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Card counting allows players to bet more with less risk when the count gives an advantage as well as minimize losses during an unfavorable count. Card counting also provides the ability to alter playing decisions based on the composition of remaining cards. Card counting, also referred to as card reading , often refers to obtaining a sufficient count on the number, distribution and high-card location of cards in trick-taking games such as contract bridge or spades to optimize the winning of tricks.
The most common variations of card counting in blackjack are based on statistical evidence that high cards especially aces and 10s benefit the player more than the dealer, while the low cards, 3s, 4s, 6s, and especially 5s help the dealer while hurting the player. Higher concentration of high cards benefit the player in the following ways. Thus a dealer holding will bust every time if the next card drawn is a 10, making this card essential to track when card counting. Contrary to the popular myth, card counters do not need unusual mental abilities to count cards, because they are not tracking and memorizing specific cards.
Instead, card counters assign a point score to each card they see that estimates the value of that card, and then they track the sum of these values — a process called keeping a "running count. Basic card counting assigns a positive, negative, or zero value to each card value available. When a card of that value is dealt, the count is adjusted by that card's counting value. Low cards increase the count as they increase the percentage of high cards in the remaining set of cards, while high cards decrease it for the opposite reason.
For instance, the Hi-Lo system subtracts one for each dealt 10, Jack, Queen, King or Ace, and adds one for any value Values are assigned a value of zero and therefore do not affect the count. The goal of a card counting system is to assign point values that roughly correlate to a card's Effect of Removal EOR. The EOR is the actual effect of removing a given card from play, and the resulting impact on the house advantage. The player may gauge the effect of removal for all cards dealt, and assess the current house advantage of a game based on the remaining cards.
As larger ratios between point values are used to create better correlation to actual EOR with the goal of increasing the efficiency of a system, such systems use more different numbers and are broken into classes depending on such as level 1, level 2, level 3, and so on, with regard to the ratio between the highest and lowest assigned point values.
The High-Low system is considered a level-one count, because the running count never increases or decreases by more than a single, predetermined value. Advanced players might additionally maintain a side count separate count of specific cards, such as a side count Aces, to deal with situations where the best count for betting accuracy differs from the best count for playing accuracy.
The disadvantage of higher-level counts is that keeping track of more information can detract from the ability to play quickly and accurately. A card-counter might earn more money by playing a simple count quickly—more hands per hour played—than by playing a complex count slowly. The following table illustrates a few ranking systems for card counting.
The primary goal of a card counting system is to assign point values to each card that roughly correlate to the card's "effect of removal" or EOR that is, the effect a single card has on the house advantage once removed from play , thus enabling the player to gauge the house advantage based on the composition of cards still to be dealt.
Larger ratios between point values can better correlate to actual EOR, but add complexity to the system. Counting systems may be referred to as "level 1", "level 2", etc.
The ideal system is a system that is usable by the player and offers the highest average dollar return per period of time when dealt at a fixed rate. With this in mind, systems aim to achieve a balance of efficiency in three categories: Some strategies count the ace ace-reckoned strategies and some do not ace-neutral strategies. Including aces in the count improves betting correlation since the ace is the most valuable card in the deck for betting purposes.
However, since the ace can either be counted as one or eleven, including an ace in the count decreases the accuracy of playing efficiency.
Since PE is more important in single- and double-deck games, and BC is more important in shoe games, counting the ace is more important in shoe games. One way to deal with such tradeoffs is to ignore the ace to yield higher PE while keeping a side count which is used to detect addition change in EV which the player will use to detect additional betting opportunities which ordinarily would not be indicated by the primary card counting system.
The most commonly side counted card is the ace since it is the most important card in terms of achieving a balance of BC and PE. Since there is the potential to create an overtaxing demand on the human mind while using a card counting system another important design consideration is the ease of use. The Running count is the running total of each card's assigned value. When using Balanced count such as the Hi-Lo system , the Running count is converted into a "True count," which takes into consideration the number of decks used.
With Hi-Lo, the True count is essentially the Running count divided by the number of decks that haven't yet been dealt; this can be calculated by division or approximated with an average card count per round times the number of rounds dealt. However, many variations of True count calculation exist. Back-counting, also known as "Wonging," consists of standing behind a blackjack table that other players are playing on, and counting the cards as they are dealt.
Stanford Wong first proposed the idea of back-counting, and the term "Wong" comes from his name. The player will enter or "Wong in" to the game when the count reaches a point at which the player has an advantage. Some back-counters prefer to flat-bet, and only bet the same amount once they have entered the game. Some players will stay at the table until the game is shuffled, or they may "Wong out" or leave when the count reaches a level at which they no longer have an advantage.
Back-counting is generally done on shoe games, of 4, 6, or 8 decks, although it can be done on pitch games of 1 or 2 decks. The reason for this is that the count is more stable in a shoe game, so a player will be less likely to sit down for one or two hands and then have to get up. In addition, many casinos do not allow "mid-shoe entry" in single or double deck games which makes Wonging impossible. Another reason is that many casinos exhibit more effort to thwart card counters on their pitch games than on their shoe games, as a counter has a smaller advantage on an average shoe game than in a pitch game.
Back-counting is different from traditional card-counting, in that the player does not play every hand he sees. This offers several advantages. For one, the player does not play hands at which he does not have a statistical advantage. This increases the total advantage of the player. Another advantage is that the player does not have to change their bet size as much, or at all if they choose.
Large variations in bet size are one way that casinos detect card counters, and this is eliminated with back-counting. There are several disadvantages to back-counting. One is that the player frequently does not stay at the table long enough to earn comps from the casino. Another disadvantage is that some players may become irritated with players who enter in the middle of a game, and superstitiously believe that this interrupts the "flow" of the cards. Lastly, a player who hops in and out of games may attract unwanted attention from casino personnel, and may be detected as a card-counter.
While a single player can maintain their own advantage with back-counting, card counting is most often used by teams of players to maximize their advantage. In such a team, some players called "spotters" will sit at a table and play the game at the table minimum, while keeping a count basically doing the back "counting". When the count is significantly high, the spotter will discreetly signal another player, known as a "big player," that the count is high the table is "hot".
The big player will then "Wong in" and wager vastly higher sums up to the table maximum while the count is high. When the count "cools off" or the shoe is shuffled resetting the count , the big player will "Wong out" and look for other counters who are signaling a high count. This was the system used by the MIT Blackjack Team , whose story was in turn the inspiration for the Canadian movie The Last Casino which was later re-made into the Hollywood version The main advantage of group play is that the team can count several tables while a single back-counting player can usually only track one table.
This allows big players to move from table to table, maintaining the high-count advantage without being out of action very long. The disadvantages include requiring multiple spotters who can keep an accurate count, splitting the "take" among all members of the team, requiring spotters to play a table regardless of the count using only basic strategy, these players will lose money long-term , and requiring signals, which can alert pit bosses.
A simple variation removes the loss of having spotters play; the spotters simply watch the table instead of playing and signal big players to Wong in and out as normal.
The disadvantages of this variation are reduced ability of the spotter and big player to communicate, reduced comps as the spotters aren't sitting down, and vastly increased suspicion, as blackjack is not generally considered a spectator sport in casinos except among those actually playing unlike craps , roulette and wheels of fortune which have larger displays and so tend to attract more spectators.
A mathematical principle called the Kelly criterion indicates that bet increases should be proportional to the player advantage. In practice, this means that the higher the count, the more a player should bet on each hand in order to take advantage of the player edge. Using this principle, a card counter may elect to vary his bet size in proportion to the advantage dictated by a count creating what is called a "Bet ramp" according to the principles of the Kelly criterion.
A bet ramp is a betting plan with a specific bet size tied to each true count value in such a way that the player is betting proportionally to the player advantage with aims to maximize overall bankroll growth. Taken to its ultimate conclusion, the Kelly criterion would demand that a player not bet anything at all when the deck doesn't offer a positive expectation; the "Wonging" strategy described above implements this.
Historically, blackjack played with a perfect basic strategy offered a house edge of less than 0. As more casinos have switched games to dealer hits soft and blackjack pays 6: Advantages of up to 2. The variance in blackjack is high, so generating a sizable profit can take hundreds of hours of play. Under one set of circumstance, a player with a unit bet spread with only one-deck cut off of a six-deck game will enjoy an advantage of as much as 1.
Instead it comes from the increased probability of blackjacks, increased gain and benefit from doubling, splitting and surrender, and the insurance side bet, which becomes profitable at high counts.
A range of card counting devices are available but are deemed to be illegal in most U. In February , the Nevada Gaming Control Board issued a warning that an iPhone card counting application was illegal in that state. Card counting is not illegal under British law, nor is it under federal, state, or local laws in the United States provided that no external card counting device or person assists the player in counting cards. Still, casinos object to the practice, and try to prevent it,  banning players believed to be counters.
In their pursuit to identify card counters, casinos sometimes misidentify and ban players suspected of counting cards even if they do not. In Ken Uston , a Blackjack Hall of Fame inductee, filed a lawsuit against an Atlantic City casino, claiming that casinos did not have the right to ban skilled players. The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed,  ruling that "the state's control of Atlantic City's casinos is so complete that only the New Jersey Casino Control Commission has the power to make rules to exclude skillful players.
As they are unable to ban counters even when identified, Atlantic City casinos have increased the use of countermeasures. Monitoring player behavior to assist with detecting the card counters falls into the hands of the on-floor casino personnel "pit bosses" and casino-surveillance personnel, who may use video surveillance "the eye in the sky " as well as computer analysis, to try to spot playing behavior indicative of card counting.
Early counter-strategies featured the dealers' learning to count the cards themselves to recognize the patterns in the players. Many casino chains keep databases of players that they consider undesirable. For successful card counters, therefore, skill at "cover" behavior, to hide counting and avoid "drawing heat" and possibly being barred, may be just as important as playing skill. Detection of card counters will be confirmed after a player is first suspected of counting cards; when seeking card counters, casino employees, whatever their position, could be alerted by many things that are most common when related to card counting but not common for other players.
There are easier counting systems that eliminate the calculation of the true count by assigning positive values to more cards than those with negative values. The goal of a good card-counting system is to be as simple to use as possible without losing the power to accurately determine when the player has the advantage. The OPP count does exactly that: It is a very simple method to learn and use that will give you results comparable to the Hi Lo Count.
The main difference between this new counting system and all of the traditional ones is that it uses new factors to determine the composition of the remaining decks. It is the easiest way to count cards with a high degree of betting accuracy. In a deck of 52 cards there are 20 high cards tens, faces and aces. There are also 20 low cards 2s through 6s. It has also been determined with computer simulations that each player or dealer hand will receive an average number of cards very close to 2.
The actual number determined after the simulation of billions of hands using different simulators is 2. Now we have something very interesting: Since the average blackjack hand contains 2.
With the help of computer simulation see my results below , it has been shown that any player or dealer hand will actually receive an average of about 1. In the table below, you will find the results of a million hand simulation using PowerSim for a 6-deck game.
This data is the basis of the OPP counting system. As I will explain, the number of low or high cards per hand will give a very good indication of the composition of the remaining decks. I first tested counting the number of high cards that were dealt per round and comparing this number with the total number of hands dealt per round. Imagine a blackjack table with three players and the dealer dealing the first round of the shoe. These are the first round hands:. As you can see there were 4 hands played and 5 high cards were dealt an ace and 10 to Player 1, a ten to Player 2, a ten to Player 3, and a ten to the Dealer.
At this time there were again 4 hands played, but only 2 high cards were dealt. This process continues until the end of the shoe, adding the running count of each round to the cumulative running count of the prior rounds. None of the commercially available blackjack simulation programs could be adapted to test this new counting system, so it was necessary to develop a simulator for this job specifically. The first simulations I ran, using my own simulation program, were performed in the beginning of using a program specially written for the tests.
It was slow but returned the data I was looking for. With the new powerful and fast open source PowerSim simulator, available on this Web site, simulations that used to take me about two hours are now performed in eight minutes.
The first step was to verify that the count was producing logical results. We would expect the count to present a normal distribution of positive and negative counts with the majority of counts around zero, and a reasonable spread of counts on both the positive and negative side. This is a graph of what the simulation showed:.
The chart shows the PowerSim results for million rounds of a player using basic strategy in a six-deck game. The running counts are on the horizontal axis, and the percentage of occurrence of these counts is on the vertical. But the graph shows that the count is negative more times than positive. This is not what we would expect for a traditional balanced counting system, which would tend to produce a more symmetrical pattern of counts on either side of zero.
I next wanted to see what the overall player advantage would be using this counting system with a bet spread. I ran a million-hand simulation using the following bet ramp: The following results were obtained using the PowerSim simulator:. Although it was possible to get an edge using this method, these results were very disappointing and were not comparable to the results obtainable with a traditional card counting system. Before dropping the idea I decided to reverse the OPP counting method.
Instead of subtracting the number of high cards dealt per round from the number of hands in play, I decided to test the system subtracting the number of hands in play from the number of low cards dealt per round.
As you can see there were 4 hands played and only 3 low cards were dealt a 2 to Player 2, a 6 to Player 3, and a 5 to the Dealer. At this time there were also 4 hands played but 7 low cards were dealt. When I reversed the OPP counting method in this way, comparing the number of low cards dealt to the number of hands in play, the PowerSim simulations gave the following result for the count distribution:.
Again, the running counts are on the horizontal axis, and the percentage of occurrence of these counts is on the vertical. But this time the count distribution is more positive than negative. As for the correlation of the count to the player advantage, I got the following results:.
This graph shows that there is a much more linear relation between the running count and the player expectation. The unpredictable results obtained at high counts when using the OPP method to compare high cards to hands dealt do not occur when we compare low cards to hands dealt.
Both systems were tested using basic strategy only. A new and very simple count system has been born: The player counts only the number of low cards dealt per round and compares this with the number of hands played in the round. Many players may wonder why counting the high cards versus hands dealt was less efficient than counting the low cards versus hands dealt.
That is because the OPP method does not really have us comparing low cards with high cards as with a traditional card counting system. Instead, we are comparing low cards or high cards with something that has a frequency distribution of its own—that is, the number of cards per hand. We know that the overall average number of cards per hand is 2.
It is logical that the number of cards per hand will be higher when the count is rising because more cards will be required to complete the hands when extra low cards are being dealt. Consider what happens when counting high cards per hand if we have a hand with 3 or 4 low cards, then hit with a high card and bust.
It is less probable to have a hand with 3 or 4 high cards in it, because such a hand would require either a soft or stiff hand to start with that we hit with multiple aces. Multiple-high-card hands would be rare, while multiple-low-card hands would occur more frequently, and produce a more accurate measure of advantage.
In order to configure a system usable in most situations, I performed simulations with PowerSim to determine the effectiveness of the OPP count in games with two decks and eight decks, again comparing the betting gain with the gain from Hi-Lo. I also tested alternatives for the OPP system, including:.
The only playing index tested so far for the OPP count is the insurance index, which adds an additional 0. The OPP Count, however, does not correlate well with the insurance effects of removal since ten-valued cards are not actually counted.
I suspect that OPP running count indices for some of the more important strategy decisions, however, especially standing on 15 or 16 v. Ten, will be found by Carlos and others through continued simulation tests, as the counting method will probably correlate very well with these decisions.
Return to Intro to Winning Blackjack. For more information on card counting and other methods professional gamblers use to win at blackjack, see Arnold Snyder's Blackbelt in Blackjack. Another good introduction to card-counting at a professional level is Blackjack Blueprint: How to Play Like a Pro A New Approach to Card Counting. A First Year in the Blackjack Pits. Learn Blackjack Basic Strategy. Easy Red 7 Card Counting System. Free Card Counting Practice Software.
The "Best" Card Counting System. Comparing Card Counting Systems. Counting Cards with the OPP: Number of Hands Method It is very easy to mentally count up or down in positive numbers. The chart below shows how you will count a typical round: Running count 6 decks.
Running count 8 decks. Running count 2 decks. Results of the simulations counting high cards per hand.