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Blackjack Card Counting Tips

by Michael Shackleford

Let me say loud and clear that card counting is hard and is not as rewarding as television and the movies make it out to be. If it were an easy way to make money everyone would be doing it. If you do not know the basic strategy trying to count cards is highly ill-advised.

Experienced card counters still play by the basic strategy the great majority of the time. There can be no short cut around learning the basic strategy, those who attempt card counting without a firm foundation in the basic strategy are making a big mistake.

To be a successful counter you have to be able to count down a deck fast and memorize large tables of numbers as well as make it look like you're just a casual player. Furthermore, with today's rules, a realistic advantage the counter will have is only 0.5% to 1.5%. You will not win money slowly and gradually but your bankroll will go up and down like a roller coaster in the short run. Only in the long run over hundreds of hours of playing can you count on winning.

The underlying principle behind card counting is that a deck rich is tens and aces is good for the player, a deck rich in small cards is good for the dealer. The reason for this is that blackjacks are more likely in a deck rich in tens and aces, and they benefit the player more than the dealer. Another reason is that the dealer will break more often in a deck rich in tens. To gauge the richness of the deck in good cards the player will keep track of the cards the are already played.

Strategies vary but all assign a point value to each card. For example the Ken Uston's Plus/Minus strategy assigns a value of +1 to 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, and -1 to tens and aces. Everything else is 0, or neutral. At the beginning of a deck or shoe the count is 0. Then the counter constantly adds and subtracts from the count according to the cards played. This running total is called the "running count." A positive count means that a disproportional number of small cards have already been played which means the deck is rich in large cards. To determine the "true count" divide the running count by the number of decks left to be played, or in some strategies the number of half decks. This will tell you the relative richness of the deck in good cards.

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