Counting Cards

Many inexperienced players have a misconception about card counters as mathematical geniuses who can keep track of every card in a multiple decks of cards. While there may very well be people who can do this kind of thing, card counting is not about keeping track of every card. The idea behind counting cards is to keep track of the players statistical likelihood of winning a hand and then adjusting betting and playing accordingly.
The idea behind card counting is simple gambling strategy. Any professional gambler will tell you that the way to win at gambling is to bet more when you have the advantage and bet less (or not at all) when you do not. It is that simple. In black-jack, certain cards remaining in the deck are good for the player and certain ones are not. If you “count” these cards, you will always know when you have the advantage.
Edward O. Thorp’s work confirmed that 10’s and A’s remaining in the deck were good for the player, while 5’s and 6’s remaining in the deck were bad for the player. He worked out the circumstances under which particular combinations of cards remaining in the deck gave the player and advantage over the house. He also presented the first two card-counting systems, Thorp’s five-count and Thorp’s ten-count. The latter, which is more powerful, was based on determining the ration between 10’s and non-10’s remaining in the deck. Card counting was born from irrefutable logic: Keep track of the cards: make small bets when the deck favors the house and large bets when it favors the players.
Thorp’s analysis was later improved upon by the work of many others, notably Julian Braun, Lawrence Revere, Peter Griffin, Stanford Wong, Ken Uston, Arnold Snyder, and Lance Humble. Today the game is understood at a rather deep level, and sophisticated systems exist that give the knowledgeable player a distinct edge over the house.
Which Cards Matter?
The object of card counting is to keep track of cards that are advantageous to the player. The simple question is, then, “which cards matter?”
The card most beneficial to the player is the 10. 10’s are ad-vantages to the player for several reasons. One, they will cause the dealer to bust since he is required to take cards based on the rules of play. He may not take other factors into account while playing (like you do!). Two, they turn hands that you double down on into very strong hands (which is why you double down on those hands, by the way). Three, they are used to create blackjacks. Remember that blackjacks are more beneficial to the player since getting one pays 3 to 2 but losing to one only costs the original bet! Another important card for the player is the A. Aces present soft doubling (and hitting) opportunities and they create blackjacks. Remember – blackjack is more important to the player than the house!
The worst cards for the player are the 5 and the 6 (and 2, 3, and 4 to a lesser degree). The reason these are not good for the player is simple – they are beneficial to the house. Since the house is forced by the rules of play to take cards on any hand lower than 17, the 5 and the six present the possibility of very strong hands for the dealer (remember that 10’s are not advantageous to the dealer since they make “busts” of these hands).
Before we begin to learn how to count we should talk about how this will help us. You should remember that the purpose of counting is to know when the player has an advantage and when he does not. This knowledge will do nothing for you unless you do something with it. What you want to do is adjust your betting and your play based on your advantage.
Adjusting Your Bets
Adjusting your bets is very straightforward. When the composition of the deck is in your favor, you bet more. When it is not, you bet less. Very simple. Learning just this can give you as much as a 2% advantage against the house. If that advantage does not sound like much, keep in mind that many casino slot machines only produce a 2 – 3% advantage for the casino and that is enough to make billions of dollars of profit for the casino. Granted, this is at a much higher volume than you will play at but remember that bet sizes are much smaller.
Adjusting Your Play
Learning to adjust your play based on deck composition is not an easy task, but the rewards are phenomenal. Taking this step can increase your advantage by another 2% for a total of 4% against the house. The good news is that you can learn this with a lot of practice. The principles are simple but mastering this level of play takes many hours of practice.
An expert card counter will adjust play in many different ways depending on the composition of the deck. It is common for an expert card counter to do things that “break the rules” of basic strategy like:
1. Standing earlier if the deck is very 10 rich — if the dealer can bust, so can you!
2. Standing later if the deck is very 10 poor.
3. Splitting 10’s when the deck is extremely 10 rich.
4. Doubling down on A, 9 when the deck is extremely 10 rich.
Of course, the most important play adjustment can be deciding when to start playing at a table and when to stop.

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