Lesson 11 – Evaluating Games

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.

While almost all Blackjack games are ultimately beatable, the rewards to be gained from marginal situations do not adequately compensate you for your time and risk. Therefore, you must evaluate a game in several ways before playing it. Two primary areas of concern are the house rules of the game, including the number of decks used and the placement of the cut-card, what we call “penetration.”

Many rule changes require a change in your basic strategy, so don’t forget about the “Basic Strategy Engine”. Remember that rule changes may also affect your betting schedule.

Effect of Rule Variations on the Player’s Edge

(Assume 6 decks, double on any first two cards, no double after splitting, resplit all pairs, except Aces, insurance is available and the dealer stands on Ace-6. This yields a -.54% advantage to the player.)

Changes which help the player Change in the edge
Double after split +.14%
Resplit Aces +.07%
Early surrender vs. all +.70%
Early surrender vs 10 0nly +.30%
Late surrender +.08%
Single Deck +.50%
Two Decks +.20%
Four Decks +.05%
Changes which hurt the player Changes in edge
Dealer hits A-6 -.20%
Double only on 11 -.46%
Double only on 10,11 -.09%
Double only 9, 10,11 -.09%
No resplitting pairs -.04%
No insurance (if you are counting cards) -.40%

To determine the casino’s edge over you at the beginning of a shoe, just add or subtract the rules variations from the ‘base’ game listed above. For example, if you play a double deck game which has the same rules as the base game, the casino advantage is computed as follows.

Base game -.54%
Two Decks +.20%
Player edge -.34%

Effect of Deck Penetration

How far the dealer goes into the deck(s) before shuffling can have a major effect on your winnings. The reason is that with a shallow penetration, the ‘high’ counts which enable you to bet more occur less often in decks where the shuffle comes early. The table below shows how often counts will occur on a percentage basis at varying degrees of penetration.

Percent Occurrence at…
True Count 50% 65% 75% 85% penetration
+1 15 15 13 13
+2 8 7 8 8
+3 3 4 4 5
+4 1.5 2.5 3 4
+5 1 1 2 2
+6 .5 1 2 2
+7 0 .5 1 1.5
+8 0 0 .5 1
+9 0 0 0 .5
+10 0 0 0 .5

Let’s examine what I’m trying to say here. If you play at a game with only 50% penetration, out of every 100 hands, only 29 will have, on average, a true count of 1 or better. Since it requires a true count of 1 to get even with the house, only 14 will be hands on which you have an advantage. Now look at the stats for a game with 85% penetration. Here, about 37.5% of the hands will be at breakeven or better and almost a quarter will be hands on which you have an advantage.


Even if a game doesn’t offer the best rules, it can still be beaten if good penetration is available. Remember that you should leave a game when the count drops below a true of minus 1 so that you spend most of your playing time making bets in what I call the ‘profit zone.’


Calculate the player starting advantage for the following:

  • Single deck, double only on 10 and 11 and the dealer hits A-6. Resplits (except Aces) are permitted and insurance is available.
  • Six decks, dealer stands on A-6, double any first two cards, double after split is allowed, resplitting permitted, including Aces and insurance is available.
  • Two decks, double on any first two cards, no resplitting of pairs, no double after split allowed, late surrender and insurance is available.

I’ll post the correct answers to this quiz in the next lesson.

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30 comments on “Lesson 11 – Evaluating Games

  • Maestro said:

    65% is the standard for ALL games, irregardless of the number of decks?

  • Toledoron said:

    Enjoy reading and gaining more knowledge relative to
    Playing a stronger game of blackjack.
    Thank you for the good info.

  • stefan said:

    ken I wish all the best 4 you in 2017 and just wanted to express a big thank you for your time and informations on bj !!!

  • Stefan said:

    Hello ken.any numbers of avantage of disavantage in european bj.the european no hole pick card for the dealer i think its hurts the players right?also a surrender offer in europe against all dealers cards except an ace before the dealer delt any card to the palyers its the same percent avantage like u have in usa for the full early surrender? Thanks for the answer!

    • European No-Hole-Card costs the player about 0.11%.
      Since most of the value of surrender comes against the Ace, early surrender against any card except the Ace is less valuable. It adds 0.24%. (Full early surrender is worth 0.63% by comparison.)

  • Jay said:

    Hi Ken,

    I play at a casino with the following rules (Quebec):
    Table minimum is $20.

    Natural pays 3 to 2
    8 Decks
    75% to 80% penetration
    Dealer hits soft 17
    Double any two cards allowed
    Double after split allowed
    No Surrender
    Dealer peeks
    Insurance available on dealer face up A
    Splitting limited to a max of 4 times
    No moves allowed after splitting Aces (stand,stand)
    If dealer and player land a natural blackjack, the play is a push (Not sure on this last one, I may be wrong and they may still pay out 3 to 2.)

    How do you recommend we beat this setup?

    • These are very typical 8-deck rules. I recommend either KO or Hi-Lo, with a spread of 1 to 12 or better. In the case of minimum bets, that would be $20 to $240, so just make it $20 to $250. You’ll need a bank of about $25K to safely use that spread. If you can’t afford that level, you will need to backcount if possible, or at a minimum leave in most negative counts.

      • Jay replied:

        Thanks for the reply, Ken!

        These rules have been very discouraging! I’ll proceed with the Hi-Lo because I’ve been practising it with these rules for about a year now and I’ve developed a high degree of comfort keeping the running count and playing perfect basic strategy. Unfortunately, both playing sims at home (kitchen table style) and at the house, we seem to be on a downward & losing curve, but it’s difficult to judge because I don’t think we’ve reached the long run by far 😛

        Luckily, I play with a team of 3 so back-counting might be viable 🙂 and the recommendation you’ve provided as far as bet spread and bank roll really puts things into perspective!

        It’s too bad there’s not another table with different rules within 400KMs of where I live… the house we play at might have up to 3 different tables open at once but on the bright side, its a smaller casino and its a lot more calm than most.

  • Jan Charles said:

    Hi Ken,
    I really love the site but there is something I cant really understand:

    According to the table you get a true count of 7 or better a 0% of the time with 50% deck penetration. But in a single deck game if the first 7 cards dealt are low you already have count of a little bit over 7. So you clearly have a true count of 7 or better over 0% of the time. Is the table wrong or am I doing something wrong?

    • I suspect that the table assumes six decks. You are far less likely to reach TC+7 in a six deck game with 50% penetration than a single deck at 50% pen.

  • Fred M said:

    Hi Ken,
    First let me say I have learnt so much from your website and I am using it to play online live with favorable results.

    My question is, the site I play on go to about 65% penetration before using a new shoe, with an 8 deck game. Should I only play at the table when it is a new shoe? Or is it OK to join and play even if I estimate 2-4 decks in the discard pile?

    • Just like in a land-based casino, you can join the game at any time. Just consider the discards as if they were behind the cut card. An unseen card is an unseen card whether it was dealt before you arrived, or hasn’t left the shoe yet. Of course, joining a shoe in progress means you will get poor penetration on that first shoe, with a similarly lower chance of good counts arising. But there is nothing wrong with the prospect of joining mid-shoe.

  • Gay Card Counter said:

    Just want to be sure I understand . . . it is possible in a game with only 75% penetration (standard deck and half cut out from a six deck shoe) to have a true-count north of +9, right. It doesn’t happen that often but there have definitely been times when 1/2 of the six deck shoe has been cashed and the running count is 20 thus making the true-count – if I understand your teachings correctly – +10, right?

    • Make sure you are including the cards behind the cut card in your unseen decks. In your example, when we are halfway through six decks, that means 3 decks have been dealt, and 3 decks are still unseen. It doesn’t matter that many of the unseen cards will never be used because they are behind the cut card. You still use them in the calculation. So a running count of +20 would convert to a true count of +20/3, or +6.66. With the same true count one deck later (4 decks used, 2 unseen), the true count would by +20/2 = +10.

  • Alex said:

    Dear Sir

    I am 20 and I have just started playing blackjack. Your site has been extremely helpful, in the past two weeks I have gone through all the lessons and have done all the homework. I am counting five decks, ten times a day and I am also practicing game situations regularly. Tomorrow, I am hoping to try my luck at the local casino with my new knowledge. Now I think I can count without a problem at the casino because the dealers are extremely slow especially the ones covering the early shift. However, I would like to ask you a question about penetration which I am not certain of. Now the dealer at the casino puts the cards from the discard tray into the shoe after every hand so does that mean that to calculate my true count, I would always have to divide by five as they use five decks.
    Please help me

    • I have bad news. The game you describe is using a continuous shuffle machine, which means that recently used cards can re-appear in the game immediately. Since the deck composition does not change over time as it does in a non-CSM game, this game cannot be beaten with card counting. You will need to find games that do not use a CSM to be able to count cards. (To specifically answer your question, you would indeed always divide by five, but you would also need to zero out your running count after each and every hand, because the entire five decks is essentially reshuffled constantly.)

  • Hi, Ken

    I’m playing in a on line live casino. It is an european style, 8 decks, 80% penetration, S17, double only in 9, 10 and 11. Split only once. Double after split is not allowed. You can hit after split Aces. I type this data in the MGP’s software and the advantage is -0,63. Is it beatable if I play with TC>1?

    • Each point of true count is worth about 0.5%. So at a TC +1, the game is still negative at about -0.13%. If you were to play only at TC +1 or better, the good counts would be enough to offset the small losses that occur when the true count is exactly +1. So the answer to your question is yes, you could create a small edge by even flat-betting this game by playing only when the true count is +1 or better. If you spread your bets in higher counts, obviously you can improve your results a lot.

  • Love your site and tutorial. I’ve really been enjoying playing blackjack because of it. However, I’m confused or have a problem with one thing. You say to walk away when TC is -1. If I actually walked away, I’d wind up never playing. -1 occurs very very often, I don’t understand how you expect people to walk away. One time I went to the casino with my friends and we took up the whole table, so I was able to sit out a bunch of hands…when the count was negative, without looking suspicious. That was awesome. But I just can’t figure out how to do it when playing not-with-friends without looking suspicious. Can you give me a few pointers? Thanks

    • I think GameMaster’s advice here is impractical for most players. As you note, a true count of -1 happens very often. Too often for most players to want to, or even be able to switch tables.
      Realistically, switching tables at TC -2 is still tough but manageable if you are in a casino with plenty of tables.
      If that is still too difficult, at least save your restroom breaks for when the count really tanks.

      • John replied:

        Alright, noted. At least that’s one less thing I have to worry about doing wrong. Thank you for such a quick reply!

  • Kanatis said:

    Hello Ken

    I have a question about which count is more preferred. I play in 2 casinos one of which is 4deck with 75% penetration and the other one is 6deck with 85% penetration. Obviously the best casino to choose is the second one but my question is that i use Hi-Lo count, but some say that the Knock-out count is more preferred for shoe games even if it is an unbalanced count, so which of these 2 counts is the best for these 2 casinos??
    I find Hi-Lo profitable and easy but i find KO count easy as well, so does the KO count have more success than the Hi-Lo count for the casinos that i attend to???
    Will i have more success by using KO count rather than Hi-Lo count in those casinos??
    Please Help 🙂

  • Savvas said:

    Hey Ken,

    I just started counting cards and i found 2 casinos with good rules but i don’t know which is better. In both casinos the dealer stands on S17, double on any 2 pairs is allowed, resplitting is allowed and after splitting aces you get one card and black jack pays 3:2. But the first one is an 8-deck with 85% penetration while the other is 4-deck with 65-75% penetration. Which one should i prefer?

    • The off-the-top difference between 4 decks and 8 decks is only around 0.1%.
      Because the penetration is so much better on your 8-deck game, I would choose the 8-deck game for card counting.
      (Just to be clear: Basic strategy players would be better off in the 4-deck game, since penetration doesn’t matter to them.)

  • Dealer only has one card on table, player can surrender before the first third card deal out of the shoe.player can surrender on dealer’s ten but not A. so what is the advantage for player for this rule. if ES is +0.7%, what is the advantage for this kind of surrender?

  • Hi Ken,

    I calculated my local casino edge based on the infor you give.
    our rule is 6 decks, double on any first two cards, double after splitting, resplit all pairs, except Aces, insurance is available,dealer stands on H-17.
    so my calculation is: -.54% -0.2%(H17)+0.7(ES)+0.14(DAS)=0.1% is this right? if it is right, does it mean player have 0.1% edge over casino?
    thanks for all you have replied on other topic.

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