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by Paul Wilson

BJI contributing writer Paul Wilson is a quasi-Renaissance man and graduate of Millsaps College. Some of his interests and hobbies include finance, consulting, travel, photography, and rock music. He's an avid baseball fan. Paul has done freelance writing and editing for gaming publications and takes blackjack, video poker, and sports betting very seriously. As we learned in the November 2014 issue, he also might have a "thing" for Wonder Woman.

In last month's Paul's Pointers I wrote about some ways that blackjack players get themselves identified as card counters. In the process I touched upon the topic of deviating from blackjack basic strategy. This may come as a surprise to many of you, but there are times when the "correct" play may not be to follow basic strategy. This month we're going to introduce some of those situations.


If you want to be a successful blackjack player, learn basic strategy. It's the backbone of everything you do from a strategy standpoint. I also recommend learning a card counting system. I use a simple system called Hi-Lo in which Aces and ten-count cards are assigned a value of -1; cards with numeric values of two thru six are assigned a value of +1; and seven thru nine are assigned a value of 0. As each card in the deck(s) is played you simply add 1 (+1), subtract 1 (-1), or do nothing (0). You continue this during each round of betting until the next shuffle when you start over again at "0." By keeping this "running count" we are able to determine when there are more high-valued cards (Aces, Faces, and 10's) or more low-valued cards (2's thru 6's). When there are more high-valued cards remaining, the deck is said to be "positive" and favors the player. When there are more low-valued cards remaining, the deck is "negative" and favors the dealer. Our goal is to bet more when the count is positive and less or not at all when the count is negative.

I'm a firm believer in basic strategy. It provides us with the best way to play every hand, all things being even. However, all things aren't always even. Deck composition matters. For example, suppose you are playing a double-deck game and eight Aces have been dealt since the last shuffle. No one is getting a blackjack at your table until those cards are shuffled. It's this concept of deck composition that opens the door to strategy deviations.


Let's take the concept of deck composition, basic strategy, and strategy deviations a few steps further. Assume we are trying to predict the color of the suit of the first card drawn from a deck. One standard deck of playing cards has 52 cards with four suits (Diamonds, Hearts, Clubs, and Spades) and 13 assigned values (Ace thru King). Will the first card drawn be "red" (Diamonds or Hearts) or "black" (Clubs or Spades)? The odds are 50-50. There are 26 red-suited cards and 26 black-suited cards. Suppose we draw the Queen of Hearts; then the 4 of Diamonds. Will the third card drawn be "red" or "black"? The deck composition favors "black." There are still 26 black cards and only 24 red cards. There is now a 52% chance of a black-suited card being drawn and a 48% chance of a red card being drawn. That's a simple way of illustrating the point of deck composition. Previously played cards matter and will affect your results in subsequent hands.

Granted, we could go on and on with the above example. Instead of red or black suits we could determine how much or how little removing the Queen of Hearts affects playing decisions in a single- or multi-deck game. Then we could do the same with the 4 of Diamonds. We could do this for each numeric value in the deck and in varying orders. At some point we'd need a way to keep track or to catalog the results. Remember the "running count" mentioned above? That's a start. We can divide that number (RC) by the number of decks remaining to be played to determine a more useful number called the "true count" or TC, for short. The TC value gives us an index or known point on which to make further decisions. We can then apply this index number to basic strategy and find situations where it makes sense to deviate from the norm. I don't claim to be a mathematician and I'll guess most of you aren't either, but suffice it to say, there's somewhere between 150-165 separate calculations and indices if we applied the above steps to refiguring basic strategy every time a card was removed or the TC changed. Enter Don Schlesinger.

(Note: True count (TC) is derived by dividing the running count (RC) by the number of decks remaining. Example: If the RC = +8 and there are 2 decks remaining in the shoe, the TC = +4)

Don Schlesinger is a blackjack player, author, and inductee into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. He is widely associated with his "discovery" of the Illustrious 18. Using his own results, and building on those of others, Schlesinger realized that approximately "85 to 90%" of the value of all the 150+ indices mentioned above could be captured in only 18 index numbers. Over time, they were dubbed the Illustrious 18. This group of index numbers can be used to determine when it is mathematically advantageous for a player to deviate from basic strategy. Although there is an index number for practically every play, most of them either never come into play, or make little difference in your expectation on the hand. The Illustrious 18 are what Schlesinger determined to be the most profitable deviations from basic strategy that a player should learn and utilize. He discusses this topic and many others in his classic book Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pros' Way.

In the remainder of this article I'm going to introduce seven of the Illustrious 18 plays. I'll continue with the remainder in next month's issue of Blackjack Insider. These plays can be incorporated into your play against six- and eight-deck games. In those games TC conversion take on added meaning due to the number of decks involved. Caution: These plays should only be used with the Hi-Lo card counting system and based on the Hi-Lo derived TC...

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