I’ve read the book “Bringing Down the House” before and saw the movie “21″ which the book was based on. It’s about a team of MIT students who count cards as a team making it harder for casinos to catch. They made good money while they could get away with it, and when the well finally ran dry, they turned their cash cow story into a book deal and later into a movie deal. Needless to say, I’m intrigued by the concept of counting cards although I have no desire to be found in some bog or swamp face down or be buried in cement somewhere.

Today my friend Marko taught me how to count cards. A little background info on Marko – his Sicilian grandfather was a bookie in Vegas and taught little Marko everything he knows about gambling. By the time he was 12, Marko could count a deck in less than 25 seconds. That said though, he says he has never really gambled. Yeaaaah riiiiiiight. And I was born yesterday.

What I am about to cover is card counting with respect to the game of blackjack. The idea of card counting is to assign a value to a card and keep a running “count” (hence card “counting”) of the total – the score of which would indicate to you whether you should fold, stay, or put more money down. What card counting is not, is keeping track and memorizing every card and being able to predict what card will be drawn. Card counting is more like statistical analysis used to increase your odds of winning money when the deck is most likely favorable to you.

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 J Q K A
Hi-Lo 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1
Zen 1 1 2 2 2 1 0 0 -2 -2 -2 -2 -1

Above is a lookup table showing 2 strategies: Hi-Lo which is a basic technique, and Zen which is a more advanced technique. The table illustrates the face value of the cards with their given count for each technique. The idea is to look at the value of cards dealt and add up the value. The theory is that a deck rich in high face value cards is advantageous to the player while a deck with low value cards favor the house. Keeping a count gives you a probability of what is going to be dealt. The Hi-Lo system is called a balanced counting system meaning that if you go through a whole deck of 52 cards, the count should be 0. You should be able to count through a whole deck in 25 seconds to guarantee that you can count cards faster than a dealer deals. The Zen method of counting takes into account the fact that you are more likely to bust (go over 21) when you are dealt with certain cards and thus take those cards into account.

That’s a basic overview of card counting. However you should be aware that when playing blackjack for real in casinos, you are probably dealing with a 6 deck shoe which complicates things. Players then need to calculate the “true count” that also takes into account that fact. Also, card counting is by no means a sure fire way to win. It only yields a few percentages of advantage for you over the house but it takes a lot of skill to master. As for me, I think I’ll stick to wushu, coding, and blogging, hopefully in that order.

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