Should You Use a More Complex Card Counting System?

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Blackjack-Card Table

Card counting is one of the biggest challenges in all of gambling. But it becomes even harder when you use one of the most difficult counting systems.

Many different blackjack card counting systems exist. They differ with regard to how they work and their complexities.

You might be wondering what the point is behind choosing a more complex system. After all, card counting is already hard enough for the average player.

The one reason why you should consider a complicated system is because it can give you a higher edge over the casino. However, you also have to weigh this extra advantage against the enhanced difficulty level.

I’ll discuss more on easy vs. hard card counting systems and if you should ultimately consider the latter.

How Card Counting Systems Differ

In its simplest form, card counting is a way to assign positive (+1), neutral (0), and negative (-1) values to cards. The count is adjusted after each card that comes out of the shoe, unless that card is of neutral value.

The groups of cards that count as positive, neutral, or negative differ based on the system being used. Here’s how using the Hi-Lo blackjack card counting system works:

  • +1 is assigned to 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 (low cards)
  • Neutral cards include 7, 8, and 9 (neutral cards)
  • -1 is assigned to 10, jack, queen, king, and ace (high cards)

The idea here is to assign point values that determine a card’s Effect of Removal (EOR). In other words, you want to assess how a card being removed from the shoe affects the house edge (or your edge).

Removing high cards is bad, because it lowers your chances of getting a natural blackjack. Removing low cards is good, since this increases the chances of the dealer busting when they’re drawing to a hard 17.

The range of point values (e.g. +2 to -2) changes based on the system. Strategies that use larger ratios between point values can better correlate to the true EOR.

Systems fall into classes based on how large the range is between their point values. These include level 1, level 2, and level 3.

The Hi-Lo is at level 1, since its count range only increases or decreases by a small value (i.e. +1 to -1). Wong Halves is at level 3, because its wider count range (+1.5 to -1) does a better job of distinguishing between card values.

Put another way, all cards in a level 1 system have simplistic values like +1, 0, and -1. Meanwhile, level 2 and 3 strategies can have counts ranging from +1.5 to -0.5, or +2 to -2.

Advanced systems can even include side counts for side bets like the over/under and Lucky Ladies.

You can often win more money per hour with high-level systems due to the greater accuracy. But this isn’t to say that advanced strategies are always better.

Some of them slow down your play and see you earn a smaller hourly wage. In these cases, you’re better off with a simpler system.

Examples of Simple Card Counting Systems

Generally speaking, less complex card counting systems aren’t as accurate as the difficult ones. But they’re easier to use, making for less barrier to entry.

Blackjack-Table-Cards

This being said, here are three simple systems you should check out in your early card counting days:

10 Count

Edward Thorp didn’t necessarily invent card counting. However, the author of Beat the Dealer is largely credited with developing the first system that could beat the house edge.

He created the 10 Count system in the early 1960s, when single-deck games were all the rage. It’s one of the easiest systems in existence and can give you a small edge over the house.

Here’s how the 10 Count works:

  • A-9 = +4
  • J-K = -9

The best thing about this strategy is that you only have to track two card groups. The downside is that it’s not suitable for beating the common multi-deck games of today.

Ace/Five

This system only calls on you to track fives and aces. You add one to the count for each five, and you subtract one for an ace.

You double your bets when the count reaches +2 or higher and make the minimum wager when the count is +1 or lower.

Ace/Five is perhaps even easier to use than the 10 Count system. You don’t have to deal with weird numbers like +4 and -9 when using this strategy.

It’s also slightly more accurate than 10 Count in multi-deck games. However, Ace/Five still won’t give you as big of an edge as some of the more advanced systems.

Hi-Lo System

The Hi-Lo is by far one of the most popular card counting methods. It strikes a nice balance between ease of learning and accuracy.

Hi-Lo isn’t as easy to learn as 10 Count or Ace/Five. But it does give you up to a 1.5% edge over the house, which is more than Ace/Five or 10 Count can boast.

This system involves tracking high, neutral, and low cards. Here’s a look at how much each card grouping is worth:

  • Low cards (2-6) = +1
  • Neutral cards (7-9) = 0
  • High cards (A-10) = -1

Another trait of this system is that it’s “balanced,” meaning your count will always reach zero at the end of the shoe. In a balanced strategy, you need to account for multiple decks.

You do this by converting your running count into a true count. The latter is reached by dividing your running count by the estimated number of decks left in the shoe.

If your count is +2 and there seems to be two remaining decks, for example, then your true count is +1 (2/1).

The true count aspect adds more complexity to the Hi-Lo. However, it’s still not as hard to learn as the systems that I’ll cover next.

Examples of Complex Card Counting Systems

You can gain a solid edge with the Hi-Lo and make good profits. But you might consider the following systems in order to gain an even larger edge.
Blackjack Player

Omega II

Omega II is a balanced level 2 system that was first introduced by Bryce Carlson in Blackjack for Blood. Its count values can range from -2 to +2.

Here are the card groupings that are tracked along with their assigned numbers:

  • +1 is assigned to 2, 3, and 7
  • +2 is assigned to 2, 5, and 6
  • 0 (neutral) is assigned to 8 and ace
  • -1 is assigned to 9
  • -2 is assigned to 10, jack, queen, and king

You must account for a lot of information when considering how there are five different card groupings. However, mastering all of these groupings can definitely pay off in terms of winnings.

Omega II is a balanced system, so you want to account for the true count just like with Hi-Lo.

Wong Halves

Wong Halves is a balanced level 3 system that’s named after famed gambling author Stanford Wong. It’s a tough strategy to learn and should only be used by experienced card counters.

The high degree of difficulty comes from the fact that you must assign decimal (fractional) values to some cards.

Here are the different groupings and their values:

  • -1 is assigned to aces, kings, queens, and jacks
  • -0.5 is assigned to 8
  • 0 (neutral) is assigned to 9
  • +0.5 is assigned to 2 and 7
  • +1 is assigned to 3, 4, and 6
  • +1.5 is assigned to 5

You can always double these values if you’re uncomfortable using them as is. This practice makes Wong Halves a little easier, because you don’t have to deal with fractions or decimal points.

Conclusion – Easy vs. Hard

Whether you choose an easier or complex card counting system all comes down to your experience level.

As a beginner, you don’t want to jump into the most difficult system just because it offers more accuracy. A better idea is to use a simpler system so that you can get used to the counting process.

Once you master an easier strategy, you can proceed to getting into complex systems that require more thought. Omega II and Wong Halves are two popular counting strategies that are difficult to grasp.

Regardless of if you pick a complicated or simple counting strategy, you’ll need to study and practice it. You can use a variety of methods to learn your chosen counting system.

These methods include online counting trainers, dealing cards to yourself, and even counting off to the side of games for practice.

You also need a large enough bankroll to comfortably survive the ups and downs of counting. You’ll want at least several thousand dollars as a solo counter and more when part of a card-counting team.

Tackling a complex system should be the least of your worries in the beginning. But this matter is worth exploring after you master an easy system and the basics of counting in general.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...

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Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry fo ...

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