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Card Counting - The Ultimate Equalizer

Beating the casinos is every gambler's goal, but knowing just how to go about it isn't within everybody's grasp. A knack for card counting at the blackjack table can certainly give you an advantage, if the casino isn't quick enough to catch you. Don't think that you need a sophisticated computer or a lightning fast brain for card counting; All you need is to be able to count by ones.

There are many different approaches to card counting, and some are more complicated than others. A simple system can still be effective though, given the right table. Many places in Las Vegas have effectively foiled card counters by reshuffling often, and using such a large number of decks in their shoe. A significant number of strip casinos use auto shufflers, six to eight decks, and replace the discard stack in the shuffler after only about a decks worth of cards have gone through. You can tell how concerned they are about card counting.

The basis of card counting is this. The player position in a standard blackjack game gains an advantage when the deck is short on cards valued 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. When there is a shortage of 9s, 10s and Aces, the player is at a disadvantage. This general knowledge translates roughly into a system if you bet less when you are at a disadvantage, and bet more when you are at an advantage. The reason behind this advantage and disadvantage is rather mathematically complicated, but it's real. For example, blackjacks are more common in a 10, Ace rich deck, which are more helpful for the player than the dealer.

So how do we know when the deck is rich or short on cards? We count! The most common method of counting cards is to assign a value to each card in the deck.

For example, let's say you assign the following values for the following cards.

+1 to cards valued 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
0 to cards valued 7, 8, and 9.
-1 to cards valued 10 and Ace.

Now imagine you are dealt a string of cards, and for each card (starting from 0) you add or subtract the value we just assigned from your 'count'. For the string of cards A, 4, 7, 10, 10, 9, 10, 2, 10, 5 - you should end up with a running count of minus 2. This is you card counting, not as hard as you thought huh?

To utilize this system you need to alter your bet size. A high count with this method indicates an advantage for you, and so the higher the count the higher your chances, and the more you should be betting. For a single deck game you can follow this rough guide:

For a count of 1 or less bet your base amount.
For a count of +2 or +3, bet 2 times your base unit.
For a count of +4 or +5, bet 3 times your base unit.
For a count of +6 or +7, bet 4 times your base unit.
For a count of +8 or more, bet 5 times your base unit.

For multiple deck games you have to calculate a 'true count' from your running count, based on the number of decks that appear to be remaining in the shoe. Divide your running count by the number of decks left and you'll get a true count. This true count can then be used the same way as a running count in a single deck game. Say you have a running count of +6, and there seem to be about 2 decks left, your true count is 6 / 2 or 3. If your true count is three, you should bet 2 times your base amount.

That's card counting in a nutshell. Enjoy playing with this simple system, and after you've mastered it you may want to move onto some more advanced card counting techniques.