Accurate card counting will give you about a 1% long-term edge over the casino in most games. It does not guarantee that you will win every time you play blackjack. In fact 95% of the time a counter with a 1% edge playing 5000 hands of blackjack with an average bet of $10 most likely will wind up somewhere between a gain of $2,260 and a loss of $1,140 or any amount in between (even though his expectation is to win $500). The point is that card counters experience fluctuations in their bankroll over the short term and sustain losing sessions even though they have the long-term edge. These swings are normal and to be expected. Because they may go for long periods of time without winning, it is extremely important that they have enough bankroll to sustain them during these inevitable losing streaks. How much is enough? I use the Blackjack Audit software from Deepnet Technologies to determine exactly the amount of session bankroll I need to keep my risk-of-ruin to 5% or less (you can download a sample copy of the program at www.handheldblackjack.com). A quick and dirty guide is to have about 125 times your maximum bet. That’s a $2500 bankroll for a typical low rolling counter that spreads from $5 to $20 maximum bet. If you bet more, then you’re bankroll requirements should be more. Use the program to give you the correct bankroll requirement.
It will take you about 100-150 hours of practice at home to become proficient at counting cards (you must be able to count down a single deck accurately in less than 30 seconds). Then you’ve got to learn to count in a casino environment, which is not the same thing as the kitchen table. There are however, blackjack software programs that will drill you on your card counting skills. These programs can cut down on the time required to learn how to count accurately (I recommend several at www.handheldblackjack.com).
Most casinos use multiple decks of cards rather than a single deck of cards. Card counters must adjust their count to take this under consideration because a running count of say +4 off the top of a six deck shoe in not nearly as important as the same running count in a single deck game. Counters normalize the running count to arrive at the true count by dividing the running count by the number of decks remaining in the shoe. Computing a true count is not as difficult a task as it first appears but you’ve got to learn how to do it quickly and fairly accurately. Alternately there are “unbalanced” counting systems that eliminate this conversion to the true count.
You’ll need a bigger bet spread in multiple deck games to get the same edge as in single deck games. A 1 to 4 bet spread is OK in single deck games but when it comes to 6 deck games you’ll need at least a 1 to 10 bet spread (this of course will increase your bankroll fluctuation). For 2-deck games, look for penetrations at least 60% or more.
You’ve got to be selective on deciding where you play blackjack. You must not only play where the rules are good but the most important variable for card counters is the penetration or how far into the shoe does the dealer go before shuffling. In fact blackjack isn’t worth playing no matter how good the rules if the penetration is bad. For example multiple deck games with 50% penetration are not very profitable for counters. At least 75% or higher penetration is ideal (that’s a blackjack table where the dealer deals out at least 4.5 out of the 6 decks of cards prior to the shuffle). You definitely do NOT want to play on any table where blackjacks pay 6-5 or a continuous shuffling machine is being used.
Once you learn how to use the count for betting purposes you also want to use it to vary your basic strategy. This will require learning what are known as index numbers that tells the counter when to depart from the basic playing strategy depending upon the value of the count and whether the count is positive or negative. For example, basic strategy says to hit on hard 12 when the dealer shows a 2 or 3. However, if a card counter has a moderately positive count the better play is to stand. Likewise making the insurance bet is a lousy bet for the average blackjack player but it becomes a profitable bet for a card counter when the count becomes moderately positive.
Since casino bosses are not enthralled with having blackjack players that know how to win play on their tables (they much rather have players that know how to lose), you must disguise the fact that you are card counting. You obviously can’t move your lips while you are counting (that’s a dead give away) and you must not increase your betting level in large increments no matter how high your count goes (big jumps in bet size is another give away that a player may be counting). Casinos in most gaming jurisdictions can and do bar suspected counters especially those that bet large amounts of money. At the minimum if they suspect a person is card counting, they will shuffle up for no reason thus eliminating a counter’s potential advantage or simply back you off (ie. ask you to stop playing blackjack)..
Obviously, how much you bet and whether or not it’s a single or multiple deck game has a great influence on how much scrutiny you get from the casino bosses when you play. But don’t let this fact of card counting stop you from becoming a card counter. By following the betting recommendations that you’ll find in most blackjack books that cover card counting and casino comportment, it’s possible to have longevity as a card counter (for more on this see the suggested reading at the end of this article).
To summarize here’s what you got to master if you want to be a successful card counter.
3. Speed and accuracy in keeping the count
4. Learning how to adjust your count in multiple deck games
5. Playing in games with good penetration and good rules.
6. Varying your bet size and playing strategy based upon the count
7. Having a decent betting spread for the type of game you are playing
8. Having the right bankroll to avoid going broke in the short term
9. Having the right “act” when you play to minimize scrutiny from casino bosses.
Card counting is not rocket science but it does require work on your part to become an expert, successful card counter. Most “wanna be” card counters fail, not because they can’t count accurately, but because of these two main reasons.
1. They overbet in relation to their bankroll.
2. They underestimate the mental stress and frustration of losing for days, weeks, and sometimes even months (your edge is long term; short term you can and will lose).
If you ‘re still game and want to become a card counter, I’d suggest you get yourself a deck of playing cards and start practicing. In addition, you need to read these books for starters before you make your first bet.
Blackjack: Take The Money & Run (my book) for a basic book on the High/Low balanced card counting system.
Knock-Out Blackjack by Olaf Vancura & Ken Fuchs for a basic book on the unbalanced K-O card counting system.
Blackjack Bluebook II by Fred Renzey. Good book for beginners who want to learn about card counting.
Burning the Tables in Las Vegas by Ian Anderson, a long time blackjack pro that will teach you everything you need to know on “how to get away with getting the money”.
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