The first published methodology for “counting cards” was described by Dr. Edward O. Thorp in his 1962 book “Beat the Dealer.” He noted that as cards are removed from the deck during play, it affects the probabilities of certain combinations being dealt. As a result, Thorp proposed the so-called “Five Count” system based upon statistics and computations that showed when a deck of 52 cards is low in fives, the player has a greater advantage than when it is short of other cards.
Thorp also noted cards other than fives can be counted and used to develop Blackjack strategy. As 10s, court cards and Aces are removed from the deck, the House Edge increases. As cards ranked deuce through six are removed, the deck favors the player. The margin is continually shifting during play. To keep track of the changes, a “Plus/Minus Strategy” was pioneered in the late 1960s by Lawrence Revere. This became the basis for what’s now known as “Basic Card Counting.”
Going Beyond the Basics
Almost all advanced card counting system use the basic Plus/Minus approach as a foundation. Every card in the deck is assigned a value. Low cards (2~6) are worth +1 point each as they are removed from the deck. Intermediate cards (7~9) can be ignored. High cards (10~Ace) are worth -1 point each as they are played. The count will change as cards are dealt, starting at zero and rising or falling depending on whether low cards or high ones appear. The player will bet more when the point count is positive and the minimum when it is negative.
Among the many advanced systems that have been developed off the basic Plus/Minus premise are those known as Ten Count, KO Count, Hi-Lo Count, Hi-Opt I Count and Zen Count, to name a few. They take into account how many decks are in play as well how play of the hand is affected by point count, too.
However, as Revere himself once pointed out, the difference between successful card counters and those who fail is not the system they choose to use but “the perfection with which they apply it.” In order for card counting to work the way it is intended, the player must keep track of the count perfectly, make error-less bets and play the cards exactly according to the situation.
More Advanced Systems
Many of the so-called “advanced” counting systems assign slightly different Plus/Minus values to the cards. For example, the KO Count makes the seven a low card valued at +1; otherwise all other values are the same as the basic system. In the advanced system known as “Red Seven,” everything remains the same as the basic system except red sevens are counted as +1, while black sevens are treated as zero.
With all of these systems, the count determines the size of the bet. For instance, playing with a single deck, KO Count players are advised to bet the minimum, one unit, when the count is +1 or less or bet two units when it is +2 or more. When multiple decks are used, the betting is adjusted accordingly. With four decks, the tipping point becomes +4 or lower for a one-unit bet and +5 or higher for a two-unit wager. For six decks, it goes up to +6/+7 and for eight decks it’s +8/+9.
The most advanced Blackjack counting systems require two separate counts to be maintained. Among these, the High-Opt I treats deuces as zero and requires keeping separate track of Aces that are dealt. High-Opt II is similar, but gives deuces and sevens a value of +1, fours and fives are worth +2, all 10-point cards are counted as +2, and Aces must be tracked separately.
In Revere’s Point Count Strategy, the point count gives way to the so-called “True Count” involving half points when a quarter of the deck or more has been played in a single-deck game. The counting systems known as Zen Count, Omega II and Revere Advanced Point Count all have two levels of counting, and the Uston Advanced Point Count system has three levels.
Again, the systems are all mathematically sound, but only as accurate as the ability of the play to apply them. A single counting error at any point can completely through any system into chaos. As with most activities, practice is critical to perfect execution.