Is counting worth the
3 September 1999
By Mark Pilarski
I've been kicking around the idea of becoming a
blackjack card counter for years. I have decent
math skills and am willing to spend time
learning the game. I would like to hear some of
your thoughts, theories, practical application
of, advice and a brief explanation on how
counting actually works. Hopefully you'll give
me some inspiration to learn counting, maybe
even make it a career. Eric G.
Eric, you want my thoughts, advice, etc. on
counting? OK, lend me your ear, but you might
not like what you are about to hear.
The Player: All card counters I have met think
they are the sharpest knife in the drawer.
Forget dialog with them to the contrary, they
all believe they can beat the house at will, any
time, any place. In reality, I've found more
mediocre counters than good ones, and egos
larger than the casino operators'. I figure the
subliminal self of counters is based on
abnormally high testosterone levels.
Them Guys: Working the pits for years, taking
numerous seminars on counting, plus being a
proficient counter myself-me make it a career
move? NOT-I can smell a counter a mile away.
Even your average pit boss will take simple
measures to combat these casino pests. Pit
bosses will hassle counters by putting more
decks on the game, burying more cards on the
shuffle, stopping mid-entry shoe betting, having
the dealer shuffle half way through the deck,
and when all else fails, back you off the game.
The Money Makers: So is anyone truly making
money on card counting? Sure. A very small,
select group of counters who have created a
cottage industry of seminars, tapes, books and
newsletters on counting. For most experts,
writing about playing is more lucrative than
Hitting the Casino: Card counters,
theoretically, have an inherent advantage of
between .5 and 1.5 percent against the casino.
Counting theory is quite simple. Big cards (10s,
aces) favor the player, small cards (2-6) favor
All card counting systems keep track of the
relationship of small cards to big cards
remaining in the deck. When the cards remaining
favor the player, you bet more money. When they
favor the dealer, you bet less.
The simplest count to learn is a one level
count, a.k.a the Hi-Lo counting system. It
assigns the following count values to each card.
2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (small
7, 8, 9 (neutral
10, J, Q, K, Ace (big
To use the Hi-Lo method, you need to add and
subtract the above counting values for every
card exposed on the blackjack table. By mentally
keeping an updated running count from one hand
to the next, you vary your bets according to the
positive/negative value of the upcoming hand.
But it all comes back to our jumpy pit boss who
wants to run you out the door. He's just not
going to be happy with blackjack players who
know how to beat the house. He would much prefer
players who think they know how to win but are
experts at losing-players on the bottom rung of
the casino food chain.
Geez, Eric, I'm just warming up, but because of
limited space I'm forced to come full circle. If
you're still going to make card counting a
career move, may I make a final suggestion?
Don't quit your day job.
If in all blackjack scenarios you should hit a
soft 17 (A-6), why would you never hit a hard
17? Jim T.
Unfortunately, Jim, a 17 in blackjack is a
damned hand, a dud over the long haul. The
alternative strategy of hitting a hard 17 would
only multiply your losses. Nevertheless, with a
soft 17 you at least have the possibility of
taking another card, which could improve your
hand. This is why basic strategy charts dictate
either hitting or doubling down, never standing
on a soft 17.