Blackjack, a popular casino card game, has a relatively low house edge. However, there are several strategies players can use to reduce this edge even further or even eliminate it altogether.
Blackjack is an exciting game with a rich history. Czech blackjack players inspired fear in casino bosses when they proved that it was possible to win at blackjack against the odds. Students from MIT also proved that blackjack could be beaten using perfect strategy, discipline and determination.
Edward Thorp, Kenny Uston, Stanford Wong, and George Hascik were instrumental in shaping blackjack into the beatable game we know today through the introduction of various mathematically sound systems.
Benefits of the Strategies
Blackjack offers players a fair value and a low house advantage. When you join a game with favorable rules and conditions, you can expect to fight an edge of no more than 0.8%. Players who don’t use strategies tend to make many mistakes when playing their hands, which naturally results in a substantial reduction of their bankroll.
Compare this to a player who uses a strategy at the table and follows it religiously. Such a player will make optimal decisions and bet more when they hold the advantage, which translates into reducing their losses and helping them maximize their profits under favorable conditions.
Blackjack is a unique casino game in that the odds shift constantly in favor of players or the house, depending on the cards that are dealt. Basic strategy can help you reduce the house edge to around 0.5%, but relying on your instincts will increase it to 3%-6%.
Casinos use card counting as an excuse to ban players from their establishments, but it is possible to use advanced strategies that result in positive expected value–meaning that over time, the player would win more than they would lose and therefore make a profit.
When you talk to more experienced blackjack players, they’ll tell you that basic strategy is important. It’s been proven to work because it was developed based on a study conducted in the early 1960s by Julian Braun, a computer specialist. He simulated billions of combinations of hands against all possible face-up cards that could be dealt from one to eight decks.
Braun analyzed the outcomes of all possible hands in Twenty-One and devised a chart that showed how to make the best moves based on your own hand and the dealer’s up card. The chart made it easy for players to know when they should hit, stand, double down or surrender (if allowed).
Blackjack Basic Strategy Guide
The basic strategy chart shows the right moves players can make when they are dealt a neutral (average) hand. The term “neutral” here means that the dealer is showing a card count of zero or has just reshuffled the cards. The rows of the chart correspond to how many cards you have; the columns show what your dealer might be showing. The optimal way to play a blackjack hand is found where a row and column intersect.
When the dealer shows a seven or higher, players should split or double down. These hands are more likely to bust if the dealer reveals a high hole card and draws to 17. With sevens through sixes, the dealer is forced to hit because no two-card combination containing a six or less adds up to the total of 17, save for soft 17. This weakness should be exploited through splitting or doubling, which would also help players maximize their profits.
When the dealer shows a higher-value card like 9, 10, Jack, Queen or King, players should be more cautious. These are the dealer’s strongest up cards because they are more likely to result in a pat hand of 17.
If you want to use basic strategy to your advantage when playing a casino game, it’s important to memorize the chart. One way to do that would be to divide the chart into four sections and learn one section per day before putting everything together.
However, if you’re playing blackjack online, you can simply skip to the chart and consult it as you play. It’s important to remember that basic strategy isn’t universal–there may be deviations in optimal decisions depending on the rules of the game you’re engaged in.
To reduce the house edge, you can apply basic strategy. However, card counting is another way to lower the house advantage further. Card counting relies on the idea that players can boost their profits by betting more when they hold the advantage and reducing their stakes when the edge swings to the dealer. This strategy was perfected by Edward O. Thorpe, professor of mathematics and a highly-skilled blackjack player.
Card counting is a popular casino game tactic that many people use to gain the upper hand against the house. Card counters keep track of the ratio of high cards and small cards in a deck, which allows them to make more informed decisions about when to bet and how much to bet. A higher number of small cards in a deck works to the benefit of the dealer and reduces their chances of going bust.
Applying this approach to blackjack, advantage players would base their decisions on the cards that have yet to be dealt. This would enable them to increase their bets when they are at an advantage and reduce their losses on unfavorable counts.
Card Counting Systems
Over the years, many kinds of card counting systems have been developed. The most popular ones can be divided into two categories: balanced and unbalanced. In a balanced count system, you must convert a running count (RC) into true count (TC).
The term “running count” refers to a running total of the number of points in the deck. When cards are dealt from a shoe, a counter adds or subtracts from the running count depending on whether the card is positive or negative. The result is then divided by the number of decks remaining in play to obtain a true count and base decisions on that result.
Card-counting systems can be broken down into two types: balanced and unbalanced. Balanced systems derive their name from the fact that when a full deck is counted in its entirety, the result will always amount to zero.
The unbalanced point system is a newer version of the balanced point system, which was created earlier. The name “unbalanced” comes from the fact that the total value of cards in each deck never adds up to zero.
The Hi-Lo System
The Hi-Lo is a popular blackjack counting system. It was created in 1963 by Harvey Dubner and is simple to use, yet very effective for players who are willing to put in the time and effort required to learn it.
The Hi-Lo System is a balanced system that assigns point values to cards based on their strength. The value of the cards in each deck is 20 high and 20 low, so the running count always ends up at zero.
Advantage players keep a running count after the shuffle, adding and subtracting the point values of cards as they leave the deck. In shoe games, the counter divides their running count by the number of decks that remain to be dealt to establish their true count. All decisions on hitting, standing, splitting, etc., are based on this true count. The bet size is also adjusted based on this true count. Advantage players use bet ramps (increase or reduce bets by a specific number of units as the true count escalates or drops down).
The Red Seven System
Card counters use the Red Seven system to count cards at blackjack tables. The system was first introduced by Arnold Snyder, who wrote about it in his book “Blackbelt in Blackjack.” The greatest advantage of the Red Seven system is that it’s easy to learn and use compared to other card counting systems.
The Red Seven System assigns almost the same point values to the cards in the deck, except for 7s. Red 7s are counted as low cards or +1 while black 7s are ignored as neutral or 0.
The Hi-Lo is similar to the system used in the Red 7 Count, except the point values of the red 7s are different. This imbalance causes a shift in the probability of getting blackjacks, so when a player uses this system they will start with a count of -2 per full deck. If you are playing a six-deck game, you would start with a count of -12 but if you are playing an eight-deck game, your count starts at -8. Players using this system are also recommended to move their bets up whenever their running count is positive or close to 0 because they have an advantage over the house.
The KO System
The KO card counting system is an easy-to-use, unbalanced method that is popular among some advantage players. The KO was introduced in the book Knockout Blackjack by Olaf Vancura and Ken Fuchs, who have each published multiple books on the subject of advantage play.
When blackjack card counting system was first introduced, many experts dismissed it as inefficient. However, it gained popularity quickly and is now recommended to beginners as an easy-to-use system. The KO’s biggest claim to fame is that it eliminates the need to convert running counts into true counts.
In this system, cards 2 through 7 are counted as +1, the Ace is counted as -1, and 8 and 9 are considered neutral or 0. The complete count of a deck or a shoe will determine whether the player should raise or lower his bet size accordingly. If the count is high (more cards with a positive value than negative value), then he should increase his bet size. If the count is low (more cards with a negative value than positive value), then he should reduce it to the table minimum. Another way to play using this system is to accept insurance at a running count of +3 or higher.
Blackjack players who have adopted the KO count method sometimes convert their running count into a true count to gain extra accuracy. Although this increases the complexity of the system, it may be worth it for some players.
The KISS Systems
In 2003, Fred Renzey’s Blackjack Bluebook II was published, introducing the concept of KISS counting to the blackjack community. The abbreviation stands for “keep it short and simple” and refers to a group of three unbalanced counting systems that take into account both the rank and suit of cards.
KISS I is a simple card counting system that assigns negative values to face cards and the 2 through 6 cards and a positive value to the 7 through 10 cards. The simpler a given system is to learn and implement, the less efficient it becomes.
However, KISS I is a balanced system because of the +1 assigned to the 2s of clubs and spades. This modification eliminates the need to convert running counts into true counts. As Renzey himself has determined, KISS I will give players a 0.5% advantage over the casino, which is why most card counters prefer to ignore it altogether.
When players have learned the KISS I strategy, they can move up to the next level and master the KISS II system. The KISS II system uses two more cards than the first level and assigns point values to 3s (-1) and 10s (+1). This means that players start with a negative running count instead of 0. The experts believe that this strategy works best on single-deck games.
The third level of KISS, known as KISS III, is more complex than the first two levels. The sevens are assigned a point value of +1, while Aces are counted as -1. This third level is suited for blackjack games involving multiple decks in the shoe.
KISS III is a betting system that offers a high correlation between betting and winning–98 percent, compared to the industry average of 92 percent. However, this increased accuracy comes at the cost of reduced playing efficiency and insurance correlation.
The Omega II System
The Omega II is a balanced card counting system that gained popularity among advanced players in the 1990s. In 1992, Bryce Carlson published Blackjack for Blood , which explains the theory behind this system. The Omega II falls into the category of Level 2 counting systems because it assigns values of +2 and -2 as well as 0, +1 and -1 to each card. Compared to other counting systems like Hi-Lo, KO and Advantage, it is more complex because it also incorporates these two additional values into its calculations.
Cards 2, 3 and 7 are assigned a value of +1; cards 4, 5 and 6 are assigned a value of +2; the tens have a value of -2; 9s are -1 while Aces and 8s are 0. To calculate your true count, divide your running count by the number of decks left to be played.
The Omega II is a card-counting system that uses three different point values: a one-point value for Aces, a two-point value for face cards and a three-point value for everything else. Many skilled players prefer to keep a side count of Aces because they are neutral in this system. The Omega II requires more time to master but at the same time, the efforts are well worth it as it is considered the most accurate card counting system in existence.
The Hi-Opt Systems
Hi-Opt I and II are two systems created by Charles Einstein, a sportswriter. Hi-Opt I is the simpler of the two, and it was developed by Einstein in 1968, while most other systems we have covered so far were created by mathematicians or scientists.
Hi-Opt I is a level one balanced system that was widely used at single-deck blackjack tables. The Hi-Opt I assigns point values of +1 to cards 3 through 6, -1 to face cards and 0 to 2s, 7s, 8s and 9s. Players start at a running count of 0 and later convert it into a true count to modify their bet sizes.
Hi-Opt I, which I developed in 1967, was the foundation for Hi-Opt II, created by Lance Humble and Julian Braun in 1970. This second system is more balanced than Hi-Opt I but falls into Level 2 because of its increased complexity. As a result, both its betting and insurance correlation are higher than those of Hi-Opt I.
The Hi-Opt II system assigns +1 to the 2s, 3s, 6s and 7s; +2 to the 4s and 5s; -2 to face cards and 10s; Aces are neutral; 8s and 9s are not counted. This system works well with single deck games but is also effective in shoe games.
The Zen Count System
The Zen Count is a complex system that was popularized in 1983 by blackjack expert Arnold Snyder. It belongs to the Level 2 category of blackjack systems, which means that it is more challenging to use than simpler systems like the Hi-Lo or Wong Halves.
The Zen Count system involves adding 1 point to each 2, 3, and 7, and subtracting 2 points from each 4 through 9, 10 and Ace. Each time an Ace leaves the shoe or deck, subtract 1 point from your running count.
The Zen Count works well on both single-deck and shoe blackjack games. The popular Hi-Lo counting system has a correlation of 0.85 out of 1.00 with insurance, but the Zen Count offers players higher insurance correlation at 0.85 and greater playing efficiency.
Aces are assigned a negative value of -1 in the Zen Count system. This means that you can keep track of the Aces as they leave the shoe, which is an advantage for players who know how to do so. The Zen Count reduces this advantage by allowing you to count Aces without tracking them on the side.
The Wong Halves System
Blackjack expert John Ferguson first introduced the Wong Halves system in his best-selling book, Professional Blackjack. It is considered one of the most accurate and efficient counting systems by blackjack pros. However, before you give it a try yourself, beware – mastering this Level 3 system is rather difficult.
The Wong Halves System is more complex than other blackjack strategies. It involves dividing decimals, so you should be able to do this without breaking concentration under pressure or when exposed to the distractions of a casino.
Wong Halves is a simple game that is easy to learn. The goal of Wong Halves is to get a running count of zero by adding +1 each time 3s, 4s or 6s are dealt and subtracting -1 when tens come out. 8s are neutral cards and therefore don’t affect the running count. 2s and 7s have a decimal value of 0.5 while 9s count as -0.5. 5s have the highest positive value at 1.5.
The Wong Halves is a card counting system that has a betting correlation of 0.99 out of 1.00. It is complex but very accurate, which makes sense given its intricacy. However, it is difficult to apply at the blackjack tables, which is why beginners should avoid this system and stick to simpler ones that offer almost identical levels of accuracy.
Blackjack Money Management
Money management is essential to playing the game of Twenty-One. No card counting system or strategy can help you if you are unable to manage your bankroll smartly. Mind that this has nothing to do with affecting the odds or reducing the edge held against you by the casino.
When playing blackjack, it is important to have a bankroll. A sufficient bankroll will protect your money from being lost too quickly. A good rule of thumb for determining how much you should keep in your bankroll is that you should only keep enough money in your account to pay your rent/bills and buy food if needed while playing. If you cannot afford this right away, then wait until you have built up a sufficient amount of funds before continuing to play.
When joining a table, it’s important to set aside a certain amount of money for the session. The general rule is that you should have 50 times the table minimum in your bankroll. If you are playing at a $5 table, then you’ll need at least $250 or 50 base units for one session. Keep in mind that your bankroll is broken down into three equal amounts for three sessions — this helps prevent you from losing too much money at a single table.
You want to bring enough money to the table so that you can last through a few swings of bad luck. The more money you bring, however, the longer you can stay.
After determining the true count, a blackjack player must decide how much to bet. A card counter adjusts his bet size based on his true count; a basic strategy player is playing against a neutral deck and should therefore stick with his basic strategy.
To play craps in a friendly manner, you can use the Up-and-Pull method. To begin, bet two units or two times the table minimum. If you win, drop to one unit on your next bet. If you lose, start the cycle again with a two-unit bet. This way you will still be a unit ahead after each winning streak and minimize your losses when things don’t go your way.
It is vital to set a win goal and loss limit for every session. This will allow you to know when you should stop playing and leave the table, or when it is okay for you to continue playing. The loss limit is the maximum amount of money that you are willing to lose during this session. It corresponds to 40% of your bankroll or $100 in this instance. The win goal is the amount of money that you want to make before leaving the table. It corresponds to 20% of your bankroll or $50 in this example.
The two most important factors in being a successful blackjack player are knowledge of the game and money management. Without one, the other is useless.