Blackjack is different from most casino games because, to a certain extent, it relies more on skill than luck. You’ve probably heard of card counting, and how it can give you an advantage against the house. Most people never get that advantage because counting systems can be complex. Bu there is a fairly easy system you can learn and apply. It’s called the Hi-Lo counting system. Here’s how it works.
When the game begins, and the deck, or shoe as it’s called, is full, the player is at a disadvantage. But each time cards are drawn from the deck, the advantage changes. If you can count cards, you can tell whether you or the house has gained the advantage based on the cards that have been removed from the deck. You can then make heavier bets with confidence when you are likelier to win.
The Hi-Lo system operates on two facts. First of all, whenever a low card, such as a two, three, four, five or six is removed from the deck, the player benefits. But when larger cards, such as tens, jacks, queens, kings, and aces are removed from the shoe, the house gains an advantage. Seven, eight and nine are considered to be neutral, and are given no value. They are not counted. Thus, the player stands a better chance of making a blackjack when the cards taken from the deck are low. The reverse is true when they are high
Now that you know the method, it’s time to start counting. When the game begins, start with a count of zero. Whenever a low card is removed from the shoe, add one to your count. Whenever a high card comes out, subtract one from your count. When it’s time to bet, simply divide your count by thee number of decks you suspect are in the shoe. This will give you the true count. If the true count is two or higher, the advantage is yours. Make a larger bet than you normally would. The concept is a simple one, and easily remembered, but you need to work at it before it will work for you at the tables.
Remember to begin your count with the first card dealt after the deck is shuffled. If you miss cards, the count is messed up, and your odds of winning decrease as a result. The higher the count gets, the more large cards remain in the shoe. If the count is negative, most of the 10 cards have been played, and mostly the smaller ones remain.
The Hi-Lo card counting system can help you win in another way. The dealer is required to take a hit if the total of his cards is under 17. That means the dealer would prefer a deck with a lot of small cards that make it less likely that he will bust. With the counting system, you’ll be able to get a pretty solid idea of how many high cards are in the deck. Knowing how likely the dealer is to bust can help inform your blackjack decision making.
The Hi-Lo counting system is considered to be balanced. If you count a 52 card deck and apply its values, the count will be zero because the number of high and low cards is even.
Now that you know how the system works, and how to count, you need to familiarize yourself with the point value of each card. At a blackjack table, you’re not going to have a lot of time to count, so to be successful, you’ll need to learn to work quickly. Take a deck of cards and turn them over one by one. Each time, say the card’s value. You cab speed this up by counting each low card as one, and each higher card as “M one” or minus one. Say nothing for neutral cards. Eventually, your speed and accuracy will improve, and you’ll be able to count much faster than before.
Once you get good at counting, you can learn to keep track of the entire deck. The work is going to be slow at first, but focus on accuracy over speed. Eventually, you should be able to count whole decks quickly and accurately. A good counter can breeze through a deck in about 20 seconds. As you get better, turn on loud music to provide distractions. Remember, you have to do this quickly at a noisy blackjack table.
Keep in mind that the counting system depends on your being able to guess with some degree of accuracy how many decks are in the shoe. You’re not going to find many single-deck games. Most casinos are going to use two to eight. You can decipher how many decks are in play by looking at the discard tray on the table. You will need to get several decks of cards and pile them on top of each other until you can visually identify what a deck or two looks like when you see it in the tray. You can then take that number, and subtract it from the number of decks the game began with to arrive at an educated guess about how many of them are left.
All these skills, assiduously practiced, will give you a decided blackjack advantage. Be sure to bet more when the true count is positive, and the minimum when it isn’t with that in mind, and the Hi-Lo system at your back, you can improve your game, and prepare yourself for still more impressive skills.