This article addresses blackjack card counting for beginners. If you have been playing blackjack for some time and want to improve your performance at the casino blackjack tables, then this article is meant for you. It is important to clear one fact upfront. Card counting will not help you in playing blackjack deals better. That aspect is dealt through blackjack optimum strategy. Card counting lets you know when the chances of winning are in your favour and when they are against you. This enables you to adjust your bet amount accordingly.
Every course has its prerequisites and there are some for counting cards in blackjack as well.
Edward Thorp is generally accepted as the father of blackjack card counting, though a few players before him had addressed the issue. In 1962 he authored a book Beat the Dealer that outlined in detail a card counting technique backed by the required mathematics. His system, called Five Count, was based on the realisation that fewer fives left in the deck are more favourable to the player than a deck that is loaded with fives. Thorp continued to improve the system and several other players also devised similar systems. Many of these players are in the Blackjack Hall of Fame for their card counting work. Some of these are:
Blackjack card counting became a household term because of the famous MIT Blackjack Team. This team of card counters was assembled in 1980 by J.P. Massar and Bill Kaplan and run on a professional basis like never before. The team of ten players started on August 1, 1980 with an investment of $89,000 and in the first ten weeks they more than doubled their investment. Another famous blackjack card counter John Chang joined the team in 1982. By 1989 the team had over 70 players. After 1993 the prominence of blackjack card counting declined.
Card counting at blackjack tables in casinos is perfectly legal. Counting cards is a blackjack skill that the player brings to the table like knowledge of optimum strategy. However, there are conditions attached. In the execution of card counting the player cannot use any mechanical device. Nor can the player relay information to third persons and seek their assistance. Therefore the use of the following devices would be illegal:
In this section the generic steps of any blackjack card counting system are explained without going into the details of any specific system. The idea is to familiarise beginner card counters with the philosophy behind the steps.
A brief explanation is needed before we go to the steps. Card counting systems are based on the following mathematically confirmed hypotheses.
You cannot know the cards in the deck so you track the cards that have been dealt and rejected and then make inferences about the deck.
When you join a blackjack table and the dealer is midway through the shoe, do not start the card counting process. You will have no idea of the cards already on the discard tray and will never get the right card count. Wait till the dealer starts a new shoe and then begin to count the cards.
Each card counting system has a different valuation. You will need to follow the valuation given by the blackjack system that you are using.
With a new shoe, start with a running count of 0. As each card is laid face up on the table note its count.
The running count will change from being positive to negative and vice versa several times in the process.
For the next step in the blackjack card counting process you will need to know the number of decks remaining in the shoe. You will know the number of decks in the new shoe. That number becomes your starting point.
If you start with 8 decks then after the first 26 cards are exposed the remaining decks will be 7 and ½
A blackjack running count of +6 with 7 decks remaining is nowhere near advantageous as a running count of +6 with 1 deck remaining. So you need to compute the running count per deck, which is also called the true count. You need to do this only before you have to place your next bet.
All this mental callisthenics is of no use unless it leads to useful decision making. The true count is used to adjust the bet amount as follows.
The steps are depicted in the following image:
The average return to player in the popular blackjack variants is about 99.5%. You will still lose money in the long run. If you can count cards correctly then you will be able to place bigger bets when the situation is more favourable. This will push the average return to over 100% and you will start making money in the long run.
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