Learning to Count Cards

Now we begin counting. There are many systems available and they fall into two general categories: balanced and unbalanced. Unbalanced counts, like the KO (Knock Out) system were designed to eliminate true count conversion (see Step Three). Generally speaking, the easier a system is to use the less effective it is; sometimes the difference amounts to splitting hairs, but there is a difference. We are going to use High-Low for this example as it is a simple balanced count, and is perhaps the most widely used system. High-Low falls somewhere in the middle of the pack for playing efficiency. We would suggest using this as your counting method at first – switching to a more complicated system should not be hard once High-Low is mastered, and stepping down, as it were, to a simpler count will be very easy.

In High-Low the 2-6 are valued at +1, and the 10s and Aces are counted as -1. Note that there are the same amount in each group: 2,3,4,5,6 and 10,J,Q,K,A. The 7,8,9 are neutral in this count and our eye should be trained to not even see these for counting purposes, for they have no bearing on the count. If the low cards are good for the dealer why are they counted as plus value? Because when we see that low card come out the ratio of high to low cards remaining has changed slightly in our favor.

We start with a deck of cards, flipping them over one at a time and keeping the running count. If they come out 8,K,3,3,6,2,7,A we would count 0,-1, 0, +1, +2, +3, +3, +2. At the end of the deck we should come out at “0”. We won’t, at least in the beginning. Keep practicing until you do come out even at the end, every time, and gradually build speed. Eventually we will want to approach 25 seconds running the deck down one card at a time while maintaining accuracy. This speed will guarantee that no dealer alive can spread cards faster than we can count.

When proficient at this try pulling a card out of the deck, face down. Set it aside. After running the deck “guess” what the remaining card is. Your validation will come when you say, “It has to be a ten or an ace,” and then flipping it over to find yourself correct.

Next we’ll flip the cards two at a time. We often see this in “pitch” games, that is, hand-held single and double deck games. On a bust the dealer flips up the player’s two hole cards. It’s a good idea to learn to disregard “matching pairs” like Q, 5, as they cancel each other out. The less we have to deal with the better, and by not allowing our eye to register these “matched pairs” we will streamline our counting.

In actual play there are many individual styles of counting the cards. In a face-up shoe game some people advocate waiting until the second card is dealt to each hand and counting the hands as whole units, as often a hand will cancel itself out, i.e., 10-6, or two consecutive hands will: K,10 – 3,5. Other folks insist it’s easier to count the cards as each one comes out. Try both methods and find what works best for you. In a pitch game it’s a bit different. Count your cards and the dealer’s up card first, then all exposed cards from hits, splits, doubles, and busts as they happen. Next count the dealer’s hole card and subsequent hits. As the dealer exposes the remaining hole cards one hand at a time a quick glance should suffice to carry the count forward. Practice for the game you intend to play but don’t neglect the other – your favored game might not be playable because of crowds, bad rules, etc.

Speaking of rules in general, don’t play under bad conditions. If the only game in your area is a six-deck with two+ decks cut off – save up and go to where the games are better. Normally this would automatically mean Las Vegas, but over Super Bowl weekend there I observed a double deck game where a deck-and-a-quarter was cut off – a horrible stunt by the management. At another place that normally had a good single deck game they were dealing three hands in heads-up play, when five and sometimes six is the norm. I overheard some dealer-talk about juicing the games for the Super Bowl crowd. The point is to shop for good penetration and to walk when it’s not there. Penetration is a key element in winning.

We should be able to master the above two drills in about 20 hours of dedicated practice; as always, your mileage may vary.

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