This free course on blackjack and card counting was created by the GameMaster, publisher of the GameMaster Online website. It is reproduced here in its entirety with permission of the author. His 24-lesson course is an excellent introduction to winning blackjack.
To start at the beginning, visit the Welcome page.
A Sermon
I do a little bit of preaching on the pages of The GameMaster Online every so often, primarily because I hate to think of people handing their money to casinos. I’m not saying I don’t lose, because I have my bad days as well, but what I am saying is that the casinos have to fight me for every penny they get. You need to develop that kind of attitude and just the fact that you’re reading this now shows me that you’re willing to learn, so you’ve got a good start. Casinos make money because the players allow them to make money. Even if you’ve learned everything I’ve taught you up to this point, you’re still not ready to play, so forget about it and start building your bankroll towards the day when you WILL be ready. You cannot expect to win at Blackjack if you’re betting the rent money. You must have a sum of money set aside which is “extra” — money which, should you lose it, will not affect your lifestyle in any way. By doing it that way, you’ll bet what needs to be bet and play the hands as they need to be played. That’s what gets the $$$ at the casino. ‘Nuff said.
What is Money Management?
As it applies to playing Blackjack as a card counter, money management is a method of betting which will minimize your losses and maximize your gains. Playing Blackjack carries with it the risk of loss. The advantage a counter has over the casino is small and the fluctuations in a player’s bankroll can occur with frightening speed. Proper management of your funds is required in all aspects of the game to give you the best possible chance of reaching that elusive “long term”. Some of you will begin your careers as counters with a big win and you’ll never look back. Most of you, however, will begin with a loss and it will take more hours of play before you start showing a profit; that’s just the reality of the situation. What I’m going to teach you in the next four or five lessons is how to survive at the game until your long term edge begins to have its effect and then show you how to keep the profits you make.
The True Count
All of our betting decisions will be made on the basis of what is known as the “true count” or more accurately, the “count per remaining deck”. While most of this applies to those who will be playing at multi-deck games, you single-deckers pay attention, too — you’ll need to know this as well. If six small cards come out on the first hand in a game, we will have a running count of 6. For the single-deck players, you will have a true count of just over 6, since there’s just a bit less than one deck remaining to be played. If you’re at a six-deck game, the count per remaining deck (the true count) is just a bit over 1, since there is just a bit less than 6 decks remaining to be played. See how that works? We are “standardizing” the count by dividing the running count by the total number of remaining decks. Let’s try another example to see if you understand the concept. At a single-deck game on the first hand, a running count of 2 (remember, I don’t use “+” to indicate a positive number) converts to a true count of 2, when rounded off. In a six-deck game and a running count of 12 after the first hand, the true count converts to 2. Both true counts are 2 , but it takes a much higher running count to achieve that in the six-deck game.
TO DETERMINE THE TRUE COUNT, DIVIDE THE “RUNNING” COUNT BY THE NUMBER OF DECKS REMAINING TO BE PLAYED.
Don’t let that statement confuse you. What this means is the number of decks left, whether they’ll actually be played or not. In a six-deck game, a deck or more may be cut off by the dealer, but that means nothing when computing true count. The basis for the calculation is the total number of decks in the game which is adjusted by the number of decks which have been played. An example: in a six-deck game where two decks have been played and put into the discard rack off to the side, a running count of 8 translates into a true count of 2 because there are four decks left in the shoe. The dealer may shuffle before all four of those remaining decks have been played, but for true count conversion that doesn’t matter.
Take this little test with me to see if you understand the principle.
Deck Remaining | Running Count | True Count | |
---|---|---|---|
1. | 4 | 8 | 2 |
2. | 2 | 10 | 5 |
3. | 5 | 5 | 1 |
4. | 3 | 12 | 4 |
Estimating the Number of Remaining Decks
The casinos are very nice about providing us a device to determine just how many decks there are remaining to be played in the shoe. No, that device is not the shoe, but the discard tray which can be found on virtually every table where a multi-deck game is played. As cards are used, the dealer places them very neatly in the discard tray where everyone can see them so counters use that, and a bit of subtraction, to determine how many decks are left to be played. At a six-deck game, if there are two decks in the discard tray, there has to be four decks left in the shoe, assuming no cards are on the table. What we strive for is to be accurate to within a half-deck for our estimation. Just exactly how to train for that is one of your homework assignments, so don’t worry about it for the moment. What’s more important at this point are the mechanics used to calculate the true count by that method. Let’s walk through a simple explanation together.
We’re at a six-deck game, the running count is M-6 and three decks are in the discard tray. That means three decks remain, so we divide the running count by 3 and our true count is M-2. Yes, this works for negative decks as well — exactly the same way. Got it? Try this test to see if you do.
Assume we’re at a six-deck game. I’m only going to give you the decks in the discard tray, so do the calculation to determine the number of decks left in the shoe.
Decks Played | Running Count | True Count | |
---|---|---|---|
1. | 2 | 4 | ? |
2. | 4 | 8 | ? |
3. | 5 | 5 | ? |
4. | 1 | 5 | ? |
5. | 2.5 | 7 | ? |
6. | 2 | 0 | ? |
7. | 3.5 | M-5 | ? |
8. | 1.5 | 9 | ? |
9. | 3 | M-3 | ? |
10. | 4.5 | 2 | ? |
The Answers
1. One (2 decks played, 4 decks remaining, 4 divided by 4 = 1)
2. Four (4 decks played, 2 decks remaining, 8 divided by 2 = 4)
3. Five (You’re on your own now, kid.)
4. One
5. Two
6. Zero
7. M-two
8. Two
9.M-one
10. A bit over one (but we always round “down” in order to be conservative, so we’d call this “one”.)
I can see some eyes glazing over out there, so we better stop for this week. But don’t be discouraged; you can learn this — it just takes some practice. Speaking of practice, pick up your homework assignment and practice “calibrating” your eyes.
Homework
Estimating the number of decks remaining in a discard tray is really just an exercise in repetitive staring. If you look at a deck of 52 cards long enough, you can tell if 10 or 12 cards have been added to it. So, that’s how we calibrate our eyes. Begin with a single deck and look it for a while. Then, put another deck on top of it and look at that for a while. Now, put a third deck on top and look at that for a while. Finally, pull one deck off — don’t count the cards — just estimate how much a deck is, pull it off and then count it to see how close you were. Now, put that deck back on top and pull off two decks, count them for accuracy and put them back on top. Now, build your stack up to five decks and pull off a deck and a half, then three decks and so on. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ve begun to recognize how many decks are in a pile. A nice variation to this exercise is to have a friend set up piles of various sizes (within a half-deck accuracy) while you’re out of the room and then you come in and recite the size of each pile.
Keep at it, because you’ve got to be accurate at this. Your money will be riding on it.
See you here next week when we discuss how to bet by using the true count.
How often do you calculate the True count? After every hand?
You should calculate the true count after every hand for betting purposes, or potentially even within a hand if you needed it to make a strategy decision based on the count and wanted the exposed cards to help out.
thanks
Does that mean say the true count is +4 after the first two hands in a 6?decks game, you increase your bet even though there is almost 6 decks left ?
Yes, that is exactly the reason for converting to a true count. A true count of +4 means the same thing very early in the shoe as it does deep in the shoe.
Ken,
I can’t thank you enough for the prompt answers !!! I honestly think you are saving us beginners lots of money and heartaches
I am the same guy who asked about KO and penetration in another post few days ago. Following up on your answer above … Using KO in a 8 deck game and starting at 0 .., the count rarely gets to the point where it is now even ( starting with 0 and subtracting 28 ) to get to a positive 0 count … Should I focus on learning Hi Low instead … It seems more plausible to get a running count of say + 12 that you divide by say 4 ( 4 decks remaining … Do you actually count the cards that would not even be used ..especially in poor penetration ??) to get a true count of +3 after only the first few hands … With KO , it just never seems to happen !
KO and Hi-Lo are both getting you to the same information, just in slightly different ways. Hi-Lo is not more likely to give you a plus situation than KO.
(The one thing that Hi-Lo CAN do is give you an idea of how big your edge is in a particular spot, not just KO’s Yes-Or-No information. To get that extra info via Hi-Lo, you have to deal with the complexity of converting to a true count, which KO does not require.)
And for your other question, yes, you still need to account for all the unseen decks, even those behind the cut card.