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Using Blackjack Card Counting

By: Mark Freedman, Saturday January 29th 2011
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In a previous article it was explained how the various parameters associated with blackjack card counting are tracked. But that exercise is meaningless unless it leads to manipulation of the wagering pattern so as to positively exploit the information discerned.

In the earlier article on card counting three parameters were discussed, which players need to keep track of. They were the running count (R), side count (X) and balance number of decks in the shoe (D). Then the true count or adjusted count is given by (R+X)/D. It is this factor that decides how the player must deviate from normal optimal blackjack strategy. A larger positive true count is generally more beneficial for the player. R and X can take positive and negative values and together determine whether the true count is positive or negative. They are a result of the distribution of the cards in the shoe, which is a random phenomenon and independent of the rules of the game or the procedures adopted by the casino.

D is the crucial parameter in determining how large or small the true count is. A small value for D gives a large true count and a large value for D gives a small value for the true count. D depends on the rules and procedures adopted by the casino and this tells the blackjack player where card counting will be useful and where it will not. Let us assume that (R+X) is +6 and see how D varies.

One of the factors that will determine D is the number of decks used. Consider the case that one deck is used and after 13 cards have been dealt (R+X) is +6. In this case half the deck is left, so D is 0.5. Hence the true count is +6/0.5, which is +12. Now consider the case when eight decks are used and after 13 cards have been dealt (R+X) is +6. In this case seven and a half decks are left, so D is 7.5. Hence the true count is +6/7.5, which is +0.8. Hence the fewer the number of decks the more the opportunities the blackjack card counter will have.

The second important factor is penetration. Penetration is the percent of the cards from the shoe dealt before the shoe is discontinued. If all the cards in the shoe are dealt then the penetration is 100% and the minimum value of D is close to 0 when only few cards are left in the shoe. This can give very high values of true count. However this situation is never allowed to happen at the blackjack tables. If the penetration is 75% then an eight deck shoe will be discarded when two decks are left. Hence the minimum value of D will be 2. If the penetration is 50% then an eight deck shoe will be discarded when four decks are left. Hence the minimum value of D will be 4. Therefore, lower penetration leads to a more disadvantageous the situation for blackjack card counting.

The true count is used in two ways by card counters. A mathematical formulation known as the Kelly Criterion determines the percent of the remaining bankroll to be wagered based on the true count. The usual blackjack strategy card is modified to reflect the true count. Instead of simply stating "Stand" in a given situation it could state "Stand, if the true count is +5 or more".

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