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Beating Blackjack with a Simple Plus Minus Count

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The game of casino blackjack can be beaten by using a simple plus minus count. Casinos have known this for fifty years since Edward O. Thorp wrote a book called Beat the Dealer. But the game is still offered because not enough players take the time to learn how to play blackjack very well.

Some players put the time into learning basic strategy for blackjack, and they are able to play almost even with the house. However, to win regularly takes a little more work and practice.

The Count

The basis for card counting is that the house edge changes as cards are removed from a deck of cards. Sometimes the edge is actually in the players' favor. But, the player will always be at a disadvantage to the house, even if they play perfect basic strategy and count cards, if they never vary their bet. To take advantage of their edge, the player must wager more money at the right time.

To keep track of when that right time might be, a simple plus minus count is used. The player uses basic strategy, but also keeps a running total in their head of the "count". As a player sees cards in action, they assign the following numbers and keep a running count. With a new deck or a new shoe, the count will always starts at zero. Remember, if you lose track of your count, just bet a single unit, don't try to guess. If there are plenty of tables around and you are playing a shoe, you can always move to another table.

2, 3, 4, 5, 6 - each of these cards counts as plus 1

Aces and ten cards (tens, jacks, queens and kings) count as minus 1

7, 8, 9 count as zero - just ignore them

For example, on the first hand, the cards on the table are a ten, a 5, a 6, an 8, and an ace. You count minus 1 for the ten, back to even with the five, plus 1 with the six, the eight is zero - so ignore it, and back to even with the ace. Your running count is back to zero. As new cards are revealed you continue the count. Any time the count is a minus number or zero, make a bet of one unit.

When the count is positive, bet more than one unit. By betting more when you have the edge, and less when you don't, you can actually beat the casino at blackjack! Of course you have to practice the count before you ever play for real money!

Practice The Count

On the first hand of a single deck you bet one unit and wait. Here is the run of cards: 6, 4, 2 ace, ten, five, four, six, 9, 8. Your count should be: one, two, three, two, one, two, three, four, four, four (ignore the 7, 8, 9 - they are zero). Now the odds are in your favor, bet two or three units.

Next hand the new cards seen are: ten, 8, 2, ace, ten, 4, ten, ten, 9, ten, 3. Your count should start with four and go three, three, four, three, four, three, two, two, three. The count is still three so you should bet two or three units again.

In a single deck game you will probably get just one more hand. Your work is done and you got to bet more when you had the edge. Whenever the count is negative or even, bet one unit. If you are playing on a shoe game with more than one deck, you will need to convert your running count to a true count before making your next bet.

True Count Conversion

With a shoe, the number of cards still to be used must be factored into your bet. You still only bet one unit with any negative or zero count, but if the deck is positive (any number of +1 or higher), you need to look at the discard rack and guess how many decks have been used, and how many remain in the shoe. With a six-deck shoe, you will divide your running count by 6 at the beginning. If your running count is 12, your true count is 12/6 = 2. If four decks remain, divide 12/4 = 3. If two decks remain, you divide your running count by the two remaining decks: 12/2 = 6.

Yes, you have to keep the running count in your head - and divide the remaining decks by that running count before each bet. It takes some work. The payoff is that depending on the positive running count, you know how much to bet and when to take insurance.

Insurance

Taking insurance is a bad bet if the count is negative, but if the true count is plus 2 or higher, insurance is a good bet. Take it!

How Much to Bet

Unfortunately, casinos don't like to let card counters play. It is perfectly legal to use your brain to bet the house, but they still have the right to bar you from playing in Nevada (but not in Atlantic City and a few other places). The trick is to not be noticed. But you have to vary your bets to make any money - so walk the tightrope!

When the count is positive, you need to bet more than one unit. A simple to remember system is to bet one unit to start, and add a single unit for each 1/2 true count advantage:

  • True Count = 1 Bet 1 unit
  • True Count = 1.5 Bet 2 units
  • True Count = 2 Bet 3 units
  • True Count = 2.5 Bet 4 units
  • True Count = 3 Bet 5 units
  • True Count = 3.5 Bet 6 units
  • True Count = 4 Bet 7 units
  • True Count = 4.5 Bet 8 Units
  • True Count = 5 Bet 9 Units
  • True Count = 5.5 or more you should bet 10 units
  • Don't Get Barred

    Now pit bosses are trained to catch counters, and their main tip-off is players who rarely take insurance (except in positive counts) and who vary their bets. You have to look like the average player. If the count jumps suddenly, don't jump your bet from one unit to 10 units. That's likely to get you barred. Learn some clever cover for your player. Use a parlay when you win and the count increases. You might want to spread to two hands occasionally to help increase your bet. Be smart and you can beat blackjack!

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