Learning Card Counting Indexes? Don’t Make This Mistake


Index Numbers

Once you have basic strategy committed to memory, and you have learned to count cards and vary your bet, the next step in fine-tuning your game is to add strategy variations using index numbers.

When I first began to learn about strategy variations, I found them confusing.  Based on the number of emails I get on the topic, I know that I am not the only one.

I was especially confused about the way indexes are presented.  I thought I could see a better way.  But eventually I switched to the standard method, and it definitely has its benefits.

If you are not familiar with strategy variations in card counting, this post is not where you should begin.  Instead, start with the introduction to index numbers on the instruction page for my Advanced Strategy Cards. In the middle of that page, you’ll find a section titled “Introduction to Card Counting with the Hi-Lo System”. If you need a primer, head over there first.

Strategy Variations Can Wait, Maybe Forever!

For over a year after I learned to count cards, I played straight basic strategy.  I was using the count to vary my bets, but I didn’t use any index numbers for strategy variation at all.

Actually, I recommend that for everyone.  Before you start worrying about strategy variation, card counting should be almost automatic for you.  The majority of the profit from card counting comes from varying your bet.  Bet more when you have the advantage, and bet less when the casino does.  Strategy variations are just the icing on the cake, letting you squeeze a little more profit out of the game.

In fact, many players don’t ever learn any strategy variation indexes, and play successfully for years without them.  For example, most users of unbalanced counting system don’t use indexes at all.  But if you are using a balanced counting system like Hi-Lo, and you want the extra challenge and profit that index numbers bring, it’s time to get to work.

I won’t tell you it’s easy or simple, because it is neither at first.  It will take study and concentration to understand what is involved.  But at least maybe with my help, you can avoid one of my mistakes.

How I Started Learning Indexes, The Wrong Way!

After a year of counting, I was ready to add some strategy variations to my game by learning a few key index numbers.  Almost immediately, I found that I was confused by the way index numbers are traditionally presented.

For my example, I’m going to use a few Hi-Lo index numbers for a 6 deck H17 game.

Each of these indexes is a “Stand” index.  Let me translate a couple of them:

The first of these is pretty easy to understand.  In basic strategy, you hit 12 vs 2.  But if the true count is +3 or higher, you should stand instead because of the excess high cards in the remaining deck.

But I found the phrasing in the second example confusing.  Hey, I know basic strategy backwards and forwards.   It’s automatic for me, especially a simple hand like 12 against a 6.  That’s a Stand.  What I need to know is when I would want to hit it instead.  Shouldn’t the second version instead say “Hit 12 vs 6 when the true count is -5 or lower?”.

To be clear, these two statements mean exactly the same thing:

So, why not use the one that assumes you’ll play basic strategy unless the condition is met?  It just seemed odd to me to say it the first way.

In fact, I made myself flash cards of the index numbers that I wanted to learn, converting them to my way of thinking.  I learned about 20 index numbers this way, and used them successfully for a long while, probably two or three years.

But Then, I Finally “Got It”

After that, I decided to learn a few more index numbers, and it was then that I finally began to understand why the traditional method of learning indexes is superior.  It basically comes down to the amount of information that you need to remember.

Let’s look at how “Ken’s method” would represent the five strategy variations I mentioned above:

And now, look at those same indexes shown in the traditional way (this is the same table shown earlier):

There is much less information to remember if you just bite the bullet and learn the traditional way of doing this.  If you convert the rules the way I did, each decision has several parts.  I have to remember whether my rule starts with “Hit” or “Stand”;  Then I have to remember the index number; And then I have to remember the “direction” of higher or lower.

In the traditional version, every rule uses “Stand” as the action, and every “direction” is higher.  All you have to remember for each decision is one fact: the index number.

The same is true of the other types of decisions with “Double Down” or “Split” index numbers.  You automatically know what the decision action is.  All you need is the index number.

A Little Pain Now Prevents  a Lot of Pain Later

Switching from my own method to the traditional method was not a smooth and easy process.  I had spent a lot of time using my own version of index numbers, and now I had to change the way I used them, and many of the numbers were now different because of the change.  But I’m glad I finally made the switch.  It really did make adding more numbers easier.

Don’t handicap yourself by following my path.  Just start off on the right foot.  The extra time it takes to learn to think about indexes correctly in the beginning will pay off in the long run.

It’s not easy.  But you can get there with practice.

About the Author

Creator of Blackjackinfo.com, very few can rival Ken's experience and knowledge of blackjack. His blackjack resume includes winning numerous tournament winnings, making several TV appearances and authoring multiple books on blackjack tournament strategy. Discover more about Ken's background and how he got started here

For a list of all contributors to Blackjackinfo.com click here

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I use the terms more and less. +2 or more stand, +1 or less hit. Simplest to say and understand for me.

Robert barnes

Jennabenna fan in your website for a long time I know you’re from the same area that I am is there any possible way you could Meetup a young counter we’re not somewhat Young just learned everything on my own and really need someone to come to me had 4 back surgeries and I’ve got to get this down to make a living I don’t have no retirement paid in we’re just a long story to that too but I love your website and that the option that you give people to make a living or offset their income I would look forward to hearing from you and if you would not meet with me or show me I would understand but I am not be willing to pay

Confused Indexer

I am presently using the Zen count, working on memorizing indices, and am coming up against a logic problem that my mind can’t seem to wrap itself around. In the index section involving hard doubles, the counts are as low as -19 (11v7). As a secondary note I am using the True count method, not the 1/4 deck True edge. The translation of this index, 11v7 stand @TC>-19 makes very little sense to me in logical analysis. In doubling down, it makes sense to avoid doing so at lower counts when more face value cards have been outweighed by the smaller cards available. However, unless I’m totally out to lunch on this one, this index specifies that I double against a seven, only at times where it would be terribly unlikely for me to receive a strong hand making card as well as being relatively advantageous to the dealer in advantage, and to avoid doing so, when the cards would be favorable to double as well. Am I interpreting this wrong, or is my logic simply wrong?

Also, thank you so much Ken for keeping up and running this sight. The information here has been invaluable on my card counting training, and has made for a greater resource than most of the money I will probably make in recreational play.

Secondary note, if there are any Tarantino fans out there, there are 88 indices to memorize for the Zen Count. Made my day ^_^


c lee

has anybody been using snyders red seven count?


Hi Ken,
I just purchased your advanced card pack. Very nice quality and I love the “stealth” versions (after I actually *read* your instructions I figured out the dots. 😉 Two questions:

1. I haven’t tried them in a casino yet. Do you know if they frown upon the “stealth” versions, i.e. are they going to disallow them and force me to use the casino versions without any of your “hints”? ( Maybe I just have to give it a try and report back.)

2. on the back of the cards, in the key, for “D” it says “Double (else ” Is that a typo? Did I get a bad batch? What does it mean? The “DS” says “Double (else stand)” which I understand. Is there a word missing after the “else” in “D”? Thanks again.

The Dude

Hi, I have a question.
I memorized the ENTIRE TABLE of variations on Blackjackgeeks.com, but now I’m noticing his variations
are slightly different from the ones you list.

Will I be successful with those indexes, or are they going to screw me up?


That would make sense on the surface of it. But I seem to recall reading that there are decisions with the direction reversed. (In tables, they are marked with an asterisk.) So it seems that, no matter how you go about it, you need two pieces of information. Index and normal/reversed; or basic decision and index of change.

Al Rogers

I think “better” or “worse” is more intuitive for newcomers than “higher” or “lower.”

Donald Lambertus

Thanks for your article on memorizing the ‘Basic Strategy Variations’. I recently purchased Ken’s Index cards and was thinking along the same lines as you once did so thanks for sharing your experience and giving clarity.

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