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Blackjack Card Counting Parameters

By: Shirley Spicer, Friday January 14th 2011

Blackjack card counting is a much romanticized phenomenon and like all such concepts it is shrouded in myths. The immense effort and ability required to count cards can never be gauged by the lay blackjack player who has never tried to count cards in real time in a live casino session. This article tries to explain the different parameters that blackjack card counters must track.

The first parameter is the running count and this is the parameter that most blackjack players are aware of. The running count gives an indication of whether there are more high value cards left in the shoe as compared to low value cards. There are several systems for keeping track of the running count. The common aspect in these systems is that low value cards are allotted positive numbers and high value cards are allotted negative numbers. The running total starts with zero. When a card is exposed the player adds the allotted value to the running total. Thus if the running total is a high positive number it implies that more low value cards have been discarded and more high value cards have been left in the shoe.

The simplest system for computing the running total is the High Low System. It allots +1 to cards with values from 2 to 6; 0 for cards with values from 0 to 9 and -1 for cards with values of 10. Though the ace can take values of 1 or 11 it is allotted -1 in the High Low System. Therefore in one standard deck of 52 cards 20 cards are allotted +1; 12 cards are allotted 0 and 20 cards are allotted -1. The more difficult systems differentiate within the low value cards and the high value cards. The Uston APC system is said to be the most complex. It allots values from -3 to +3.

The running count would indicate when a disparity exists between high value cards and low value cards. This disparity will be more useful to the blackjack player if fewer cards are left in the shoe. Therefore along with the running count players have to track the total number of cards dealt. They will need this information each time they have to make a move in order to calculate the true count. From the number of cards dealt they have to calculate the number of cards left in the shoe and then the number of decks left in the shoe. If the session started with 8 decks and 26 cards have been dealt, it means that half a deck has been dealt and seven and a half decks are left. The true count is the running count divided by the number of decks left.

The final parameter in blackjack card counting is the side card count. In some of the higher card counting systems the ace is allotted a value of 0 and a separate side card count of aces is maintained. There should be one ace in every thirteen cards. Players count the aces dealt and after thirteen cards have been dealt they calculate the side card count. If no aces have been dealt in the first thirteen cards there is one excess ace in the shoe and the side card count is +1. If two aces have been dealt in the first thirteen cards there is one short ace in the shoe and the side card count is -1. This is continued for every bloc of thirteen cards. The side card count is added to the true count. More complicated systems maintain side card counts of aces and some other cards as well.

This is only the first part of the story. What the player has to do with the final count while placing his wager is the second part.

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