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 18 - Advanced Single-Deck Blackjack - Part 1

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

While much of card-counting is a science -- the science of mathematics -- it all takes on something of an art form when playing at a single-deck game. True count conversion is difficult to do quickly, large bet spreads (over 4 to 1) are difficult to obtain and it's hard to keep an accurate count at a game which is dealt face-down when you're used to counting where all the cards are face up. Despite that, I really urge you to learn how to play single deck and, instead of banging your head against the multiple-deck games in your area, save your money and take 2 or 3 trips to Reno each year. No, I'm not in the employ of the Reno Chamber of Commerce, but I can tell you that it's a great place to make $$$ at the Blackjack tables, it's relatively inexpensive and typically very easy to get to from all over the United States. Sure their rules, for the most part, suck (only double on 10 and 11, no double after split and the dealer hits A-6) and that gives the casinos the same .5% edge off the top that you're fighting now, but it takes just one +1 card to get you even with the house and that's the real appeal of single-deck. I should mention that some casinos in Reno (as well as in Tahoe and Laughlin) allow double on any first two cards, so the casino edge is dropped to about .2% and that's a very beatable game.

The key to evaluating good single-deck play is how many cards you'll see before a shuffle. If you can find a game with 60% penetration and get away with a 5 to 1 betting spread, it's fairly easy to obtain a long term winning rate of 1.5% of all the money you bet, just by playing basic strategy and varying your bets according to the count. If you also modify the play of your hand according to the true count, a win rate which approaches 2% is possible. That's serious money Blackjack fans, so the effort is worth it.

Which Counting System?

I use two different systems for counting cards; the Hi/Lo for multi-deck play and the 'Hi-Opt 1' system for single deck play. The latter counts 3-6 as +1; 7,8,9 and ace as 0 with 10s as -1. Since there are only four aces to track in a single deck game, I find omitting the ace in the count improves the play of the hand, yet I can still 'adjust' the count for betting purposes. Let's talk about a side count of aces for a moment. We expect to see one ace per quarter-deck played in a normal distribution, but of course that doesn't always happen. For example, if a quarter deck has been played and no aces have come out, the remaining deck is 'rich' one ace. I can -- for betting purposes -- temporarily add +1 to the count, yet for playing purposes the true count without adjustment is correct. Got that concept? If a quarter-deck has been played and 2 aces have come out, the remaining deck is 'poor' by one ace, so I would lower the count by 1 (that is, 'add' a minus 1 to the count ) just for betting purposes, since my opportunity to receive a natural has decreased. This is a very powerful addition to your game, but my advice is to just use it in single-deck play because an ace adjustment is very taxing, mentally.
If you want to learn the Hi-Opt count, use the same techniques I showed you for learning the Hi/Lo count. All of my advanced techniques will, however, be based upon the Hi/Lo system, since that seems to be the method most of you are using.
The most difficult aspect of single-deck play is computing the true count. First you must 'calibrate' your eyeballs for measuring the number of cards which have been played. Today most casinos have the dealer place the discards in a rack to the side; unlike the 'old' days when they put the discards underneath, so deck estimation is easier. The really tough part is the division which is required. In a multideck game, we're almost always dividing one whole number (the running count) by another number which is at least 1. Admittedly, some people have a problem of dividing 17 by 2.5 qucikly, but it doesn't take long to get used to. In single deck, you're always dividing by a fraction or decimal and that's not easy. For example, if you're at a single-deck game and a quarter-deck has been played, with a running count of 3, the true count is 3 divided by .75 = 4. That's actually an easy example. Try dividing a running count of 5 by .5. The answer is, of course 10, but how many of you wanted to say 2.5 or 1? Only practice will make this an automatic process.

Homework

Continue learning the decision numbers for Hi/Lo basic strategy variations in the multiple deck games. For the 'overachievers' out there, start learning the Hi-Opt 1 count.

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

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