The GameMaster's Blackjack School

This free course on blackjack and card counting was provided by the GameMaster, publisher of the GameMaster Online website. It is reproduced here in its entirety with permission of the author. The 24-lesson course is an excellent introduction to winning blackjack.

To start at the beginning, visit the Welcome page.

Lesson 4 - Card Counting - How to Do It

by the GameMaster, reprinted with permission.
The Blackjack School is also available on DVD from the GameMaster's Store.

By now you've chosen a counting system that you want to learn and even though it may be different than the Hi / Lo Count which I'm going to discuss here, the methods used to learn it are the same. Just make adjustments where appropriate and you'll do fine, but if you are confused or don't understand something, then e-mail me.

This entire lesson that you are about to study is very visual. You might want to consider our DVD product, to enhance the learning experience.
The Hi / Lo counting system assigns a "point" value to each type of card in a deck. The first step in card counting is to memorize those values. Here they are
CardPoint Value
2+1
3+1
4+1
5+1
6+1
70
80
90
10-1
J-1
Q-1
K-1
A-1
A bit of simple math will show you that there are, in a complete deck, an equal number of "plus"-valued cards and "minus"-valued cards. This is called a "balanced" count and since all cards are valued either 1 or 0, this is also a "single-level" count.

The Power of Card Counting

The Hi / Lo count recognizes that the cards 2 through 6 are of greatest value to the dealer, since these cards turn the dealer's "stiff" hands (12 - 16) which s/he must hit into good hands. For example, a 5 turns a dealer's 12-16 into 17-21, consequently it is the most important card for a dealer. On the other hand, an Ace is most important to a player, since it's the key component to a "blackjack" which pays 3 to 2. So, as "little" cards are played, they are no longer available to the dealer and since there are an equal number of plus- and minus-valued cards in the deck, a "plus" count tells us that there are a higher proportion of tens and aces left in the unplayed portion of the deck. This situation is favorable for the player since the chances for a blackjack have increased and doubling or splitting situations stand a better chance of receiving a high card.
Of course, a dealer has the same chance of receiving high cards as you. But remember that the dealer does not receive 3 to 2 for a blackjack, may not double or split and must hit 16 or less. Also, as you will learn in a later lesson, knowing the proportion of 10-valued cards in the decks gives you the knowledge to make profitable insurance bets.

Learning The Point Values

This is the only exercise you will ever need to learn the point values of your counting system. It's the one I use when I'm switching counts for a single-deck game or back again to the one I use for multi-deck games. Just take a deck of cards and begin turning them over one at a time and recite the point value of each card. If a card is a plus-value, I don't say "Plus 1"; I just say "one", because it implies "plus" anyway. If a card is a minus-value, I say "M 1", not "minus 1" because it saves a syllable. For the "neutral" or zero-value cards, I say nothing -- they are completely ignored for counting purposes with the Hi / Lo system.
So, how does this look? Here's a quick example
Ace(M-one)
9
5(One)
6(One)
7
King(M-one)
2(One)
10(M-one)

Notice that I'm not keeping track of the cards, but merely stating the point value of each. You must practice this until you have the point values firmly implanted in your mind but don't worry, it won't take long.

Single-Card Countdown

If you feel you know the point values of each card in your system of choice by heart, you may now begin to count down a single deck. Simply remove any three cards without looking at them (to check your accuracy) and set them aside. Now turn over cards one at a time and keep a running total of their values. Remember your old algebra classes? If you add +1 to -1 the result is 0. That applies here, so keep it in mind as you go through the deck.
Here's an example:
1st cardAceThe count: M-one
2ndKingM-two
3rd10M-three
4th6M-two (make sure you know why)
5thQueenM-three
6th5M-two
7th3M-one
8th6Even (I don't use "zero")
9th4One (again, no "plus")
Got it? Good. You're not very fast yet, are you? Well, don't worry about that; we'll work on speed later. When you've completed the deck, the count should be off by the value of the three cards we set aside in the beginning. Look at those cards, check your accuracy, shuffle and begin again. Get into the habit of removing three cards every time you do any counting exercises since they will keep you from fooling yourself when you make a mistake.
For now the key is accuracy; keep at this until you can go through a deck three or four times in a row without mistakes. What you have learned here is called the "running count". Next time we'll work on speeding up your ability to count; can you believe I'll have you zipping through a deck in less than 20 seconds? The babes really love that at parties...

Homework

  • Continue testing yourself on basic strategy by doing the Basic Strategy Reconstruction and Basic Strategy Decisions exercises. You won't win if you can't play proper basic strategy.
  • Begin learning the point values of your chosen system and when you know them by heart -- and only then -- start doing single-card countdowns of one deck.
See you here next time. Practice!

Questions? E-mail me at aceten1@mindspring.com and I'll reply personally.

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