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Elementary Card Counting Method Can Improve Your Game

14 December 2005

By John G. Brokopp

Being labeled as a "card counter" gives a blackjack player a bad reputation among casino owners and operators. It has always struck me as odd that a person who plays the game with a high degree of skill is subject to being banned from putting that knowledge to work. I cannot think of another pursuit where similar discrimination is enforced.

A card counter keeps mental track of the cards that have been dealt in order to assess the collective value of the cards remaining in an effort to determine statistically whether the game's house edge has increased or if it has tilted toward player advantage.

Grand masters of this skill keep mental track of every single card that is dealt and keep a running total of plus (player advantage) or minus (house advantage) in their heads. It requires intense concentration, a mathematical mind and countless hours of practice. Even after all this work, there are only select windows of playing opportunity that open where there is a decided player advantage.

For blackjack players unwilling to make that kind of commitment, allow me to present a very elementary method of counting. It is nowhere near as accurate as a running count, but any means by which you take basic strategy to the next level is better than none. Besides, it's easy to learn and requires minimum effort to master.

Here's how it works, remembering to keep in mind that you must learn to stop being a passive player paying attention only to your own hand and become a pro-active player who watches the hands of everyone at the table:

The model is a six-deck shoe, popular at a majority of casinos around the country. There are 312 cards in six decks, 96 of which carry a value of 10 (kings, queens, jacks and 10s).

Assuming the dealer will cut one and one-half decks (78 cards) out of play after the shuffle, 24 of them will theoretically be 10-value cards, leaving 72 of them in play among the 234 cards to be dealt.

If we are to establish that there are six players plus the dealer at the table and approximately 23 cards will be dealt on every hand, there will be 10 deals from the shoe before it's time to shuffle up. If the 10-value cards come out proportionately, there should be seven of them on the table for each round.

Let's put this model into practice with a mock game: On the first round you observe that seven 10-value cards have been dealt, which keeps the count neutral. On the second round only five come out, which now gives you a count of plus-2. On the third round nine 10s are on the table, which brings your count back to neutral.

Once you enter the second half of the shoe and the remaining deals are in "plus" territory, this is an indication the shoe may be rich in 10-value cards and present favorable wagering opportunities. On the other hand, if your count reveals the remaining deals potentially weak in 10s, it may be time to decrease your bets or back off a little.

Since the opportunity to be dealt a blackjack and be rewarded with a 3-to-2 payoff is one of the main reasons we play the game, keeping a side track of aces can never hurt. If an unusually large number of them are dealt during the first half of the shoe, it may be time to decrease your bets during the second half since the chances of getting a blackjack are statistically diminished. If you determine the deck is rich in aces, it may be time to increase.

You may also want to pay attention to how many fives are dealt. Statistically speaking, the five is a powerful dealer card because it allows him to draw to strong hands. When the fives are depleted the edge goes to the players.

An easy way to maintain a count is to reserve a stack of chips for this purpose, adding to it when the count is in plus territory and subtracting from it when it's minus. If the stack is tall and there are only a couple of deals left out of the shoe, it could indicate you're in a favorable position against the dealer.

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

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