No, I’m not going to teach you card tricks here, but I am going to show you a few interesting ways to practice the count you’ve decided to learn and then teach you the methods we use to keep track of the cards as they’re played at the casino. Developing your speed at counting is an important part of your training, because if you can’t count quickly at home, you’ll never keep up with the dealer in a casino. Inaccurate counting can cause you to give up any edge you have over the house and it’s frustrating to constantly “drop” the count when a faster dealer comes along.
At this point you should have the point values of each card memorized and you might be doing some single-card countdowns of a deck. I’m sure you’re slow at it, but that’s OK, since accuracy is the most important factor right now. Speed will come as you work your way through the exercises I’ll show you this week.
Just as you learned the point value of each card according to the system you wish to use, here you will learn the point value of different PAIRS of cards. This is one of the real “tricks” of the card-counting business: the ability to count cards in pairs. With enough practice, you’ll see a hand of Queen, Jack as both a “20” and an M-2. That capability will bring speed to your game. Here are the values of pairs using the Hi / Lo method of counting:
Important! Make sure you understand why each pair is valued as shown and don’t forget
that if you’re learning a different count, these pairs may have different values.
If you understand everything above, then start going through a single deck and turn two cards over at a time. DO NOT keep a running count, just recite the value of each pair so you can get used to the adding and subtracting which is required. Do this until you are totally familiar with the values of all possible pairs. Then do it some more.
Laying down a good foundation here will allow you to build your speed quickly later on, so this exercise is time well spent. For you “Type-A’s” out there, you might even push this to learning 3-card values. That is a very helpful skill to have, particularly if you intend to play one-on-one with a dealer, since you always see 3 cards at once; your initial pair and the dealer’s up card. Most of you will want to begin play at tables with other players since things move slower that way, but like I said — knowing the 3-card values won’t hurt.
Once again, remove three random cards from a single deck and set them aside. (No peeking!) Now, turn over the cards two at a time, keep a running (cumulative) count of the deck and check your accuracy by adding the cards you set aside in at the end. This exercise will be your primary way of practicing card counting.
Gradually, your speed will increase to a point where you will count as quickly as you can turn over the cards. To go even faster, hold the deck in your left hand, face up, and pull the cards — two at a time — off the deck with your right hand. (Opposite if you’re left-handed). Help the cards along with your thumb and you’ll start to build some speed. How fast is “fast”? I go through a deck in 10.5 seconds, but all you need to keep up at an average table with 2 or 3 other players is 20 seconds, though 15 is better (and easy attained if you practice).
The method we use to count cards at the table is the real secret of this business. For those games where the cards are dealt face up to the players, the diagram below will show you how we do it. Games where the cards are dealt face down (mostly single deck) require a different methodology and we’ll cover that next week.
Most dealers keep their up card face-down until each player has received both cards. The procedure for counting at a table like that is to begin counting when the player at “first base” receives his second card and to count each player’s pair as the cards are dealt. End your count with the dealer’s up card and then count each player’s “hit” cards. Finally, count the dealer’s hole card and any cards the dealer may take as a hit.
You can see that this method of counting by pairs allows you to look more natural at the table. Most people think counters track each card as it’s dealt, so supervisory people at casinos watch for players who follow every cards as it comes out. My method allows you to look away from the table as the first card is going down and then watch as each hand is made with the second card. That looks a lot more natural, since most players are interested in seeing what hands other players get.
Besides continuing with your basic strategy practice, start playing some “kitchen table” Blackjack. If you can con someone into dealing to you, great, but if you can’t, just deal four player hands out in a manner they use at your favorite casino. Don’t assume the role of the dealer; you want to get used to seeing all this from a player’s perspective so deal one card to an imaginary first-base player, then to yourself and then to two other imaginary players on your left. Finish with a dealer’s card face down across from you and then deal the second player’s card. Begin counting as shown above and finish with a dealer’s up card. Now, play ALL FOUR player’s hands according to proper basic strategy and keep the count. Busy, huh? Don’t worry, with practice it will all come to you. When you’re done with the first round, do another and then riffle through the few remaining cards to verify that you’ve kept the count accurately.
This exercise will form the basis for all of our practice — except speed development — from here on out. As you’ll discover, this type of “overload” makes it very easy to play and keep count at an actual casino game; all you need to do there is just sit back, count and play.