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To effectively employ Blackjack card counting, it's crucial to have complete mastery of the basic Blackjack strategy, which will give you a competitive edge against the house. However, relying solely on Blackjack strategy isn't sufficient, as enhancing your gameplay requires dedication and proficiency, even after mastering the fundamentals.
In online blackjack, achieving any form of movement in the house edge is crucial for success. Since it's a direct competition between you and the house, your best strategy as a player is to minimize the house edge.
The standard method of reducing the house edge in blackjack is to follow basic blackjack strategy, which involves using mathematical calculations to determine how to approach different hands.
Having learned about basic blackjack strategy, the next technique to consider is blackjack card counting.
Card counting is a strategy employed in blackjack to monitor the proportion of high and low cards that remain in the deck or shoe. The basic concept is that blackjack uses a fixed number of cards that are typically not shuffled between hands. For instance, in a one-deck game with 52 cards, as cards are dealt, the number of cards left in the deck decreases, leading to a potential bias towards certain card values based on the random arrangement of the deck.
When playing a one-on-one game against the house, drawing more high cards in the early rounds reduces the number of high cards available for subsequent rounds, while drawing more low-value cards in the initial rounds increases the likelihood of drawing higher-value cards like blackjack later on. Without any means of card tracking, a player can only assume equal chances of hitting 21 on any hand. However, the odds can fluctuate greatly from neutrality in the aforementioned scenario depending on the card distribution. Card counting is a technique that aims to address this discrepancy.
Edward Oakley Thorp is widely recognized as the pioneer who introduced the concept of card counting to the world. A distinguished academic, professor, investor, and successful author, Thorp's mathematical prowess allowed him to articulate the theory in his international bestseller, Beat the Dealer, which remains the definitive guide on card counting. It serves as an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about the practice or honing their skills.
Thorp's academic background included senior professorships at several prestigious Ivy League universities in the United States, but his contributions to the gambling world are often overlooked. His in-depth understanding of mathematics and probability enabled him to distil his research on blackjack into a format that casual players could easily comprehend. This work spawned numerous attempts at card counting in casinos worldwide.
To this day, Thorp's methods continue to be utilized by blackjack players in both casino and private settings. By better understanding the probability of the dealer's hand, players can gain an advantage over the house. As a result, there have been notable instances where players employing card-counting strategies have achieved impressive wins while playing blackjack.
By utilising a functional card-counting mechanism, one can leverage the information obtained during a game to steer decision-making in the correct direction. Multiple card counting systems exist, each with distinct pros and cons. While some systems necessitate more advanced proficiency, others are more straightforward and user-friendly. Among the most prevalent card counting systems are the Hi-Lo system, the Hi-Opt I system, and the Ace/Five system.
The Hi-Lo card counting system is widely used in blackjack to monitor the ratio of high and low-value cards remaining in a deck. This system involves assigning a point value to each card in the deck, which helps to maintain a running count of the total point value as cards are dealt.
The system assigns the following point values to each card:
As cards are dealt, the player keeps a running count of the total point value by adding or subtracting the point value of each card as it is dealt. The count starts at 0 and increases as more low-value cards are dealt and decreases as more high-value cards are dealt. The higher the count, the more favourable the deck is for the player, as there are more low-value cards left in the deck.
The player can use the running count to make adjustments to their betting and playing strategy. For example, if the count is high, the player may want to increase their bet, as the deck is more favourable to them. Additionally, the player can use the count to make adjustments to their basic strategy, such as taking insurance, splitting pairs, and hitting or standing.
The Hi-Opt I, or Highly Optimum I, is a sophisticated card counting system utilized in blackjack that incorporates monitoring the ratio of high and low-value cards remaining in the deck. The approach is comparable to the Hi-Lo system in that it assigns a point value to each card in the deck, with the intention of maintaining a running count of the overall point value as cards are dealt.
To begin, the player starts with a mental running count of 0 when they arrive at the table or when the deck is shuffled. They then add or subtract the point value of each card as it is dealt. This running count is used to make adjustments to the player's betting and playing strategy, following basic strategy.
The point values assigned to each card in Hi-Opt I are:
It is recommended to use Hi-Opt I with single deck play, and as such, the player also needs to calculate their true count by dividing the running count by the number of decks remaining in the play.
When the true count exceeds 1, then the player can start increasing their bets steadily. This helps the player to take advantage of a favourable deck without drawing too much attention to themselves.
The Ace/Five system is a card counting method used in blackjack that can also be useful to most players, especially when they're beginners and new to counting cards in Blackjack. It helps reduce the house edge and the advantage that the house has over the players, though very partially.
To use this system, start counting from 0 at the beginning of the first deck. Whenever a 5-value card is dealt, add 1 to the count. When an Ace is dealt, subtract 1. If the final count is 2 or greater, it is a good time to double your bet. If the count is 1 or less, it is best to avoid placing high bets. This system is easy to keep track of because it only takes into account two card values.
However, it is most effective when the dealer does not frequently reshuffle the deck. To avoid detection, it is best to only double your bet after a win. The advantage gained from using this system is typically small, around 1%. The simplicity of this card counting method makes it suitable for inexperienced card counters to practice before moving on to more advanced methods like Hi-Lo.
Blackjack card counting is a demanding skill to master, particularly in practical settings. Casinos have introduced various measures to thwart card counting, such as employing multiple decks and automatic shufflers. Moreover, blackjack is commonly played with a shoe containing several decks of cards, which could have numerous Aces and other cards in play, making it harder to keep track of the count. Nevertheless, with perseverance and practice, players can develop their card counting abilities and employ the technique while playing live blackjack play in conjunction with a solid basic strategy to significantly reduce the house edge.
It's worth noting that although card counting is legal, not all casinos allow it. In fact, some casinos may explicitly prohibit players from counting cards and may even eject them if they catch them doing so. In addition, certain casinos use technology such as facial recognition software to identify known card counters and prevent them from playing.
Because of these factors, attempting to count cards in a Las Vegas blackjack game may not be the best idea. If you do choose to give it a shot, be prepared to be escorted out of the casino quickly. However, some players are still able to successfully use Thorp's methods.