Lesson 13 – The Advanced Course – Part 1

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.

The most powerful (legal) means of overcoming the casino’s edge in Blackjack is to vary your bets according to the true count. Additional gains of .2 to .3% are available to those who also vary the play of their hands according to the true count. You undoubtedly have had situations where the count was sky-high and just knew that hitting that 12 against the dealer’s 3 was going to get you a face card. There is a point, as measured by true count, where standing with a 12 against a 3 is more profitable than hitting. This is called a ‘basic strategy variation’ and you’ll learn a lot of them in this series.

Basic Strategy Variations

Modifying the play of your hand according to the true count will occur about 10% of the time. Should the count drop, you will double less, hit ‘stiff’ hands more and split pairs less often. As the count goes up, you will double more often, hit ‘stiffs’ less and split pairs more. For each basic strategy play, there is only one variation. For example, the variation for the hand 10, 6 versus 10 is to stand instead of hit; you would never double and you obviously may not split. Another example is 5,4 versus 2. Basic strategy says to hit, but if the count is high enough, you would double this hand. A good example on the minus side is A-2 versus 5; basic strategy says to double, but if the count is below 0, you should just hit. The easy way to remember something like that is “Double Ace-2 vs. 5 at 0 or higher.” Broken down into the ‘shorthand’ of a flashcard it is A-2 vs. 5 = 0. (Yes, we’ll be going back to our old friends, the flashcards.)

The Power of Basic Strategy Variations

The value of any variation is determined by how often it will, on average, be used. If you play 100,000 hands of Blackjack a year ( about 20 hours a week, year round), you can expect to see a hand of 16 vs. 10 about 3500 times (3.5%). That’s actually the number 1 non-insurance situation. Any variation here has considerable value, simply because you’ll be using it relatively often. Conversely, you will receive 9,9 vs. 2 only 43 times in that 100,000-hand sample, so the variation here is of little value, because you’ll rarely use it. The frequency of hands allows us to prioritize the learning of basic strategy variations.

One of the most important variations from basic strategy is the insurance bet. Since the dealer will show an Ace as an up card about 7.5% of the time, knowing when it’s profitable to take insurance is very important. If you are playing at a six deck game, insurance is worthwhile when the true count is 3 or higher. You should always make the insurance bet at that point, regardless of what cards you’re holding, since it has no relationship with your hand. The High/Low counting system has an ‘Insurance Efficiency’ of 80% which means that 8 out of 10 times you’ll be doing the right thing when you make an insurance bet based on the true count.

As I mentioned earlier, considerable value is gained by learning those variations which involve starting hands of 12-16 vs. any up card, since those are the hands you’ll see most often. In fact, fully 54% of all your hands will be ‘stiff’ at some point in the playing. This is a good place to make an important point: basic strategy variations apply not just to your starting hands, but also to hands composed of 3 or more cards. You will stand on A, 2, 10, 3 versus 10 if the count is 0 or higher, as well as a hand of 10, 6. Doubling (or not doubling) is next in importance and splitting/not splitting pairs is least important.

The Value of Basic Strategy Variations

It’s safe to say that utilizing these variations will increase your winnings by 10% in the six-deck game. But there’s a major side-benefit to them as well. By using these variations, you’ll look more like a ‘gambler’ in the casino. Hitting 16 against 10 some of the time and standing on it at other times is typical gambler behavior. For those casino supervisors who know proper basic strategy (damn few!), seeing you double A,7 versus 2 is crazy, just as standing with 15 against a 10 is ‘chicken’. Yet, all of those are — at certain counts — the correct play.

If you play at a single-deck game, the value of variations to basic strategy soars to 25% or more. If you spend any time at those games, you must learn them.

In the next lesson, I’ll show you how to learn these variations

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37 comments on “Lesson 13 – The Advanced Course – Part 1

  • Hi Ken,

    So these variations are done according to the true count not the running count?


    • Barry replied:

      yes, the variations change according to the true count. However 16 vs 10 changes from hit to stand at even a plus 1 running count and 12 vs 4 , 9 vs 3 , A2 vs 5 , 3,3 vs 2, A4 vs 4 change at even a -1 running count. You then continue to calculate the the variations based on the true count… so +1 t.c = A7 vs 2, A7 vs A, A8 vs 6, 11 vs A and A3 vs 4.

  • Hi Ken,
    I’m right at the beginning of my c.c career and would like to thank you for the help you have provided via these lessons, for me the most difficult part has been memorising the 41 variations -3 to + 10… I’m curious as to why you haven’t included the 10,10 vs 6 split at T.C +4 and 10,10 vs 5 split at T.C +5. Is it for camouflage motives?

    Also why does the European basic strategy version (no peek) entail not splitting A,A against an A whereas the American version denotes split? I’m wondering whether I need to revise the variations for the European game

    lastly are there pros and cons to CVBJ vs other programmes such as MGp’s blackjack combination analyser?

    • I’m no longer involved in the site here, but I occasionally drop in to reply to questions…
      The GameMaster’s course did leave out the ten splits for camo reasons, and it’s generally a good idea to ignore them.
      For European games, the reason that you are more conservative against dealer tens and aces is that you could still lose everything to a dealer blackjack, even after splitting or doubling. That can’t happen in the US “peek” game.
      CBVJ vs MGP’s CA… CVBJ is a practice tool, while MGP’s software only generates strategy information (and only for basic strategy, not card counting.)

  • Thanks, great answer, I am now very comfortable to continuing memorizing and using the indexes from you cards.

  • Ken, I have a set of your cards and have CVBJ and a copy of Wong’s Professional Blackjack and when I compare all three using the same set of rules I get different indexes, (granted only off by one true count here and there) how do I decide which index is best ?

    • I spent a lot of time on my index numbers, and CVBJ was the tool I used. Indexes are affected by nearly every possible detail of the game, so slightly different assumptions will yield slightly different answers. And then there’s the fact that indexes affect each other. If you use your best current indexes to run a new set of indexes, the numbers may change slightly. I used this kind of iterative approach over and over again to have my indexes converge to what I think were the best values.
      The good news is that a difference of a point here or there is very insignificant. But if you wanted perfect indexes, you could use CVBJ making absolutely sure every setting mirrors the games you are playing. Then generate a new strategy from those numbers, and generate the indexes again. And again, and again.
      The simple answer of which index is the best is likely the ones on my card, unless your conditions are widely different from my assumptions. I would trust those, or indexes you generate yourself over the aging Wong indexes. A lot has been learned over the years since Wong did his work.

  • Stefan said:

    Ken just from curiocity asking?how many systems counting do u know?general you sound like a guy who knows whats he says very serious !also at your opinion how many hours u believe that someone needs in the kitchen table in order to say that he is ready for the tables?

    • When I started out about 20 years ago, for the first two or three years I used the Hi-Lo. Then I switched to Wong’s Halves count, which has an awesome betting efficiency. That is the count I have used ever since. However, it is a complicated 3 level count (and I use it in true halves form, not doubled). It’s hard to justify a complicated system these days unless you are really playing a lot. These days, when people ask what to learn, I recommend KO and Hi-Lo.

  • Luis Beckert said:

    Ken ,

    I have a place to play eight decks, H17 , DAS Later Surrender , Peek , penetration 75 % .
    I can get on the table when you see fit.
    Making a fixed bet of $ 100 when the count is above +1 , which my theoretical profit after 1,000 hands bet ?

    • Using Hi-Lo and the Sweet 16 (Illustrious 18 minus the ten splits), H17 DAS LS 75%, only betting $100 in true counts of +1 or higher, your profit is $75 per 100 hands. Your long-run risk of ruin with a $20K bankroll is 5%.
      But your question was how much expected profit after 1000 hands: That is $750.

  • Brad said:

    What would you recommend for books beyond Wong’s Professional blackjack, for someone who wants to really learn hi-lo count and the play as informed as possible?

  • Brad said:

    I am using your cards to learn my index numbers, are they base on truncate, floor, round or statistical round of true count? Also I see some variances in what people say the illustrious 18 is and what the index numbers are, what are the index numbers that I should use for I 18? I see different numbers for 12 v 2, 12 v 3 and 10 v A. I really want to learn to play perfectly.

    • The card indexes are generating by flooring the true count. Just to refresh everyone’s memory, floor(2.9) = 2, floor(-2.9) = -3.

      The exact index numbers depend on many different details, so it is not unusual to see small differences in published indexes. The indexes on my cards are very good, the result of many hours of fine-tuning. And as you will notice, the indexes for some of the plays you mention are highly dependent on the number of decks and whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17. So you will see variations in the index numbers among the various cards in the set.

    • Brad replied:

      So with flooring if you have 4 decks remaining and a running count of -3 it would be considered a -1 true and a running count of -5 would play as a true count of -2 and so on ?

  • I have a question about playing at home and playing at the casino. Why is it when i play at home i can win and at the casino its lot harder to beat. At the casino the dealer seems to always win. Is it the way the cards get shuffled? I think that i shuffle very good and it is much different at the tables.

    • It sounds to me like you’ve just been luckier when practicing at home than when playing in the casino. As an example, I get complaints from players who use my strategy trainer here on the site… Some say “It must be rigged to be too easy. I win a ton!”, while others complain “It must be rigged to be too hard. I can’t ever win!”
      Welcome to blackjack. It’s a bumpy ride.

      • mike replied:

        When playing 10 a hand with no bankroll just paycheck to paycheck what should my spread be with each true count? If the true count is 3 should i bet 20.00 or less? Thanx for your time. Dont really understand the spread i should use

        • A minimal bankroll puts you in a tough spot. You cannot play a positive game without spreading at least 1 to 6 in a multi-deck game, but a top bet of $60 would mean you would usually lose whatever money you bring to the table because of short-term swings. If you are playing for fun, then budget whatever you can afford and spread minimally as you describe from $10 to $20. That is not much better than flat-betting, and perhaps flat-betting would be a better option. Either way your expectation is to lose a small percentage of your overall action. Be sure your basic strategy is solid. That will help.

          • mike replied:

            1-6 spread. Does that mean 10.00 for every true count? True 2,10,true 3,20,true4,30. Is that how you do the spread? Thanx for your time

            • If your unit is $10, a 1-6 spread means betting from $10 to $60. Bet $10 at negative counts, zero counts, and probably at +1 also depending on the game. At +2 start ramping up until you reach your top bet of $60 at a true count of +5. There are a couple of lessons in the school that delve deeply into how to determine an optimal bet ramp. But as long as you stick to the simple approach I just described, you’ll be fine.

  • Hi Ken, I wen to Casino a few time with won and lost, get almost even now. For the novice like me with $1000 in pocket, do you have some suggestion when should I leaving the table? should I set a wining and losing limit? or just one shoe or two or more?

    when do you decide your are going to leaving the table?

    Thank you very much for all your reply.

    • I always have a tough time answering that question, because experienced players approach the game so differently. I always play games where I have a positive expected value, so the longer I play the more I make. But I also don’t want to wear out my welcome, so I tend to keep my sessions short, at around an hour before moving on. Winning or losing don’t factor into my decision much at all, except when the size of a win or loss starts to look unusual.

      For casual players, wins and losses often do have a big impact on how long you play, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. It can feel devastating to have a nice win early in a session and yet give it all back and end up a big loser. If you aren’t pretty experienced at the game and can take those kinds of results in stride with just a shrug of the shoulders, you will likely benefit from having a win limit. Likewise, a loss limit can prevent a terrible crushing loss. If you are counting and playing a positive game, any kind of limit that makes you leave early will cost you playing time, and therefore some profit potential. But it is likely worth it for most player’s mental game.

  • Thank you very much for your prompt replying.

    I have another question, I just find out that in your lesson 20 you play $10 min with a $3,000 bankroll. does $3,000 bankroll can be enough for all the loss in one session if I can count and play properly with 1-6 spread ? do I have to take $3,000 cash in my pocket when I am going to play?(silly question for sure but like to know) Thanks,

  • Hi Ken,

    Thanks for creating this great website and I like the discussion here as well.

    my local casinos use machine shuffle for all $5 min tables(shuffle ever one deck), hand shuffle for $10 min tables.
    I have to sit at $10 table if I am going to counting,but if I only have $1,000 bankroll, do your have some strategy for the people who don’t have enough bankroll to play? or should I wait until I get $10,000 bankroll?

  • Josh said:

    Why would you take insurance with a count of 3? That would leave 16 opportunities for dealer BJ (10s) and 33 opportunities to lose the insurance bet (non-10s) per deck. You’ll only win the insurance bet 32.7% of the time. That leaves a overall payout of -2.0%. Or are you using a different counting method? A count of +4 would seem like the obvious breakeven point to me.

    • It’s a bad idea to try to back into index numbers by starting with a whole deck and just removing the needed high or low cards. That will create only one of a huge number of possible deck compositions with that particular count. And an index number is calculated across all those combinations.
      Even so, if we look at a single deck off the top and create the simplest scenario where the running count is +3 (and the true count very slightly more than that because of the used cards), we’ll see something like this… An Ace for the dealer, and two players whose hands are both two small cards. That’s a running count of +3, (-1 for the ace and +4 for the other cards.) There are now 16 tens left in the deck and 31 non-tens. Insurance is profitable because more than one-third of the cards are ten-value cards. But, to reiterate, you really shouldn’t try to justify index numbers in this way. It won’t always work.

      • Josh replied:

        yeah. good point. i didn’t consider aces contributing to a lower count while the 10s remain in play. thanks for getting back to me on that

  • Justin said:

    Right on Dwight, me too. I just started going to the casino, and it’s been fun. I’m ready to start practicing to get my money back.

  • Dwight Frostt said:

    Now I have to go back to lesson 1 and see if I can force myself to start practicing the “counting”…I guess

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