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by Dan Pronovost

Dan Pronovost is the owner and president of DeepNet Technologies, makers of a wide range of advantage gambling training products and software for Windows, iPhone and Android (blackjack, poker, craps). Their web site is:, and most products are available for free trial download. Dan is also the creator of the popular and easy-to-use card counting system Speed Count.

I received an interesting question from a customer recently that I initially dismissed, then thought some more about it. Hereís a general summary of his e-mail:

"I use the High-Low count system when playing blackjack, but I donít convert to true count, since thatís hard. Instead, I just use the run count, and adjust my bet spread accordingly. Iíve been doing well with this methodÖ is it valid?"

My initial reaction was, "Bah! That canít work! High-Low is a balanced count system, and they essentially need conversion to true count to work! Run counts only work with unbalanced count systems like Speed Count or K-O".

Balanced and Unbalanced Count Systems

You might be thinking, "Whatís this gobbledygook about balanced and unbalanced count systems?" Well, systems like High-Low are designed to assign an equal number of cards the value of - 1 and + 1 so that by counting every card in a deck, you will end up with a count of zero. Unbalanced systems are designed differently. The count will tend to "drift" up during the play-out of a deck (or shoe). For example, with the K-O counting system, the 2-6 and the 7 is counted as +1 (and the 10s, picture cards and aces count -1); therefore, when you count every card in a deck, your final count will be +4. In other words, the run count will tend to drift upward as the cards are dealt. With Speed Count, the reason for the imbalance in the counting method is more complex, but since only the 2 through 6 cards are counted as +1, and the numbers of hands dealt is subtracted from your count, there is a mathematically tendency for the count to drift upwards as well (for more technical details, see the book, or this article).

It is this upward run-count trend of unbalanced count systems that makes them work so well. A big run count at the start of a shoe will have less "weight" compared to the same run count at the end of a shoe. Since the count will tend to drift upwards, a clump of cards that causes the count to go high will have you betting more when it occurs at the end of a shoe, instead of the beginning.

My customerís method of using the High-Low run count directly, without dividing by the number of un-dealt decks remaining (i.e., converting the running count to a true count), seemed suspect from the start. Nevertheless, with enough prodding from my good friend Henry Tamburin, I eventually set myself the task of simulating this personís method, using my blackjack software ( And, as you will see shortly, the results were very surprising!

High-Low as a Running Count System

The customer was a bit vague on the details of how he played/bet, but his general approach was to only track the High-Low run count, and increase his bets mid shoe when the count was very high. He played a standard six-deck game with DAS and S17. In a six-deck game, a mid shoe true count of +1 is equal to a running count of +3 (this is the bet pivot, meaning the true count at which a player begins to have an edge over the casino). Therefore, I used the following bet spread for my simulations (more on the reasons for this particular spread are detailed below):

  • Run count < 3: 1 bet unit
  • Run count: 3: 2 bet units
  • Run count 8: 4 bet units
  • Run count 12: 8 bet units

To make things simple for comparison, I used no index plays, meaning I only used the basic playing strategy for a given set of rules. I also declined insurance all the time, since that depends on the true count as well. Lastly, I assumed 4 of 6 decks were dealt in every shoe (i.e., 67% penetration), and heads-up play. I ran exhaustive simulations in my Blackjack Audit simulator, using the regular High-Low count system, and this modified Running Count System version...

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