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Best of Mark Pilarski
Card Counting 101.529 October 2004
You proclaim that you're on the side of the gambler, yet you avoid this obvious area of enhancement. Why is that? It seems that you defend the casinos' ridiculous position that card counting is somehow cheating! Now, I can sympathize with a casino's crackdown on someone who is palming cards or chips, but card counting seems to me to be a skill that only takes advantage of information that is offered by the casino to every player who sits at the table.
I think that if you were to begin a series of articles about card counting and simple strategies that your readers can learn they can make your 2% guideline look simply extravagant. You would be increasing the enjoyment and reducing the cost for your valuable readers — a win for both! Pete H.
True, Pete, there are some in the gaming industry who believe the casino has every right to back off proficient players, but, my friend, I am not one of them. Certainly, the minuscule amounts lost to card counters are trivial compared to the money made from the uninformed masses of poor players and bad counters. What's more, Pete, I don't believe using your brain counting should be prohibited, and I have written about the benefits of using your gray matter for counting in past columns. The casino, of course, would prefer you to check your brain at the front door.
So though counting is not technically illegal, what the casino can and will do is take simple measures to combat counters by putting more decks on the game, burying more cards on the shuffle, stopping mid-entry shoe betting, having the dealer shuffle half way through the deck, and when all else fails, they can legally bar the counter from playing by backing them off the game.
And where it is permissible to count, Atlantic City for instance, they impose tougher blackjack rules, multi-deck games and limit deck penetration to keep the skilled counter at bay. Compare this, Pete, to playing perfect basic strategy. Using this legal system against the house will reduce the casino advantage to much lower than the 2% you mentioned in your inquiry, more like 0.15% against a single deck, .35% on a double deck, and .58% with a six-deck shoe. To a large extent, that is why I recommend using basic strategy. You get to avoid all the cat-and-mouse games you've got to play against the casino.
But since you asked, and as I have written about before, here is some Card Counting 101.5 for those interested. Card counters, theoretically, have an inherent advantage of between .5 and 1.5% against the casino, accomplished by tracking the changing imbalance of big to little cards in a diminishing deck. When the cards remaining favor the player, you bet more money. When they favor the dealer, you bet less. Big cards (10s, aces) favor the player; small cards (2-6) favor the dealer.
The simplest count to learn is a one level count, also known as the Hi-Lo counting system. It assigns the following count values to each card.
2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (small cards)...................... +1
To use the Hi-Lo method, you need to add and subtract the above counting values for every card exposed on the blackjack table. By mentally keeping an updated running count from one hand to the next, you vary your bets according to the positive/negative value of the upcoming hand.
For example, you have played a bit, and now the deck is half gone — 26 cards remaining. You've been counting, and the current imbalance figure that you have been quietly tracking lies plus 7 to the player. If the dealer has to hit his next hand, the remaining 26-card deck is short seven of the cards he needs to rely on. But let's say the dealer catches his/her hand with two small cards, and the count goes to plus 9 with 24 cards remaining. Most card counters would bet mucho dollars on the next hand.
As illustrated above, all the counter does is vary bets up or down, from one hand to the next, guided by the constantly updated imbalance figure, which predicts whether the next hand favors the counter or the dealer.
Is it easy to count? Yeah, with a little practice it is. But the bottom line, Pete, is that the casino is not going to be too keen with blackjack players who know how to beat the house. They much prefer players who wing it, who use no strategies at all. Thus, Pete, is the additional one percent edge you get counting worth the effort versus using a strategy card? Without prejudice, I'll let you, and the other readers decide.
Gambling quote of the week: "You know horses are smarter than
people. You never heard of a horse going broke betting on people."
Best of Mark Pilarski