WHEN TO USE SPEED COUNT AND WHEN TO USE HIGH-LOW
by Dan Pronovost
Dan Pronovost is the owner and president ofDeepNet 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: www.DeepnetTech.com, 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 get frequent phone calls and e-mails from novice blackjack players that want to master card counting by using Speed Count, a powerful and very easy to learn system I developed in 2002. The simplicity of Speed Count is that you do not have to subtract as you count the cards, and you only increase the count when a 2 through 6 value-card appears in any hand (players’ or dealer).
Yet, most players I talk to are quite surprised when I tell them that there are times that I personally use Speed Count when I play, and times when I use High-Low! If Speed Count is so great, why don’t I use it all the time? Good question and here’s my answer.
The trade-offs of a simplified count system
First, if you’re not familiar with Speed Count or the High-Low count system, the following previously published Blackjack Insider articles are available:The Evolution of Card Counting Speed Count vs. High-Low
While Speed Count is many times easier to master than High-Low (hours to master, instead of weeks), it comes at a price: you will not earn as much money as a card counter compared with a more advanced method like High-Low. The goal of Speed Count is to make card counting more accessible to novice players new to advantage blackjack, who wants to get a mathematically-proven edge over the casino.
Comparing card counting systems is a tricky business. You would think that simply comparing the average hourly win rate of any two systems would be sufficient, but it is not. Every system has different levels of risk due to the bet spread they employ. In the end, the best way to compare the value of any two systems is to compare the required amount of bankroll, to establish a given level of hourly profit, for a fixed level of risk to losing that bankroll, in a specific blackjack game.
For Speed Count, this does depend on the blackjack game (it is better in double- deck games than six- and eight-deck games). But the rough result is that you will need at most twice the bankroll to generate the same hourly win rate, compared to High-Low with full indices and optimal bet spreads.
Bottom Line: You can make close to as much money with Speed Count, but you’re going to have to play with more money in your bankroll to achieve it.
So, why bother with a simpler card counting system?
What a person says from the ivory tower of the mathematician’s world is a far cry from the realities of the casino floor! While the idea of card counting is simple (track a count based on cards dealt and exposed, and bet according to the value of that count), mastering it is not. That is why I developed a suite of blackjack training software for Windows, iPhone, and Android; namely, to help players master card counting on their home PC in a relative short period of time. Click here for more details:http://www.deepnettech.com/blackjack.html.
Playing errors, when card counting, can erode your edge over the casino very quickly. As the late, great, card-counting expert Ken Uston noted in his classic book Million Dollar Blackjack,"it is better to play a simple blackjack system perfectly, than a more complex one with errors." If you miss a few cards while counting, goof up a few index plays, screw up strategy decisions or bet improperly, you can quickly be playing at a loss, rather than an advantage, to the casino.
So, the complexity of the card counting system matters! Sure… if you can master High-Low and correctly track the count with typical fast dealers, all while employing a good act (camouflage), and avoid getting backed off from the tables, then do so! But, my experience in teaching hundreds of players is that most cannot do this, at least not without dedicating weeks of effort practicing at home. Oh… the times where I’ve been playing at the tables with other players who think they are card counting properly; however, their wild bets are clearly not correlated to the count, which is sad to see.
Therefore, the first reason to use a simpler count system is because you’re not ready to successfully use a more advanced one.
For me personally though, the real reason I still use Speed Count at times, despite knowing High-Low perfectly well with all the –3 to +3 strategy deviation indices (about 80), is that it affords better camouflage. Card counters should seek out the games with the best player edge, which, these days, typically means double-deck games with deep penetration and good rules (DAS, S17). These are rare, but casinos have them to attract players. All the same, casinos know that card counters will seek out these games, and will watch these tables carefully; looking to back off anyone that they think is "too good for the game".
It’s here that Speed Count shines: it is so simple, that you do not have to track the count as the cards are dealt. It’s easy to simply track the count as each hand is completed, which is what you do with Speed Count. With High low, you must watch the cards (like an eagle hunting for prey) as every card is dealt from the shoe, a tell-tale sign of a card counter. Watching and "‘counting" every card as it dealt is required when employing High-Low since the method is harder to master (you have to add and subtract as cards are dealt on the fly, and twice as many cards compared to Speed Count.) With Speed Count, you only increase the count, and only after each completed hand, when the 2 to 6 value-cards are exposed. You can ignore watching the cards on the deal completely, and just easily track the count as each hand is played out to completion. (It’s natural to watch the hands as they are played to completion, of course, and no pit boss is going to question that!)
When I’m playing ‘juicy’ double-deck games in Vegas, I use Speed Count, so that I can focus on my camouflage and act, avoiding scrutiny from the pit boss. Contrary to popular belief, the eye-in-the-sky is rarely tracking every player’s actions: the call to surveillance starts with suspicion from a pit boss first, who has little time to do more than look for tell-tale card-counting signs, like a bobbing head intensely focusing on every card as it is dealt.
When to use a more complex count system
The number of decks is the next most important factor for card counters, next to penetration of cards dealt. So, for myself, I use High-Low, with play indices, when playing in six- and eight- deck games, especially outside of Vegas (where getting backed off is more common.)
My experience in six- and eight- deck games in Canada, Atlantic City, and other venues is that they are not watched as much by pit bosses and surveillance personnel. They know that card counters have a much slimmer edge over them in multi-deck games, so it’s not worth the hassle. So, for a card counter, camouflage is far less important. The extra attention I have to apply to correctly track the count and make play decisions is not as relevant.
All the same, I find using High-Low for more than an hour or two is mentally very taxing whereas Speed Count is trivial and easy. Remember that errors when card counting are deadly; therefore, know when you are getting tired when playing, otherwise you might be unwittingly introducing mistakes in your play.
If you’re new to card counting at blackjack, start with a simple, proven advantage, card-counting system like Speed Count. Jumping to a complex system like High-Low too early will probably mean a lot of playing errors, and a complete loss of your edge over the casino.
Regardless of the count system you learn and employ, make sure you practice it thoroughly at home, before you hit the casinos! For this, there can be no better way to master any system than with training software, for which I humbly recommend any of my products forWindows, iPhone or Android. Practicing on your mobile phone is a great way to master card counting, since you can do it anywhere, anytime. It’s also a skill that needs constant practice, and is very different from riding a bike!
Blackjack Expert foriPhone or Android is only $35, and includes everything you need to master card counting, including extensive documentation and training modes. Both mobile platforms include the full Speed Count system, an introductory High-Low system, and full add-on count systems (including the complete High-Low with all play indices and all game variants) are available as in-app purchases for a modest price. The Windows version of our software range from Blackjack Mentor for basic strategy, to complete bundles, with all our training tools, e-books, and systems. Learn more about our software here: http://www.deepnettech.com/bjbundles.html#bundles.
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