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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, March 2004, #50

Speed Count vs. High-Low

By Dan Pronovost

 Blackjack Training software for handhelds and Windows

Dan Pronovost is the owner and president of DeepNet Technologies, makers of a wide range of blackjack training products and software. Dan recently released a new e-Book, Blackjack Count Master which uses a series of exercises based on his software to teach readers how to master card-counting in blackjack. Their web site is: www.HandheldBlackjack.com.

What is Speed Count?

As many of our fine readers now know, Henry Tamburin (editor of BJI) and myself (Dan Pronovost, production editor of BJI) teamed up to develop a new card counting system for Blackjack, called Speed Count. The result of two years of intense research and development is a new card counting system, different from anything before, that is many times easier to learn and master compared to popular existing systems. It brings the potential of blackjack card counting to the masses of gamblers who play without a positive edge, or have tried counting and failed.

We have licensed Speed Count exclusively to Golden Touch Blackjack, run by Frank Scoblete and Dom LoRiggio. Speed Count will ONLY be available through the two-day course taught by GTB. Professional instructors, including Henry and Frank, will teach the course (including myself, from time to time), with hands-on training sessions at practice tables. You will not just learn about Speed Count: you will learn to master it so you can play it accurately in live play at the casino.

Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of buzz about Speed Count. Since the system is 'hush-hush', with few details revealed, there are a lot of skeptics and doubters! Fair enough... this article gives as much information as we can on Speed Count, providing some important simulation performance metrics in comparison to other card counting systems.

Hopefully this article will provide the solid data to help our readers understand the simplicity and power of Speed Count. But if you still have questions, you can e-mail us at questions@bjinsider.com. We are posting all current and new material on Speed Count at a dedicated BJI web site page: www.bjinsider.com/speedcount.shtml.

Why Develop Speed Count?

From years of selling blackjack training software and working with blackjack players, I've learned that the hardest skill to master to become a proficient blackjack card counter is keeping track of the running count as cards are dealt. Adding and subtracting 'on-the-fly' sounds easy, until you're chasing a modest to fast dealer at a full table, and dealing with negative integer arithmetic! Although you may think you're accurately tracking the count, even small errors can be costly and cause the slim advantage you've gained to turn into a loss. If you're not betting properly with the advantage because you've tracked the count wrong, then you are most likely playing at a loss without knowing it.

Speed Count was designed from scratch to remove this barrier, and many more. There's no on-the-fly subtraction, no negative integer arithmetic, no multiplication, no division, no estimating decks or shoes dealt or remaining, and players track 1/2 or less information of other count systems such as High-Low or Knock-Out. By leveraging some consistent mathematical properties unique to blackjack, you can have a system that only takes a few hours to master, virtually eliminates count errors, yet delivers most of the advantage possible with popular count systems.

As such, Speed Count requires far less player attention during blackjack rounds. This allows players to concentrate more on camouflage: talking to other players, observing the pit bosses and casino environment, and generally appearing as a more average gambler. Speed Count is not as taxing on players as more advanced systems such as High-Low and Knock-Out, and lessens personal exhaustion factors after long play sessions.

Speed Count is for average blackjack players who have been leery of learning card counting, or who have tried already and failed. It's easy to learn and use, yet delivers most of the advantage of good count systems. For expert players already playing a high-end system well without errors, Speed Count will not provide further advantage, but could provide good cover since the casinos will not be familiar with it's different characteristics and playing strategy.

The Golden Touch Blackjack Course, the exclusive licensee of Speed Count, provides detailed training, including actual table playing time to make sure players master the system. Until now, no effective blackjack card counting system has been easy enough to learn that it could be mastered in a two-day seminar. Our goal is to help average blackjack players become advantage players, rather than flood the shelves with yet another book about blackjack. For those interested in the course, visit the Golden Touch web site (www.GoldenTouchCraps.com).

Is Speed Count a 'Real' Card Counting System?

Speed Count is not a 'fake' system, using progression betting or any other blackjack voodoo that is commonly popularized. It is a card counting system, in that the player tracks certain concrete and non-subjective information as the hands are played. This information is used to maintain the 'speed count', which ultimately determines how you play.

As an objective and real card counting system, it is possible to measure it's performance through software simulation. But Speed Count uses unique properties of blackjack not yet leveraged in any existing card counting system. As such, no existing publicly available simulator can model Speed Count. To deal with this, my company modified it's own blackjack simulator, Blackjack Audit, to implement the Speed Count method. This allowed us to develop performance data, and fine tune the system over the last two years. This article includes some of these results.

How Well Does Speed Count work?

Speed Count delivers about 75% percent of the performance advantage of popular count systems such as High-Low (without play indices), depending on the game and rules. We've completed exhaustive computer simulations to back up the power of Speed Count. We've even made sure we compared Speed Count fairly by adjusting the bet spreads so that the metrics of the systems were comparable (for the statisticians out there, we adjusted the bet spreads to ensure that the average bet size and standard deviation were very close).

Included below is some simulation data from Blackjack Audit for a couple popular blackjack games. We ran 100 million rounds of blackjack for each entry in the table below. Here is a summary of the two games we simulated:

Game #1

    • 6 decks, DAS (double after splits allowed), S17 (dealer stands on soft 17)
    • 75% penetration (3/4 of shoe dealt)
    • $5 unit bet size
    • 6 players at the table, card counter at first base
    • no re-splitting aces, maximum of two splits (3 hands), no surrender
    • American hole card rules (peak on 10 and ace), blackjack pays 3 to 2

Game #2

    • 2 decks, DAS, H17 (dealer hits soft 17)
    • 67% penetration (2/3 of cards dealt)
    • $5 unit bet size
    • 1 player at the table (head-to-head play)
    • allow re-splitting of aces, no hitting split aces
    • maximum of two splits (3 hands), no surrender
    • American hole card rules (peak on 10 and ace), blackjack pays 3 to 2

In the tables, we show four simulation metrics for each system entry:

    • Win rate: the average profit in bet units per round. This factors in all bets made in the system (splits, doubles, and insurance). Multiply by 500 ($5 unit bet size, 100 hands per hour) to get the expected win rate in dollars per hour.
    • Average bet size: the average total bet size per round, in dollars. This includes all bets made in the system (splits, doubles and insurance).
    • Standard deviation: this is the square root of the variance, in bet units. This value is a reflection of the risk (or variation) in profit from round to round. A higher value means the system will result in more fluctuations in your round-to-round bankroll.
    • Expectation: this is average percentage profit a player can expect from each bet made with the system: players can multiply this percentage by and (and all) bets made, to get the average return they can expect to see. For our simulations, it is calculated as the total profit made across all rounds, divided by the sum of all wagers made. All bets made are included, such as splits, doubles, and insurance.

We compared Speed Count to the High-Low count system in a few different configurations:

1) Speed Count - Regular

    • This is our basic Speed Count system, which uses a 'flat' consistent play strategy (i.e. no index plays), but varies the bets according to the player advantage.
    • The system uses an Optimal Basic Strategy, which is tuned for maximum player advantage (i.e. for card counters not using play indices). Hal Marcus developed and proved the concept of OBS, and developed his own CBS (counter's basic strategy) on this principle (see Blackjack Strategy Cards, available in the BJI web store). OBS is an excellent replacement for play indices, and Hal shows that it provides up to 90% of the added player advantage of common index subsets such as the 'Fabulous 18', as recommended by Don Schlesinger ("author of "Blackjack Attack"). Further information is available in a recent article written by Hal Marcus for "Blackjack Forum" magazine Winter 2003/2004, entitled "Counter Basic Strategy - Is It For You".
    • The bet spreads in 'Speed Count - Regular' are set to provide similar performance metrics to common High-Low bet spreads (see below).
    • · 'Speed Count - Regular' does not use any insurance play indices (insurance is always declined).

2) High-Low - Regular

    • No index plays and always declining insurance.
    • We used normal basic strategy for the matching game and number of decks. The exact strategies used are available online at: www.bjinsider.com/hlsim.shtml.
    • We calculated the High-Low true by dividing the run count by the number of decks remaining, round up (by whole decks). This value was then truncated to yield the true count for the purpose of determining the bet, insurance, etc. This 'conservative' approach is commonly used by gamblers, but it should be noted that it tends to lower the performance of High-Low in double deck games, compared to computing the true count exactly with full division. Exact true count calculation is fine for computer simulations, but impractical for actual human players. Since we are comparing systems that are to be played by real gamblers, we are using the more practical 'conservative' High-Low true count calculation. Using exact true count, or dividing by half or quarter decks remaining, further complicates the High-Low count system, making for an unfair comparison to the simplicity of Speed Count.
    • We used the following bet spreads:

# decks

True Count

< 0

>= 0

>= 1

>= 2

>= 3

2

1

2

4

4

4

6

1

1

2

4

8

Table 1: High-Low - Regular bet spreads

3) Speed Count - Aggressive

    • This is the same as 'Speed Count - Regular', except that it adds an insurance play index, a higher bet spread, 'wonging' (not playing when the player advantage is very low), and hand spreading (playing more than one hand when the player advantage is high). We 'wonged' to sit out about 6% to 9% of the poor advantage rounds, and 'hand spread' to 2 or 3 hands at higher player advantage rounds about 6% to 9% of the time.
    • Although the player expectation is higher, it does so at the cost of increased standard deviation and average player bet size. This means that the player using Speed Count Aggressive will have greater risk and need a higher bankroll.

4) High-Low - Aggressive

    • This is the same as 'High-Low Regular', except that it adds insurance, a higher bet spread, wonging, and hand spreading. The following table shows the exact values:

# decks

True Count

True Count

< 0

>= 0

>= 1

>= 2

>= 3

>= 4

Ins.

Wong

2 hands

3 hands

2

1

2

3

4

5

5

2.5

-5

3

7

6

1

1

3

6

10

12

3

-4

2

4

Table 2: High-Low Aggressive bet spreads and values

    • The wonging and hand spreading values were set to have similar corresponding distributions as with 'Speed Count - Aggressive' (i.e. the same 6% to 9% occurrence rate as with Speed Count Aggressive, for two and six decks). But it should be noted that the addition of wonging and hand spreading creates significant performance differences in the respective systems, since the skipped and spread hands proportions are only approximately the same.

5) High-Low Aggressive with Illustrious 18

    • This is the same as #4, but with the corresponding ' Illustrious 18' play indices for High-Low added. The exact play indices used are available online at: www.bjinsider.com/hlsim.shtml.
    • Speed Count does not use play indices, so that it is as simple to use as possible, and does not lead to additional player errors. But, it does use Optimal Basic Strategy, which is tuned for maximal player advantage when card counting with Speed Count. As such, some people may feel it is more fair to compare to High-Low with the 'Illustrious 18' play indices, as is shown here.

6) Speed Count - Regular, adjusted

    • This is the same as 'Speed Count - Regular', but with an adjusted bet spread to provide comparable standard deviation and average bet size as #7. This allows for a direct and fair comparison of the player expectations for each game.
    • The aggressive strategies (wonging, hand spreading, and insurance) were excluded in #6, #7, and #8 to simplify the comparisons and ensure no unexpected performance variables that could result from these more complicated strategies.

7) High-Low - Regular, adjusted

    • This is the same as #2, but with an adjusted bet spread to provide comparable standard deviation and average bet size as #6. This allows for a direct and fair comparison of the player expectations for each game.
    • The exact bet spreads used are available online at: www.bjinsider.com/hlsim.shtml

8) High-Low - Regular, Illustrious 18, adjusted

    • This is the same as #2, but with the Illustrious 18 play indices added from #5, and an adjusted bet spread to provide comparable standard deviation and average bet size as #6. This allows for a direct and fair comparison of the player expectations for each game.
    • Note that this system uses play indices, while Speed Count does not and is easier to master because of it. Whether you consider #7 or #8 the more fair comparison is up to you!

System

Game #1: 6D/DAS/S17

Game #2: 2D/DAS/H17

win rate

avg. bet

SD.

exp.

win rate

Avg. bet

SD.

exp.

1) Speed Count (SC) - Regular

0.0079

$12.50

3.811

0.316%

0.0079

$11.43

2.779

0.344%

2) High-Low (HL) Regular

0.0076

$10.08

2.913

0.377%

0.0109

$12.49

2.935

0.435%

3) SC - Aggressive

0.0320

$20.59

7.366

0.777%

0.0233

$14.47

3.760

0.806%

4) HL - Aggressive

0.0426

$20.26

6.926

1.051%

0.0255

$13.26

3.696

0.851%

5) HL - Agg., with Illus.18

0.0494

$20.71

7.223

1.192%

0.0316

$13.41

3.816

1.040%

6) SC - Reg., adjusted

0.0066

$11.38

3.415

0.289%

0.0074

$11.57

2.760

0.320%

7) HL - Reg., adjusted

0.0094

$11.52

3.319

0.410%

0.0077

$11.64

2.694

0.331%

8) HL - Reg./Illus.18, adjusted

0.0129

$11.69

3.392

0.551%

0.0113

$11.75

2.733

0.482%

A) % difference: 1 - (7 - 6)/ 7

SC vs. HL: 6 deck

70.49%

SC vs. HL: 2 deck

96.68%

B) % difference: 1 - (8 - 6)/ 8

SC vs. HL/Illus. 18: 6 deck

52.45%

SC vs. HL/Illus. 18: 2 deck

66.39%

Table 3: Speed Count performance comparisons

Performance Analysis

The last two rows of the table shows the comparative performance of Speed Count to High-Low (rows A and B). Depending on the game, Speed Count is about 75% as effective as High-Low without play indices. Speed Count performs very well in particular with double deck games.

Optimal bet spreads... added 05/06/2005

We need to address another criticism raised: that we did not use an optimal bet spread in our comparison, since our method meant 'fudging' the bet ramp (but not the bet range, which was kept the same). To address this point, we need to explain a few more mathematical aspects of blackjack for our novice readers…

All card counting systems that actually work, whether they are balanced like High-Low or unbalanced like Knock-Out, have a bet pivot point. This is a value for the tracking metric under which the count system is saying the casino has the statistical advantage, and over which the player has the advantage. The simplicity of card counting is that all functional count systems simply have you bet more above the pivot, and less below it.

Simulations and math have shown that this solid foundation of card counting is valid and correct: either the house or the player has the edge depending on the distribution of cards remaining in the shoe or pack, and count system to varying degrees attempt to measure this advantage, and bet accordingly.

The ideal bet pivot value is highly dependent on the count system, and may also vary with the game, rules, bet spread, and other factors. In the above High-Low computer analysis, we used the following bet spreads:

# decks

True Count

< 0

>= 0

>= 1

>= 2

>= 3

2

1

2

4

4

4

6

1

1

2

4

8

These bet spreads (1 to 4 for double deck, and 1 to 8 for six deck) were chosen since they represent rational spreads that casinos will tolerate, and are used in practice by many advantage players. Again, our analysis was intended to be understandable by novice players. We did not want to confuse the issue with bet spreads that were not reasonable or attainable in practice. The table above is based roughly on the spreads published in Wong's Professional Blackjack (pg. 18, benchmark rules), and other popular references to High-Low such as Blackjack: Take the Money and Run by Henry Tamburin.

The table above implies a bet pivot at a true count of one for the six deck game, and zero for the double deck game. But are these in fact the correct bet pivots for High-Low? We will not be maximizing our advantage if we increase our bet below the bet pivot. Interestingly, it turns out, the actual best bet pivot for High-Low is between zero and one for the double deck game, raising the question of whether betting 2 units 'off the top' is in fact best.

Novice players often see this problem, since they know you don't have an advantage at the start of a shoe or pack, yet the above bet spread calls for betting two units. The problem is that High-Low requires division and rounding (or truncation) to determine the true count, since calculating the exact true count in a casino in your head is not practical. So, unless you are a human calculator, you have to choose either zero or one as the bet pivot and use this as the true count at which you increase from your minimum bet.

We ran simulations in the double deck game with High-Low (no play indices) and a bet spread that jumps to two units at a true count of one (instead of zero), and it does turn out to perform better. We didn't do that in our original published comparison, but let's do it now:

System

Game #1: 6D/DAS/S17

Game #2: 2D/DAS/H17 (pivot=TC1)

win rate

avg. bet

SD.

exp.

win rate

Avg. bet

SD.

exp.

6) SC - Reg., adjusted

0.0066

$11.38

3.415

0.289%

0.0058

$9.81

2.31

0.2951%

7) HL - Reg., adjusted

0.0094

$11.52

3.319

0.410%

0.0075

$9.51

2.33

0.3947%

A) % difference: 1 - (7 - 6)/ 7

SC vs. HL: 6 deck

70.49%

SC vs. HL: 2 deck

74.77%

So, a better and more fair summary of Speed Count would be to say it is about 75% as effective as High-Low, without indices.

Has Anyone Else Reviewed or Tested Speed Count?

Yes. Immediately after announcing the Golden Touch Blackjack course, we started the process of getting independent reviews of Speed Count. Each reviewer was given a reviewer's kit, that included a complete description of Speed Count, a background into it's development and mathematics, and all of our simulation data. Here is what some of our reviewers have said. Reviewers were free to say or write whatever they wanted about Speed Count, but required by agreement to not disclose any functional or operational details about the system.

Review by Dr. Catlin

We asked Dr. Don Catlin, an independent gaming industry consultant and professor of Mathematics at University of Massachusetts, to review Speed Count. Mr. Catlin used his own blackjack simulator software to test Speed Count and verify our performance data. Here are his comments:

Comments by Dr. Don Catlin:

"Speed Count is the easiest card counting system I have encountered. I designed and ran a simulation of the Regular Speed Count using a 6 deck Blackjack game with doubling after splitting, dealer hits the soft 17, late surrender, split up to three times (total of four hands), Aces are split once and receive one card each. My result was that the players edge per game was 1.014% and was 0.33% per unit wagered; this was based on 1 billion hands."

Notes: We ran identical simulations in Blackjack Audit as a benchmark to compare against Dr. Catlin's work. The exact benchmark game was: six decks, DAS, H17, 75% penetration, no re-splitting aces, one card draw to split aces, max three splits, no insurance ('regular' Speed Count, without insurance, wonging, hand spreading, or higher bet spread). With a one billion round simulation in Audit, the identical game generated a player edge (total profit divided by sum of all wager) of 0.3364%. Hence, the difference from Dr. Catlin's simulation was only 0.0064% (1.9% difference) in player expectation. This independent analysis based on completely different simulation software provides further evidence supporting the Speed Count card counting system.

Dr. Catlin has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.A. in Mathematics, both from Penn State University. He has have a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Florida. He was a Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Massachusetts from 1965 to 2001. Since 1995 he has been involved in gaming analysis and writes the monthly mathematics column for the web site www.scoblete.com. In September of last year he published a soft cover book entitled The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers.

Review by Michael Shackleford:

Here are the official comments from Michael Shackleford, who runs the blackjack portal www.WizardofOdds.com:

Comments by Michael Shackleford:

"The authors of Speed Count were kind enough to share their strategy with me. While I can't explain the concept in detail I can say it bridges the jump from basic strategy to conventional card counting. Speed Count is appropriate for the basic strategy player who wishes to gain an advantage with less effort than conventional hi-low card counting. Built in camouflage I believe will help the Speed Counter confuse counter-catchers and thus buy more bet variation. That will roughly compensate for lost accuracy relative to a hi-low count. Although I have not personally verified the claims of Speed Count I have looked at simulation results provided to me by Dan Pronovost and believe they are trustworthy. So if you are a basic strategy player ready to take the next step, or have tried a hi-low count and found it too difficult, then the Speed Count may be just what you're looking for to start winning at blackjack."

 

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