall we hold about a one percent advantage, depending upon the game and rules. Counting does not give us an automatic winning edge on every hand - far from that. This isn’t the movies, and we aren’t Rainman. We will win, on average, about 44% of all hands played. When the count is high the dealer has just as good a chance to get good hands as we do. However, the dealer can’t split or double and only gets even money on blackjack - this constitutes our basic edge. Many times in high counts our 20 will lose to the dealer’s blackjack (or push her 20) but over the long run we’ll win with that ~1% edge.

The long run is defined as beginning after about 400 or 500 hours of play. This will give us some 50,000 hands, a number large enough that it can have some statistical meaning. An analogy: if we flip a coin ten times it would not be too unusual for tails to come up, say seven times. However, if we flip that same coin 50,000 times it’s much more likely that tails will come up very close to its expectation of 50% - maybe the number would be .4997. So it is with blackjack - the more hands we play the closer to the statistical curve we get, the closer to our mathematical expectation.

Becoming a Counter

  1. Basic Strategy
  2. Learning to Count
  3. Converting to True Count
  4. Overcoming Casino Distractions
  5. The Act 
  6. Bet Spreads
  7. Summary

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