Card Counting, a Boring Way to Win
By Dan Pronovost
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.
The Patience Game of Card Counting
Card counting is boring.
There, I said it.
Shock! Dismay! The horror! How can a seasoned blackjack player and provider ofblackjack training software say such a thing! Is the inventor of Speed Count saying we should give up on card counting at blackjack?
No, of course not. But there are times when card counting requires tremendous patience, and this article will help novices deal with the frustrating times at the tables as a card counter when nothing is coming together, and your bankroll bleeds away. I'll try and explain those times when you diligently track the count, playing a losing game with minimum bets, waiting for the juicy high counts indicating that you have the edge. And an empty wallet and hours later, it rarely (or never) came around. If card counting is for real, how can this happen?
"Huh? What is this Card Counting Stuff Anyway?"
A brief review for those unfamiliar with this black art we call Card Counting. Fear not, for the Big Mystery around card counting is actually a myth designed to keep the masses in the dark… the concept is as simple as pie.
While there are many card counting systems out there that legitimately and mathematically give you an edge over the casino (i.e. you can make money playing in the long run), they all come down to the same principle. They track the ratio of big cards (typically tens and aces) versus little cards (like two to six). When there are sufficiently more big cards remaining, you can actually have an edge over the casino (something they don't want you to know, of course). Why? Because you get paid 3 to 2 when you get a blackjack, and with more tens and aces remaining, you stand a better chance to get one. This is why games that pay 6 to 5 on a blackjack can't be beat with card counting, and should be avoided.
Do card counters keep track of every card that is played? No… that way leads to madness (or at least a lighter wallet!). Count systems assign values to the different ranks, and then you simply sum these values together as cards are exposed. The values are typically as simple as +1, zero and -1, but some very advanced systems assign more complicated values (such as 1/2, or +/- 2).
This single sum is called the count, and it is used to determine your edge, if any, over the casino at any point in the shoe. When the count is high enough to indicate that you have the edge, it's time to bet increasingly more money. When it's low, you bet the minimum or none at all. By varying bets to correspond to the count, you can get an overall positive win rate.
That's all there is to card counting. Simple in principle, but surprisingly difficult to master traditional systems without errors when playing live in a casino.
I will pause here to note that the SPMBs (self-proclaimed-masters-of-blackjack) will squawk that I've over simplified card counting, and there is more to it. True, but the above explanation covers the basics, and is 90% of what is involved. Mystery revealed, and proud of it!
The Missing Juicy High Counts
So, you learn to count the cards with any legitimate system, and hit tables ready to make a fortune. No mistakes here… you've practiced at home with good training software (like ours, of course!).
And… the count stays low. Bet after bet, shoe after shoe, the count drifts temptingly up, then down, then up, then tanks. You never get to make the big fat bets that a super high count calls for, because it never happens!
The monotonic flat bet rules the sprawling felt, and your mind dulls with the shear boredom of adding and subtracting those wee numbers over and over. Accountants and bookkeepers probably have more fun.
This happens, because the times where you have the edge over the casino is in the minority. We know that at the start of the deck or shoe, the casino has an edge over us, and sadly the majority of the time it will remain this way.
The only way a card counter can account for this is by betting much more than their minimum bet those few times they have a positive edge.
How uncommon are high counts? This depends on the game and to a small degree the count system. We ran a bunch of simulations in our Blackjack Audit simulator (www.HandheldBlackjack.com) to answer this question. Here are the results with the complete High-Low count system, DAS, S17, and 75% penetration, and assuming we increase our bets only when the High-Low true count reaches +1 or higher.
And now we can understand why card counting can be a drag! We only bet more than one unit in 25% to 30% of the rounds (i.e. the house has the edge over us about 75% of the time) This is especially true in 8- and 6-deck games, which explains why card counters prefer double deck games. They also prefer deeper penetration. In the next table, we only look at the double deck game, but different penetration levels.
Do different count systems impact our decision? Let's see what happens if we use Speed Count in the same situation:
In all cases, you'll bet a non-minimum bet a bit more often with Speed Count (especially double deck games). One of the challenges with a balanced count system like High-Low is that you must convert the running count into a true count. In double deck games, your advantage starts between a true count of zero and one (most High-Low card counters would increase their bets at a true count of zero in our generous double deck example above). But fractional math is hard at the tables, so counters typically pick an integer value as the bet pivot (the value at which we increase our bets).
Speed Count is an unbalanced count system, and no fractional math is required (in fact, we even eliminated on-the-fly subtraction, which is why it's so easy to master). We have a wider range of integer count values to establish our bet pivot, which means we can pin-point our advantage in the shoe and bet more often (albeit with a marginal edge).
The result… more action, more fun, more juice! And every time you're betting more than the minimum with Speed Count, you do indeed have a positive edge. Speed Count is designed for novice gamblers… it's trivial to master, and even gets you making more interesting bets, more often!
Now, all the simplicity of Speed Count does come with a decreased performance (you'll need a bit less than twice the bankroll to generate the same hourly win rate, depending on what you compare it to).
No matter what the game or count system you use, you can expect to be looking at poor counts roughly 70% of the time. This means only 30% of the time can you expect to make anything more than a minimum bet. Now we can see, especially in 6 to 8 deck games, why we need to be patient and wait for the rare high counts. It also helps explain the large bet spreads required to turn the advantage in our favor.
If you find the tedium of waiting for advantage counts difficult, consider using Speed Count, especially in double deck games where its simplicity will let you concentrate on camouflage, avoiding the Pit Boss' unwanted attention. Find out about the Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution! Speed Count book and courses atwww.GoldenTouchBlackjack.com, and about our professional blackjack training software for Windows, Palm OS and Pocket PC at: www.HandheldBlackjack.com.
©2015, DeepNet Technologies. No material to be copied without express permission of DeepNet Technologies.