The History of Speed Count
Dan Pronovost is the owner and president ofDeepNet Technologies, makers of a wide range of advantage gambling training products and software (blackjack, poker, craps). Their web site is: www.DeepnetTech.com, and all products are available for free trial download. Dan is also the creator of the easy-to-use card counting system Speed Count, taught in the Golden Touch Blackjack courses for two years and now available in the Frank Scoblete's new book, "Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution!": www.GoldenTouchBlackjack.com/scbook.shtml.
Wouldn't it be great if…
"There must be an easier way for everyday average gamblers to learn to count cards in blackjack and get an edge over the casino… what do you think Dan?"
This innocent question from Henry Tamburin in December 2002 led me to design Speed Count, a new blackjack card counting system unlike anything previously available.
This article is an introduction to Speed Count, a brief story of its development and why it’s the easiest proven method for average players to use to get a positive edge in blackjack. Speed Count has been a complete secret until now, so this article is your chance to finally learn about it! Enjoy!
So back to the end of 2002… Henry and I had been working together to publish the Blackjack Insider eNewsletter, and we found a ton of common ground when it came to blackjack instruction. We had taught many students different card counting systems including the popular Knock-Out and High-Low. And we both felt exactly the same way about learning proper card counting techniques in blackjack: it was too hard for the majority of average gamblers to master . No matter how we taught students, or what system we used, only a small percentage of gamblers had the skill and dedication to master card counting sufficiently to a level to get a good positive edge in the game. Despite the plethora of blackjack books, and even good blackjack training software (such as my own, www.HandheldBlackjack.com), it still takes most individuals 40 to 80 hours to master High-Low, or even Knock-Out (which removed the complexity of true count calculation). We both frequently encountered well-intentioned students who failed to master the techniques required for live play, even with diligent practice.
Why traditional card counting is easy
"You took a course to learn to count cards in blackjack?!
There are more books on card counting in blackjack than sex (at least on my bookshelf). The days in the 70s when card counting was a 'black-art' and the dominion of SPMBs (self-proclaimed-masters-of-blackjack) ended a long time ago.
But the books say card counting is easy, isn’t it? Just track the count: add and subtract some numbers as the cards come out, and this single count metric is all you need to win, and the computer simulations prove it! Bet more when the count is high and you have the advantage, and bet less otherwise. Now go forth and multiply… your bankroll! What could be easier?
Why traditional card counting is hard
"If card counting is so easy and works, wouldn't
Riding a unicycle is easy. Just climb on and peddle! And so the same thing with card counting (at least prior to Speed Count).
I get the question above from a lot novices (usually at parties when non-gamblers ask me what I do for living). The easy answer is that while the concept of card counting is incredibly simple, mastering the method is surprisingly difficult. And it's precisely because of this fact that many players who dabble in card counting end up losers at the tables. They think they are card counting like a pro ("It's so simple!"), when in reality their error rates are high enough to wipe out their edge and put a smile on the pit bosses’ faces.
From years of experience teaching students, Henry and I knew exactly what the 'hard part' of card counting was: adding and subtracting the card count values accurately as the dealer dealt a medium to fast paced blackjack game. All effective card counting systems to date required both addition and subtraction, and it was stopping average players dead in their tracks even with simple level one systems (just adding and subtracting one). The Knock-Out card counting system by Vancura and Fuchs improved the challenge of mastering card counting by eliminating true count calculations (and having to deal with negative integers), but it turned out this was one of the easiest skills to teach! Converting the run count to true count meant dividing by the number of decks remaining, which is something you have plenty of time to do: before a bet, and occasionally before a play decision. Asking the dealer to stop dealing so you can add up the run count is not an option.
No, the hard part was the constant up and down of the count as the dealer whipped out the cards across the felt. Errors creep in, and before you knew it average Joes are betting on 'instinct' of what the count was. Thinking that you are tracking the count, and knowing the exact count are two different things.
Getting rid of subtraction and division
"So how do you get rid of subtraction when counting cards in blackjack?"
I had known about a little discussed fact-of-blackjack for many years, from studying thousands of computer simulations from Blackjack Audit, my own company's software simulator.
This is the average number of cards dealt per hand of blackjack, when you include all hands played (player and dealer). I had always been surprised how constant this number was… it varies little across different games. More decks, less decks, DAS, noDAS, S17/H17: it didn't really matter.
So what, you may ask? Time for another number:
5 / 13
This is the ratio of 'little' cards dealt out on average… the 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 cards (there are 20 of them per deck of 52 cards, which equates to the ratio of 5/13). Now… multiply the two numbers:
2.7 * 5 / 13 = 1.038
Still don't get it? Ask yourself this: how many 'little' cards should come out on average per hand of blackjack played? 1.038… a little over one little card per hand played!
And herein lies the secret 'trick' of Speed Count: you can eliminate 'on the fly' subtraction, the killer skill of traditional card counting systems, by instead tracking (ie. adding) only the little cards played per hand.
So how does Speed Count work in practice? Add one to the count every time a little card is dealt (to a player or dealer hand). At the end of the round, when you have plenty of time to think before you place your next bet, you subtract one for each hand dealt (don't forget the split hands too). As the count gets higher, there are more non-little cards remaining, and this equates to a positive player edge (more on this later). That's it!
The devil is in the details
"Sounds simple… but does it really work?"
Speed Count is not the first super-simple card counting system to hit the casino tables. Most expert blackjack authors include some system, along the line of "A Really Lame-Ass Method for Ploppies Who Are Too Stupid to Learn the Card Counting System I Got Rich Using". Track only the aces and fives, fudge a count and bet only half way through the deck… there are many 'methods' out there. But the positive edge with existing 'simple' count systems, if any, is slim indeed. The cost of simplicity was just too high with anything prior to Speed Count.
When I started my research to develop an easier count system that could be learned by average players in minutes instead of months, I experimented with many different ideas. While the mathematical blackjack logic above is great, turning it into a working count system is another matter. I started by tracking the big cards played (10 valued cards and aces), which seemed the obvious approach. Oddly, this failed to produce a positive player edge (my computers ran endless simulations for days in this quest for a Better Count System!). The reason is complicated, and we cover it in detail in the Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution! book. But here is the summary:
Unlike High-Low, Speed Count is an unbalanced count system similar in mathematical properties to other unbalanced count systems (like Knock-Out). This means that the counting metric does not directly reflect your edge in the game, and the count tends to 'drift' upwards as the cards are played out. The latter property is essential in successful unbalanced count systems, and ideally the final average resting count (given an average penetration) should be close to the bet pivot. The bet pivot should be the count at which you have an edge, and good unbalanced counts should show a nice linear relationship to count and edge. The following graph shows this relationship very nicely with Speed Count.
Since we haven't actually told you the exact Speed Count method (sorry folks… you gotta buy the book or software for that), you may wonder about the odd count numbers along the bottom of the chart. We established a different initial run count (IRC) after the shuffle for different number of decks so that the player's positive edge always begins at a run count of 31. You can see this transition from a negative (losing money) to positive expectation (winning money) in the above chart between a Speed Count of 30 and 31 in a 2 deck game (where the IRC is 30). By the way, we chose these high IRC numbers to make sure players never had to deal with negative count numbers in practice.
If you count the high cards (instead of the low cards), the edge does not drift in the right direction, nor do you get the nice correlation of edge to count. Even if you invert the count meaning, and treat low counts as higher edge (as would be expected if counting the tens and aces), things do not work out well. The main reason is that when there are many tens and aces, the average number of counted cards per hand is no longer as high as 2.7, and the 'trick' we depend on to make Speed Count work begins to fail. Ultimately, the correlation between the low cards and average number of cards per hand is stronger when counting 2 to 6, instead of 10s and aces, since high valued hands (from 17 to 21, for example) will tend to have very few cards (and the reverse is less true with low cards).
I tried other wrinkles and twists, but in the end what worked best was simply tracking the little cards played per hand, with no exceptions. Card counting system developers look for two important characteristics when developing new methods: a nice linear correlation to count and increasing edge as shown above, and a histogram of counts centered on or near the bet pivot:
As shown above, we see that most hands occur at a count of 30 (the initial run count for a two deck game in Speed Count), with a nice bell curve on both sides.
There's a lot more to the development of Speed Count. For example, I developed the Optimal Basic Strategy (OBS), a variation on normal fixed plays that generates most of the potential advantage of index plays without the inevitable errors average players make with them ("when the true count hits +1 should I hit hard 16 versus 10, or is it the other way around?"). Another mountain of simulations went into tuning OBS specifically for Speed Counters and the recommended bet spreads. Frank Scoblete covers all this nicely in the new book, Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution! so the curious are directed to it. The book also includes the results of the simulation data for just about every blackjack game you can imagine, showing the fantastic positive edge you get with Speed Count.
"So, why publish a book on Speed Count
Once the simulation dust had settled on all my Speed Count development, Frank, Henry and I realized what a gem we had, and decided a private course was the best way to proceed since we can control the learning environment and give hands-on training to students. Even with a simple system like Speed Count, most average players would benefit from the hands-on training ina simulated casino environment (blackjack tables and dealers). It still takes time and practice to master good advantage blackjack skills (including bankroll management, game selection, exit and insurance strategies, and camouflage strategies), and we felt the best approach was a customized two-day course taught by the best popular blackjack experts, who have over 50 years combined experience as advantage players and teachers: Frank Scoblete and Henry Tamburin. The course was a great success to boot and you can read the student feedback that we received on our web site www.goldentouchblackjack.com.!
But from the start, I warned Henry and Frank that someone else was bound to stumble on this gem of an idea eventually. While it does take a lot of time to refine the concept and develop a proven system, the basic mathematical principle is not rocket science (remember, the concept of all card counting systems is very simple).
It took a few years, but indeed the cat is out of the bag it seems and Speed Count and Speed Count clones have gone public. So after much deliberation a decision was made to publish Speed Count in a book for the masses before someone else did. And who better to write the book than Frank Scoblete, the world's #1 best-selling gaming author? And so the Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution! book was born.
Will Speed Count change the world of blackjack (for better or worse)? I doubt it… my experience is that most people who gamble are gamblers. Card counting is boring, and takes away the excitement of uncontrolled betting which most regular gamblers seem to enjoy. As a mathematician, I get my kicks knowing that I'm playing with a positive edge, not from the groovy vibes of a wild gambling ride (ok, I do admit card counting and winning combined is no doubt the unbeatable combination). Casinos could probably have a bill board with the count and best play displayed, and people would still double that hard 12, or let winnings ride despite low counts, and otherwise play to gamble, instead of playing to win.
But for those astute players who want to play with a positive edge, there is finally a mathematically proven method that takes very little time to master compared to traditional counting systems yet allows the average player to finally play with a positive, rather than a negative expectation. Yes, you can make more money with less bankroll risk with a system like High-Low, but very few people will take the time to master it properly, if they can do so at all.
You can be a winner with Speed Count, the easiest way to beat the casino at blackjack!
To purchase the book online:
Speed Count is also available in our professional blackjack training software for Windows, Palm OS and Pocket PC:http://www.HandheldBlackjack.com/scbundles.shtml
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