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By Hal Marcus


Hal Markus developed the popular Blackjack 6-7-8 Basic Strategy Cards, which includes the unique counter basic playing strategy, and the new Poker 6򊐠 Hold扙m Strategy Cards. For more details on these strategy cards, including a 10% discount for Blackjack Insider subscribers, click here.


In the September 2003 issue of Blackjack Insider, I discussed Counter Basic Strategy in the article Counter Basic Strategy Increase Your Edge At Blackjack. Let me review the essence of that article. After learning the rules of blackjack, Basic Strategy should be mastered prior to playing for real money. Basic Strategy provides the best playing decision, given your two cards and the dealer抯 upcard. No regard is given to which cards have been played and the composition of the undealt cards. To become an advantage blackjack player, the next step is to learn a card counting method. The purpose of counting cards is to know when to raise or lower your bet, and by how much. As the proportion of cards remaining to be dealt contains more tens and aces than normal, you raise your bet. With a surplus of tens and aces in the undealt portion of the shoe, your chance of getting a blackjack, and thus being paid 3 to 2 on your bet (not 6 to 5 please avoid those blackjack tables that pay 6 to 5 on naturals), increases. Thus you want to have more money out on the felt when the count is high to take advantage of the greater than normal chance of getting a blackjack.

So far, you抮e playing Basic Strategy for your playing decisions and using the count to determine how much to bet. Enter Counter Basic Strategy. When you vary your bet based on the count, it turns out there is a more optimal playing strategy than Basic Strategy. The reason for this is because on average, you抮e betting more than your minimum bet. For example, if your bet range is $5 to $80, your minimum bet is $5 (you would bet this after a shuffle and whenever the count is zero or less and perhaps also when the count = 1), and your average bet is likely close to $10. Counter Basic Strategy provides a revised Basic Strategy to increase your win rate by 12-20% compared to counting cards and varying your bet and using the regular Basic Strategy for your playing decisions.

Here are two examples. When you have 16 v. 10, and you抮e not allowed to surrender (either because your table does not permit surrender or you have three or more cards), Basic Strategy says to hit. But Counter Basic Strategy says to stand because you will win more (or lose less) money by doing so. Another example is with 9 v. 2 in a shoe game, such as 6 decks. Basic Strategy says to hit while Counter Basic Strategy directs you to double down.

As seen from the above, Counter Basic Strategy, when used by those players who vary their bet based on the count, increases your win rate when compared to card counting used with regular Basic Strategy. This expected improvement in win rate is based on the results of computer simulation. Counter Basic Strategy contains the potential to help your bottom line in another, very significant way: longevity. By this I mean that Counter Basic Strategy can pave the way for you to play longer at a particular table, pit, or casino due to its inherent camouflage.

Some players deviate from Basic Strategy depending on the count. For example, in using Don Schlesinger抯 Illustrious 18, when the count is >= 0, you would stand on 16 v. 10 instead of hitting. But as casino surveillance has advanced to the point of being able to detect when a player correctly deviates from Basic Strategy, the length of your session needs to be reduced if you want to avoid detection as an advantage player. If you sometimes hit 16 v. 10 and at other times stand on 16 v. 10, the casino may suspect that you are varying your strategy based on the count, which would lead to the natural concern that you are also varying your bets based on the count. To the casino this is a double whammy, making you a very undesirable player. Should the casino believe that you play with an advantage, you may be barred from playing blackjack at that casino and its entire sister properties.

In theory, with Counter Basic Strategy, since for quite a few playing decisions (15 decisions for 6-deck), you always deviate from Basic Strategy regardless of the count, it may take casino surveillance longer to conclude that you are a skilled player. This should reduce the chance of getting barred. In addition, your table sessions can be longer, and you may have a higher dollar expectation per casino visit compared to using a Count Index Playing Strategy. If you were to play a 45 minute session using a Count Index Playing Strategy, you only need to be able to extend the session to 50-60 minutes when using Counter Basic Strategy to have the same expected win. Much more significantly, the casino may actually stop observing your play altogether because your consistent deviations from Basic Strategy may cause the pit personnel to believe you are a poor Basic Strategy player, thus giving you much greater longevity at the tables than the typical card counter. Instead of simply being viewed as not a threat to the casino抯 bottom line, you may be considered a desirable player whereby the casino extends its appreciation of your play via generous comps.

Here抯 where the real world test comes in. A friend of mine (call him Tim) recently (in the year 2005) played blackjack using Counter Basic Strategy at the Las Vegas Strip casino where he was also staying. Tim played at a 6-deck shoe betting from $25 to $400 per hand, depending on the count. In the first 20 minutes of play, Tim noticed the pit boss observing his play, yet he still placed bets according to the count. Tim did not deploy some of the classic camouflage techniques, such as never raising your bet more than twice your previous bet or not dropping your bet by more than half of your prior bet. He simply used Counter Basic Strategy, which has about 15 playing strategy deviations from regular Basic Strategy. After about 20 minutes, the casino seemed to be convinced that Tim was not an advantage player, and the pit personnel ignored him.

The next day Tim returned to the same casino and played with the same strategy: he varied his bet from $25 to $400 per hand based on the count and used Counter Basic Strategy for all of his playing decisions. And yes, he took insurance when the count was at that level where you should take insurance. The difference in his second day of play from his first is that Tim played at the same table for about three straight hours! Card counters are usually warned not to play at the same table or even the same pit area for anywhere near this length of time. But Tim felt confident that there was no heat and minimal observation of his play.

Conclusion. If you count cards, use Counter Basic Strategy instead of Basic Strategy to win more money. Using Counter Basic Strategy also provides the opportunity to increase the time of your playing sessions because of its camouflage potential. The camouflage characteristic of Counter Basic Strategy also gives you the chance to do just as well, and due to longevity at the table, perhaps much better than you would with a Count Index Playing Strategy. Although Tim executed advantage play for 3 hours at the same table, I would encourage you to take a brief stroll and then move to a different table (in a large casino, move to a different pit area) after 1.5 to 2 hours of play using Counter Basic Strategy. In addition, don抰 play blackjack where you stay (unless you抮e just playing for comps with no more than a 3 to 1 bet ratio as opposed to the 16 to 1 bet ratio Tim used) just in case your use of Counter Basic Strategy doesn抰 fool the casino you don抰 want a visit from security at 3 am telling you that you must leave the premises immediately since you have worn out your welcome. Tim made two mistakes: 1) he played where he stayed; and 2) he played at the same table for too long. Apparently by using Counter Basic Strategy, Tim came across as a typical casino gambler which allowed him to commit these two classic card counter mistakes without any negative consequences.


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