Unbalanced Blackjack

Counting Systems

If you have been hesitant to learn card counting because you don't think you are capable of handling the mental arithmetic that's involved, I've got good news for you. There are several counting systems that eliminate the most difficult part of counting (the division) making it much easier for the average player to learn how to count.

Historically, most of the popular card counting systems were "balanced". This means the sum of the count values that were assigned to each card that was "counted" netted out to 0. For example the popular Hi-Lo counting system assigns a +1 to every 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 card and a -1 to every 10, picture card, and ace. Card counters add the point values for each of these cards as they are played to arrive at a sum known as the running count. In the Hi-Lo count, the sum of the low cards is + 20 per deck (because there are five of each low value card). Likewise there is the same number of high value cards that total -20 per deck. The + 20 and - 20 net to 0 therefore the Hi-Lo count is a balanced count.

Counters who use a balanced count like the Hi-Lo must adjust their running count when they are playing in multiple deck games. They do this by mentally dividing their running count by the number of unplayed decks of cards in the shoe to arrive at the true count. The latter more accurately indicates how much of an edge a counter has when playing in multiple deck games.

Most casual players find it difficult to do the mental division that is necessary to convert the running count to true count. So instead they give-up learning card counting.

Over the last few years a new breed of counting systems have surfaced that are "unbalanced". This means the sum of the point values for the cards that are counted do not net out to 0. The result is that it is not necessary to convert a running count to a true count (i.e. the division is eliminated). These systems are easy for casual players to learn and they are powerful enough to give the player a slight edge over the casino.

One of the easiest unbalanced counting systems are the Key Card Count found in Fred Renzy's book, "Blackjack Bluebook". There are only a few cards that are counted in the Key Count. The 4's and 5's are counted as +1 and 10's count -1. In addition the black ace (spade and club) is counted -1. This results in an "unbalanced" counting system because the sum of the low value cards equals +8 per deck and the sum of the high value cards equals -6 and the net is +2.

Using Renzy's Key Card Count is easy. You start your count after a shuffle at +18 (this is your initial starting count). Every time you see a 4 or 5 you add 1 to your count. Every time you see a 10 or black ace you subtract 1 from your count. When your count is below 20 you bet your minimum and when it goes to 20 or above you bet more. The further the count goes above 20 the greater your edge and the more you should bet. It's that simple and you can use the counting system in single or multiple deck games to potentially gain a slight edge (this assumes you are playing with favorable playing rules).

A second popular unbalanced counting system is the Red 7 Count by Arnold Snyder ("Blackbelt in Blackjack"). The cards that are counted in this system are the 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 (each count +1), the 7 of hearts or diamonds (count +1) and the 10, picture cards and ace count -1. The net count per deck is +2 resulting in an unbalanced system. You start your count at -2 times the number of decks. For example if you are playing in a six-deck game you start your count at -12. Whenever the running count is 0 or a positive number you have the edge and you should bet more. Likewise in a 2 deck game you start your count at -4 and when the running count gets to 0 or a positive number you increase your bet (the more positive the running count the greater your edge).

The third unbalanced counting system appeared in "Knock Out Blackjack" by Olaf Fuchs and Ken Vencura. This system counts the 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7's as +1 and the 10, picture cards and aces as aces as -1. The net sum of the point values per deck is +4. You start your count at 4 minus (4 times the number of the decks). For example in a 6-deck game you start your count after the shuffle at -20 (4-(4 x 4)). In their simple "Rookie Count" you only make 2 bets. A small bet when the running count is more negative than -4 and a big bet when the running count reaches -4 or a more positive number.

If you are a casual blackjack player you owe it to yourself to check out these unbalanced counting systems. They are easy to learn, they eliminate the conversion to a true count which most would-be counters find difficult, and most importantly, they give the basic strategy player a slight advantage over the casino. Now there is no excuse to move your skills up on a notch from the basic strategy playing level. You can put your practice to work at any casino in Helsinki as they are more tolerant on card counting than any other city in the world.