Red 7 System
The Red 7 System for counting cards in blackjack is one of the easiest and most effective systems we cover on this site. The Hi-Lo System and the KO System are comparable in terms of effectiveness and ease of use. The Red Seven System is probably almost as popular as the Hi-Lo System and maybe even more popular than the KO System.
Card counting systems, for the most part, are optimized to be more effective at correlating with when you should raise your bets or when you should make deviations from correct basic strategy. The Red 7 System, like most of the easier systems, focuses on the betting aspect of card counting. This doesn't make it a bad system.
In fact, even the systems which optimize for playing decisions concern themselves largely with when you should raise and lower your bets. The Red 7 System just tries to be as accurate as possible about this aspect of its use.
This system was originally published in Arnold Snyder's book Blackbelt in Blackjack, which also features information about the Zen Count. We've tried both systems, and we much prefer the Red 7.
The rest of this page provides information about how you can get started using this strategy for yourself. We also provide some analysis and commentary about how well this strategy compares to other card counting strategies.
How to Count Cards with the Red Seven System
We cover the basics of how card counting works on our main page about blackjack, but we'll briefly cover it here, too. Since this count is aimed at beginners, we'll assume that our readers might also be beginners.
Card counting works because a deck of cards has a memory. Once an ace has been dealt, it won't come up again in the next hand unless the deck is re-shuffled.
Some cards are better for the player than others. The most important of these cards are the aces and the 10s, because blackjack pays 3 to 2.
Card counters use a heuristic system (like the Red Seven System) to estimate how many high value cards are left in the deck compared to low value cards. They don't memorize which cards have been played. They just track how many of them were high cards and how many were low cards.
They do this by assigning a value to each card and then adding or subtracting it from the count while they're playing.
In the Red 7 Count, the cards are valued as follows:
- Aces and 10s count as -1
- 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s count as +1
- Red 7s count as +1, too
That last part is important. The Red 7 Count is unusual in that it's a suit-specific counting system. Most card counting strategies, and in fact, blackjack itself, usually ignores the suits of the cards.
The reason that the Red 7 count factors in the suits is because it's an unbalanced system, and it's unbalanced on purpose. If you've read our previous page about the KO card counting system, you'll know that for the most part, counting systems are balanced. Unbalanced ones are set up that way to eliminate the need for converting the running count to a true count.
Running Counts vs True Counts
The running count is the actual tally that you've been keeping up with the entire session you've been playing blackjack. If you're playing in a single deck game, then the running count provides a more-or-less accurate idea of how much of an edge you have over the casino (or vice-versa). But when you start dealing with blackjack games that are dealt from multiple decks at once, the effect of each individual card on your odds is diluted.
It's easy to understand why if you think about it. Imagine if you dealt all 4 aces out of a single deck. Obviously, that's a bad situation for you and a good situation for the casino. You now have a 0% chance of being dealt a blackjack, which means you're not going to see the 3 to 2 payout on that hand.
But if you're playing in a game that's being dealt from a shoe with 8 decks of cards in it, and 4 aces are dealt, you still have 28 aces left in the deck. Your chances of getting dealt a blackjack have been reduced, but they haven't been eliminated. So card counters, with most systems, have to convert their running count into a true count.
You then use that number to decide whether or not to raise your bets and by how much.
The Red7 System, like the KO System, starts the count with a negative number based on the number of decks in use. This eliminates the need for a running count to true count conversion, because the number of decks have already been taken into account. The number at which you have an edge is called the "pivot". That's any positive number in the Red 7 Count, and that's when you start raising your bets. The rest of the time, you bet the minimum.
To determine the starting point for your count in the Red 7 System, you just multiply the number of decks in use by -2. Perceptive readers will notice in short order that if you start your count in this way, you'll still wind up with 0 by the time you finish counting.
Here are the starting counts for the most commonly found games:
Some people prefer not to do a separate count of the red 7s, so they count all 7s at 0.5 each. This works just as well, although this changes a relatively simple unbalanced, single level counting system into a slightly more complicated balanced, multi level counting system.
Sizing Your Bets with the Red 7 System
When the count gets to 0, your edge over the casino is approximately 0.5%. At this point, it's appropriate to raise your bet by doubling it. You should bet 1 unit any time the count is negative and double it at 0 or higher.
The game conditions determine how much you should bet at the various levels beyond that. If you're playing in a single deck game, you should move up to 4 units per bet at +2 and stay at that betting amount throughout. In a shoe game, you won't raise your bet again until the count hits +6—at that point you can bet 3 units. In fact, you can base the number of units you're going to bet on half of the count. So at +8, you'll bet 4 units, at +10, you'll bet 5 units, and so on up to 8 units at +16 (which will come up rarely if ever).
Basic Strategy Adjustments Based on the Red 7 Count
When using any card counting system to adjust your strategy decisions, the most important decision you'll make is whether or not you'll take insurance. This makes sense, because insurance is basically a bet on whether or not the dealer has blackjack. If the count is positive, that means the odds of a dealer having a blackjack are higher. In facts, the insurance adjustment with this count is easy—any time the count is 0 or higher, take insurance. That's easy to remember and makes a big difference.
You'll only have to make strategy adjustments about 10% of the time, otherwise. For examples, 15 versus 10 is one hand you'll change your strategy with. You'll stand instead of hitting in this case. The same adjustment applies to a 12 when the dealer has a 3. Usually you'd hit, but if the count is 0 or higher, you'll stand.
If you memorize those 3 changes to your strategy based on the count, you've probably covered 80% of the advantage to be had from adjusting your strategy. But there are some other adjustments you can make if you want to milk the system for every tenth of a percentage point that you can. Please note that these adjustments don't kick in until the count is at +2 or higher.
- Stand on a 12 if the dealer has a 2.
- Stand on a 15 when the dealer has a 10
- Double down on any 10 that you have.
The Red 7 Count is one of the most effective and easiest card counting systems to put into use, but it does add a few wrinkles to the more basic counts like the Hi-Lo System. For one thing, this is an unbalanced system that is suit dependent. You only count the red 7s, not he black ones. That's a big difference for some people, especially if they've already learned another card counting system that isn't suit dependent.
As with other card counting systems, you'll get most of your edge by raising your bets when the count is in your favor. But you can also make a handful of strategy adjustments to tilt the edge in your favor anymore.