Blackjack Card Counting – Hi / Lo System

I promised in my Blackjack Basic Strategy article to give some basic advice about card counting going forward. There are a large number of blackjack card counting systems and opportunities, and I’ll try to cover different derivatives. In this article, I’d like to introduce one of the most popular and most simple blackjack card counting systems: The Hi-Lo System.

The Hi-Lo system works by giving / assigning every card in the deck DEALT a point value of +1, 0, or -1. Cards 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 each have a count value of “+1”. Cards 7, 8, and 9 each count as 0. Aces and Picture / Ten cards each have a count value of “-1”. This small table shows the cards and values more clearly:

Card Values vs Points Values

Using the blackjack hi-lo card counting system you want to bet more when the count is HIGH (i.e. when lots of low cards have been dealt out, leaving high cards / ten cards in the deck to be dealt), and less when the count is LOW. Why? High cards help the player to get better scores, and also give you a better chance at getting a natural blackjack. In contrast, low cards help the dealer to pull cards without going bust.

To use the blackjack hi-lo card counting system, as each card is DEALT, simply add the resulting value based upon the card dealt – so if it’s a ten value, subtract one. If it’s a 4 etc, add one. You always START AT ZERO at the beginning of a new shoe (regardless of how many decks of cards are being played in that shoe). You must count ALL cards shown on the layout: whether they belong to you, the dealer, or other players. ALL cards must be allowed for – otherwise your count will be inaccurate.

Let’s assume that 8 cards have been dealt from the deck, and that they were as follows: “Q, Ten, 4, 7,5,9, King, 3″. We would start from zero and then apply the following: -1, -1, +1,+0, +1, +0, -1”. Totalling those scores together our RUNNING COUNT is “-1”. This means that more picture / ace cards have been dealt from the deck than is statistically good for us. So we would bet LOW at this point.

Let’s take an alternative stream of 8 cards dealt: “5,6,3,8,7,Ten, 9, 2″. We would start from zero and then apply the following: +1, +1, +1, +0, +0, -1, 0, +1”. Totalling those scores together our RUNNING COUNT is “+3”. This means that less picture / ace cards have been dealt from the deck than is statistically good for the casino. So we would bet HIGH at this point. (The higher the count, the more we bet).

Betting thresholds depend on how many decks are being played and how far through the decks have been dealt – but for me I find I start to bet noticably higher once the count is “+4” or more in my favour – and certainly always when it is “+6” or more.

If you follow this method exactly as stated however, you may still lose. Why? Because you also need to factor in something called the “TRUE count”. A true count takes into consideration not only the “running count” of the actual cards that have come out so far, but also allows for how far statistically you have been dealt through all available cards in the shoe.

To get the True Count, you divide the running count by the number of decks still left to play. Let’s say you’re on a double-deck (104-card) blackjack game, and only those 8 cards have come out. You’re therefore 8/104 into the deck. If your true count is +3, you need to divide this number by 2, as there’s still roughly 2 decks to play. So your running count is +3, but your TRUE COUNT is 1.5.

If however you’re on a six deck (312-card) blackjack game, and only those 8 cards have come out, then you’re 8/312 into the deck. If your true count is +3, then you divide +3 by 6 to get the running count: your TRUE COUNT is 0.5.

Each TRUE COUNT point gives the player an advantage of about 0.5% – but the casino has the edge when the cards are first shuffled by about 0.5%. Therefore a True Count of +4 would give an edge TO THE PLAYER of 4 x 0.5% = 2% less house starting advantage of 0.5% = REAL PLAYER ADVANTAGE of 1.5%.

This is why I personally tend to wait until I have a TRUE COUNT of about +4 before I start betting too heavily. Technically, any advantage is a good thing for a player – but I tend to bet cautiously. The higher the TRUE COUNT plus value, the more I bet. Of course, if your bets swing wildly from say $5 / £5 on no advantage to £100 / $100 on a +5 advantage, you WILL attract attention from casino surveillence (and could end up banned like I was in the UK). So by all means play higher bets, but maybe go from $5 / £5 to $25 / £25 in your swings to avoid detection.

This short primer simply describes one possible system for blackjack card counting. There are other more advanced systems that can give better results – I’ll cover these in the future.

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Good luck beating the casinos! Let me know your thoughts / how you get on.

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