Frequently Asked Questions
Now that the movie "21" is released we can expect alot of beginners joining the forum, thats why i have decided to make an FAQ!
Q: What is basic strategy?
A: Basic strategy is mathematically the best way to play blackjack, without counting. Basic strategy varies from game to game and it can be calculated with this: http://www.blackjackinfo.com/bjbse.php
Q: Why does card counting work?
A: Read this thread: http://www.blackjackinfo.com/bb/showthread.php?t=9660
Q: What is the best counting system?
A: Whatever works for you! There are systems that can gain a greater advantage over the house than others, but the increased difficulty of these systems makes you more apt for errors, thus rendering the added effort worthless. As a beginner you should start with either KO or hi-lo.
Here is a list of counting systems compared: http://www.qfit.com/card-counting.htm
Q: What are the best rules?
A: There is no single answere for this question. The games that have the lowest house edge are naturally the most advantageous. Here is a calculator that calculates the house edge, when playing basic strategy http://www.qfit.com/calc.htm
NOTE: A good penetration is usually the most important thing in a game.
This post will be updated when new questions arise!
Last edited by MrMaster; April 2nd, 2008 at 04:54 AM. Reason: updated
I love it! I've made this a sticky thread. It would be great if we could all contribute to this and maybe I'll make an official version with everybody's input.
Q: Should I count the cards one at a time or in pairs?
A: You should practice counting the cards in pairs and in groups of three. You will be able to count much faster and easier since most cards will cancel out.
Q: What is the best counting system?
A: The best counting system to start with is something simple like HiLo, KO, Red 7 or KISS. They are very simple but still quite powerful. You can learn more about them in books by Stanford Wong, Olaf Vancura, Arnold Snyder and Fred Renzey respectively. You can also search this website for many tips on how to use them.
Q: What are all those little acronyms like H17 DAS LS? What is Wonging? What is a CSM?
A: You can look up any unknown words of phrases here:
Q: What is EV and variance? How are they helpful? How can I calculate them?
A: You can think of variance as “luck”. Sometimes you will have good luck, other times you will have bad luck. Sometimes you will have winning streaks, other times you will have losing streaks. The more you play, the more the good luck and bad luck cancel out. Your average results are called your Expected Value (EV) and the size of your lucky streaks is called the variance. Variance is how we measure the size of the swings you can expect. It is often helpful to know what kind of swings to expect so that you can know how much money you will need. Here is some more information on calculating and using variance:
Q: Should I play multiple hands? How should I bet if I do?
A: Playing multiple hands is a good way to increase your win rate and/or reduce your risk. Here are some threads about playing multiple hands:
Q: What is the “long run” that I keep hearing people talk about?
A: The long run is the point where you overcome the variance (luck) of the game and can be assured of reaching your EV. It is the point where your results are no longer affected by luck and only your skill remains. Here are some threads about the long run:
Q: I want to start a team. How should we bet?
A: Well, if you don’t know how to bet then you aren’t ready to start a team. Keep studying and practicing until you have every piece of your game plan ready. In the meantime, read through some of these old threads:
Q: I didn’t realize that I needed such a big bankroll to count cards. Can I still play with a smaller bankroll?
A: Sure, as long as you understand the risks you are taking. If you are able to add some money to your bankroll regularly then you can play a little more aggressively. Here are some tips on playing with a small bankroll and supplementing your bankroll:
Q: What books do you recommend?
A: It depends on what you want to learn about. There are many good books on basic strategy, card counting, team play, cover techniques, advanced techniques and just about anything else you need to know. Here is a short list of some books/authors that we recommend:
Last edited by Sonny; March 30th, 2010 at 08:16 AM. Reason: Added material
Q: Can CSM's (continous shuffling machines) be beaten?
A: Not with card counting, enough cards arn't dealt out to get a significant advantage. If you want to beat a machine you need to know precisely how it works, and even then it might be tough...
Some more info can be found here:
Last edited by MrMaster; April 4th, 2008 at 05:16 AM.
Index numbers, and the Illustrious 18
Q. If I am counting cards, should I sometimes deviate from basic strategy because of the composition of the remaining deck?
A. Yes, if you know what you are doing...
Basic strategy is the best way to play a particular hand off the top of a freshly shuffled deck or shoe. If you are counting cards, you can detect situations where changes to basic strategy are appropriate. An example might help illustrate this:
Assume you are dealt 12 against a dealer 2. Basic strategy says to hit this hand. However, if you know the remaining deck is packed with tens, sometimes you are better off standing. If you are using the common Hi-Lo count, you should stand with 12v2 if the true count is +3 or higher. If the true count is +2 or less, you should stick with basic strategy and hit.
The "+3" number here is called an index number, and these index numbers can be derived for each decision. They are specific to a particular counting system of course, and can also vary depending on the rules of the game.
Q. Which index numbers are most important, and what are they?
A. Blackjack luminary Don Schlesinger published an article in Blackjack Forum long ago, where he pointed out that a relative handful of index numbers can deliver most of the possible gain from strategy deviation for a card counter. He dubbed these most important decisions the "Illustrious 18".
If you using the popular Hi-Lo counting system, here are the index numbers for the Illustrious 18. These numbers refer to True Count.
Insurance: Insure at +3 or higher.
12 vs 2: Stand at +3 or higher, otherwise hit.
12 vs 3: Stand at +2 or higher, otherwise hit.
12 v 4: Stand at 0 or higher, otherwise hit.
12 v 5: Stand at -2 or higher, otherwise hit.
12 v 6: Stand at -1 or higher, otherwise hit.
13 v 2: Stand at -1 or higher, otherwise hit.
13 v 3: Stand at -2 or higher, otherwise hit.
15 vs T: Stand at +4 or higher, otherwise hit.
16 v 9: Stand at +5 or higher, otherwise hit.
16 vs T: Stand at 0 or higher, otherwise hit.
9 vs 2: Double at +1 or higher, otherwise hit.
9 v 7: Double at +3 or higher, otherwise hit.
10 vs T: Double at +4 or higher, otherwise hit.
10 vs A: Double at +4 or higher, otherwise hit.
11 vs A: Double at +1 or higher, otherwise hit.
TT vs 5: Split at +5 or higher, otherwise stand.
TT vs 6: Split at +4 or higher, otherwise stand.
Note that the ten split indexes are often ignored, because they are considered to draw too much attention from the pit personnel.
Schlesinger's book Blackjack Attack covers this topic and many more in detail. It's must-reading for a serious player.
Last edited by KenSmith; November 2nd, 2010 at 04:27 PM. Reason: corrected index error in 12v2 example
Q Is there any guide I can follow to get me started?
A Try this http://web.archive.org/web/200406041...Everything.htm
Fail to prepare
Prepare to fail
Frequently Asked Questions
What indices should I use?
First you learn these two. The two most valuable things you can learn. The rest are pocket change in comparison.
16 vs T
Then what do you learn? The I18 by Don Schlesinger. Why? Because you cannot get your offical card counter membership card and decoder ring unless you have the I18 memorized as good as you have basic strategy down. When you know these next indices down pat, you will be told the secret handshake, and you will also be getting 80% of the profit possible using indexes:
15 vs T
T,T vs 5
T,T vs 6
10 vs T
12 vs 3
12 vs 2
11 vs A
9 vs 2
10 vs A
9 vs 7
16 vs 9
13 vs 2
12 vs 4
12 vs 5
12 vs 6
13 vs 3
What is next?
Well, now that you know T,T vs 5 and T,T vs 6 forget about them. Nothing will get you bounced as a card counter faster than splitting 10s. Instead add these indexes to your arsenal.
A,8 vs 6
A,8 vs 5
8 vs 6
8 vs 5
Now? It doesn't matter. Stuff your head as full of nonsense as you want. Nothing else is worth even pennies on a hundred dollars.
But here are two tips:
Forget indices below -2. The correct play to make when the count is less than -2 is not to bet. Don't play. Sit out. Find another table. Go to the bathroom. Look for the cocktail waitress. Wait for the shuffle. Sit out a few hands. Did I mention don't play?
Forget indices above +6. Counts above +6 are so rare, you will forget the index before you will ever see the chance to use it. When the count is higher than +6, all that happens is you get 20, the dealer gets 20, or one of you have a blackjack, you don't need to do anything but bet big. 15 vs 7 never happens when the count is sky high (*see note).
(*note) The index is +10, at +10 or more it is better to stand rather than hit 15 vs 7
-- if you play every day for the rest of your life, knowing this 15 vs 7 @ +10 play will earn you enough extra money to buy a hot dog (unless you get extra cheese on the hot dog, this play will not win you enough extra money to afford that).
What should I do instead of learning more and more useless indices?
Does your game have surrender? You should learn these 4, right along with the first step of Insurance and 16 vs T and the original I18.
The Fab 4 surrender indices brought to you by Don Schlesinger who also coined the I18:
14 vs 10
15 vs 10
15 vs 9
15 vs Ace
Then take your 20 or 30 indices and learn which ones change when going from a S17 game to a H17 game. From double deck to 8 decks. Single deck. Double after split?
Or if you are still hell bent to learn a bunch of indices, realize there are a couple of COMPOSITION DEPENDENT ones. Sometimes the numbers change depending on what cards actually make up your 12 or 14. Split or not to Split? There are a couple for those too. Then start realizing how many 100s and 100s and 100s of hands you have to play to actually see two 3s against a dealer's 3! Of course when you finally do get 3,3 vs 3 the count won't be at the point to do anything but basic strat anyways.
Learn the I18 (and Fab 4) like you know basic strat, then spend your time making money.
Is this asked frequently enough to be in the FAQ?
I'm underage and ...
... I want to get a "novelty" ID so I can play.
This is illegal in many, if not most, jurisdictions. Simple possession of an ID that claims to be from a government agency is a crime - that means driver's licenses, military ID cards, FBI badges, and even fake government agencies.
Do not use your slap-on-the-wrist punishment at a college bar as a benchmark. Casinos will take fake ID's more seriously.
Do not use the general accessibility of fake ID's on the Internet as a benchmark. People will sell you all sorts of stuff (fake ID's, pirated movies, child pornography) from areas where the items are either legal or where their legality is not strictly enforced. You will suffer more consequences than the person who sold it to you if you are both caught.
... I want to start counting cards as soon as I am legal.
The best thing you can do to help your career as a counter is to work hard in school or at your job. To have any reasonable chance of success at blackjack you will need a bankroll, and that means having the means to not only make money, but to make enough to save a disposable chunk of money. Your highest EV will come from merit-based raises at your job and year-end bonuses for good work.
... I can't wait until I start counting cards and become rich.
It's very unlikely you will become rich by counting cards. It is more likely you will become richer by counting cards. Remember that you need a bankroll in order to succeed; the successful blackjack teams of lore have all played with millions of dollars of other people's money just to make a few thousand.
As a simple approximation, assume you earn $X per hour at your "normal" job. You work 2000 hours a year, and if you can save 3 months' salary as disposable income, you can save $X*500 as a bankroll. Spreading 1-10 and having 200 max bets in your bankroll means your unit will be about 1/4*$X. A decent card counter can make about 1 unit per hour, or about 1/4 of what he or she makes at a "normal" job.
Of course, as your bankroll grows, so does the ratio of counting to non-counting income. But at the very least, unless you inherit or otherwise come across a large sum of money (e.g. convincing investors to fund you), you will make far more money at your "normal" job in the first 5 years than you will at card counting.
... I want to learn all about card counting.
Well, books on blackjack are great and you can always read books.
But you can also learn a lot about gambling and statistics from a traditional math course. Probabilities and standard deviations are useful in many circumstances besides gambling - polling, quantum mechanics, economics, futures trading, epidemiology, and game theory, off the top of my head. Remember that many of the seminal publications on blackjack (e.g. Thorp, Griffin) were not made by professional gamblers, but by mathematicians.
One of the easiest ways to start is to study the differences between H17 and S17 versions of 21. Learn when to DD or Surr. these differences.
For DD examples:
11 vs Ace
A7 vs Two
A8 vs Six
In S17, A7 vs. Ace is a close Play that favors Hit. In H17 its a no-brainer to hit, as the Dealer hits with an Ace exposed more often and is to the Dealer's benefit.
Surrender isn't popularly offered, but lowers variance for the player. For Basic Strategy S17 its Hard 16 vs. 9, 10-values, and Ace, plus 15 vs 10-value. One splits 8-8 vs 10-value instead of surrender.
Surrender in H17 is more frequent due to the Ace-up. Hard 17 vs. an Ace is Surrender. Any Hard 16 (including 8-8), and any 15 vs the Ace also surrenders. These are in addition to the S17 surrenders above.
Learning when to surrender 15 vs Ace is the only realistic difference between H17 and S17. Surrendering Hard 17 or 8-8 vs Ace in a S17 game is rare.
In this way, it looks to the House that you're playing the "wrong game". Naturally, I absolutely have no arguement with the rest of the above posts. This is the way I played when I first CC'ed. After becoming familiar with the differences of the game, I added other situations. I have to Admit, I still don't like DD 10 vs Ace, and hitting 12 vs 5 or 6. 2 + 10 yes, other forms no.
A second feature can be added to your play-list: if you feel uncomfortable about certain plays and you wish to violate some of these 22 hands, the best option you have, is the one that permits a decreasing variance as the Index increases. The best way to reduce variance is to play surrender-offered games only, and learn those indicies up to +8. It is always better to do the right thing strategy-wise if it looks right. This is why DD 10 vs 10, or splitting 10's is forgiveable. We have more heat these days. Keep either a low-profile, or play casually. Nothing hurts a CC more than looking at all the cards as dealt.
To err is human, to air is Jordan, to arrr is pirate.
Theres plenty of face cards to make 20, but it takes an Ace to make Blackjack.
Nickel & Dime them into Bankruptcy.
Last edited by N&B; October 4th, 2008 at 04:12 PM. Reason: typo and omission
Does the player win more hands at high True Count?
Practically no, very small increase in percentage of hands won. Your edge at high TC stems from the increase in probability of getting a BJ, more successful double downs and splits.
Last edited by iCountNTrack; October 28th, 2008 at 06:45 PM.