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.
I always stress the idea of ‘expectation’ as it applies to casino gaming because understanding the concept will help you stop gambling and hopefully turn you into an investor at the tables. By definition, an investor expects to make a profit so you cannot be an investor if you play at games where there is a negative expectation. If you bet $10 on the Pass line at craps, you’ll either win $10 or lose $10, but your ‘expectation’ is to lose 14 cents on every hand. That’s because the house has a built-in edge of 1.4% on that bet and if you play it frequently, your average loss will work out to be 14 cents per decision. In the short term you might win a lot of money, but play it long enough and the house edge will eventually have its effect. Since the average craps table produces about 60 decisions an hour, the cost per hour of betting $10 on the pass line will work out to be — in the long run — about 60 X 14 cents = $8.40.
Now let’s look at this concept from the point of view of a positive expectation situation like card counting at Blackjack. If your average bet is $12 and the average advantage you have over the house is 1.25%, your expectation is to win $12 X .0125 = $.15 per hand. Yes, that’s 15 cents per hand. At a rate of 60 hands an hour, you can expect to make — in the long run — about 60 X 15 cents = $9.00 an hour. But, if you can increase the number of hands you play per hour to, say, 80 hands, you’ve raised your expectation to 80 X 15 cents = $12.00 an hour. The only other way to make more money is to either raise the size of your average bet or increase your edge over the casino. The bet size is just a function of your bankroll (and your ability to continue ‘fooling’ the casino into believing you are just another gambler and not a card counter) and the advantage is mostly a function of the casino’s rules for their Blackjack game. I will address both these issues in future lessons, so for now let’s focus on increasing the number of hands you play in an hour.
More Hands Mean More Money
If you are the only player at a six-deck game, you can play at a rate of about 200 hands an hour. With all else remaining equal, that will raise your expectation to 200 X 15 cents = $30 an hour — a very healthy increase. The problem here is that I want you to get up and walk away whenever the true count drops below M1, so 200 hands an hour is possible only if you get one of those shoes where the count stays positive AND if you are fast enough to keep the count while your playing at this rate. Moving when the deck goes bad is a must, since it’s cheaper to not play at all rather than play at a game where the house has an edge over you.
But 200 hands an hour is a worthy goal, so continue practicing with your single-deck countdown in an effort to build your speed to a point where you can go through a deck in under 20 seconds. When you can do that and compute the true count and play perfect basic strategy, you should play one-on-one whenever possible. That may mean that you’ll have to go to the casino at 2 AM on a Monday, but it will be worth it. Just remember that increasing your rate of play will increase your hourly standard deviation, so don’t be surprised if you lose $400 or more in an hour’s play; your risk hasn’t increased but you have — in effect — ‘compressed’ your time factor. Dealers often tell me that a player “can’t win” one-on-one, but they’re wrong. Their misconception in this regard comes from the fact that because more hands are being played, the swings are bigger and dealers usually remember the big losers and forget the big winners. As an investor, it is in your best interest to play as many hands an hour as possible, since your expectation is to win 15 cents a hand.
THE GOAL OF THE PROFESSIONAL PLAYER IS TO PUT IN AS MUCH QUALITY PLAYING TIME AS POSSIBLE; WIN OR LOSS AMOUNTS ARE SECONDARY. BY PLAYING AND BETTING CORRECTLY, THE $$$ WILL COME WITH TIME.
A Winning Attitude
As I’ve said before, the wins at Blackjack come in ‘chunks’, so you shouldn’t be concerned when you have a losing session, nor should you feel invincible when you win. A proper mental attitude eliminates the highs and lows of the game (thus making it very boring — at least in my opinion) but it enables you to play a solid, unemotional game. When I have a losing session (on average, 35% of the time), I just go away knowing that the casino will take good care of the money and I’ll eventually come back and get it. 600 hands of play means I’ve ‘earned’ 600 times my expectation per hand so I just need to keep going to work and my paycheck will eventually reflect my earnings. To put it simply, if you are playing a winning game, it isn’t a matter of ‘if’ you will win, merely a matter of ‘when’.
So let the ice-water begin to flow in your veins — as one author put it, “steely blue eyes will do.” Emotion has no place in card-counting; accuracy and patience are the only requirements for getting the $$$.
Get an old deck of cards and a marker pen. For those of you playing at 6-deck games, write the number “1/2” on the back of one card, “1” on the next card, “1 1/2” on the third card and continue up to 5 by increments of one-half. Now , number the backs of 20 more cards individually from 1 to 20. Shuffle both piles (separately) face up so you can’t see the numbers and turn over the top card from the first pile. This will represent the number of decks in the discard tray. For example, if it’s the “2 1/2” card, it represents 2 1/2 decks in the discard tray, so that must mean there are 3 1/2 decks left in the shoe. Now begin turning over the cards from the second pile. These represent the running count and we want to practice computing the true count, so if the first card is “8”, the true count is 8 divided by 3 1/2 = 2 (remember, we round down to be conservative). Keep going through the running count cards while the ‘decks’ card remains the same. When you’ve gone through all the running count cards, change the ‘decks’ card and do it again.
This exercise will help speed your ability to compute the true count accurately. Those of you who will be playing single deck just need to make a card for 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 decks and running-count cards from 1 to 10, but you will practice the same way.
As you do this exercise, concentrate on accuracy and remember to be conservative in computing the true count.