Unbalanced Zen 2 System
The Unbalanced Zen card counting strategy is easy to use but relatively old, having been sold as an affordable proprietary system since 1995. It is an unbalanced, 2-level count (we'll explain both of those phrases later on this page) that works for both single deck and multiple deck blackjack games. It's slightly more accurate and useful than the Knockout System, but it's also a little harder. The creator of this system is George C.
The purpose of this page is to explain in a general way how to count cards and then how to apply this specific system to blackjack. We go on to analyze how well this system works compared to other systems.
How to Learn to Count Cards
Card counting works because of a couple of factors that are intrinsic to the game of blackjack. The first has to do with the 3 to 2 payout for a "natural" or "blackjack". That's a 2 card hand with a total of 21. It always wins unless the dealer also has a blackjack. There's only one combination of cards in the game that can total 21 with just 2 cards'a card worth 10 and an ace.
Winning hands in blackjack pay even money except in the case of a natural.
The other factor has to do with the deck having a memory of sorts. In most gambling games, the odds don't change from one bet to another. But in blackjack, once a card is dealt, it's no longer in the deck, and the odds change. Imagine if you were playing in a game where all 4 aces had been dealt already. You'd have a 0% chance of getting a natural at that point, right?
But what if a deck still has lots of aces and 10s in it, while most of the lower cards have already been dealt?
After all, you have a better chance of getting a hand that pays off at 3 to 2.
What card counters do is assign a value to the low cards and another value to the high cards. (Sometimes they assign multiple values.) They keep a running count based on those values, and this running count enables them to estimate the edge they either have or don't have. When the deck is relatively rich in aces and 10s compared to low cards, a card counter will raise her bets. When the reverse is true, the card counter will reduce her bet to the table minimum.
Card counters also use basic strategy to make sure they're facing a game with the lowest possible edge to begin with. Basic strategy is just a shorthand term used to describe the mathematically best play in every situation. But when the composition of the deck changes, so do some of the correct decisions. Card counters know when to deviate from standard basic strategy based on the count.
Insurance is another example. Normally this is a sucker bet, because it's basically just a side bet that the dealer will have a blackjack. But when the deck is rich in aces and 10s, the odds of the dealer having a blackjack improve. So a bet that would have a negative expectation in some situations has a positive expectation in others.
Simpler card counting systems only have one level—usually signified by + or -1. In these systems, you adjust the count by 1 based on which cards are being tracked. These systems are usually "balanced", too. That means if you count through an entire deck of cards, you'll wind up with a 0. There are just as many positive values as negative values in that situation.
More complicated counts have multiple levels and might or might not be balanced. These more complex systems are supposed to get a player more of an edge. The game of blackjack already has one of the lowest house edges in the casino, at 0.5%, but when you're counting cards, you can gain another 1% to 2% on top of that. The Unbalanced Zen 2 System falls into the more complex category.
Here's how the UB Z 2 System works:
How to Get an Edge Over the Casino with the UBZ 2 System
The first step in learning a card counting system is to learn the values assigned to the cards. In the case of the Unbalanced Zen 2 System, the following values are in place:
- Aces = -1
- 2s and 7s = +1
- 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s = +2
- 8s and 9s = 0
- 10s = -2
In balanced card counting systems, you start the count at 0 and move the count up or down based on the card counting values. But in unbalanced systems like the Zen 2, you start the count by multiplying the number of decks by -2. So in a single deck game, the count would start at -2 and move up and down from there. In an 8 deck game, the count would start at -16.
The reason for this wasn't immediately obvious to us when we first started learning about counting cards, but it makes sense when you think about it. The effect of a particular card being dealt out of multiple decks is not as pronounced as it would be if it were dealt out of a single deck. Let's use an example that we already used to illustrate why:
Remember how we said that if you dealt 4 aces out of a single deck of cards, your chances of being dealt a blackjack are reduced to 0%. But if you're playing in a game with 8 decks, there are 32 aces to begin with. Dealing 4 of them only leaves 28, which reduces your chances of getting a blackjack. But it clearly doesn't reduce the odds to 0%.
Most card counting systems compensate for this by converting the running count into a true count. That's accomplished by dividing the count by the number of decks left in the shoe. So if the count is +6, and the shoe still has 6 decks left in it, the counter makes her decisions based on a true count of +1.
The count is important, because based on how high or low it is, your bet will be correspondingly higher or lower.
Also, strategy decisions only change when you hit certain counts.
The Pros and Cons off the Unbalanced Zen System
- QFIT (and presumably some other sources) measure the effectiveness of various card counting techniques based on how well they estimate how much you should raise your bets (betting correlation), how well they advise you on changing your strategy decisions (playing efficiency), and how well they indicate whether or not insurance is a good bet (insurance correlation).
- The Unbalanced Zen 2 System has a betting correlation of 0.97, which is probably as close to perfect as you might need. (A perfect score, of course, would be 1.) The playing efficiency is always a significantly lower number, and that holds true in the case of this system, too—it's 0.62, which sounds low, but is actually high compared to many other systems. And the insurance correlation is 0.84, which is also quite high.
- You pay for those high numbers, though, in terms of how hard it is to learn and use this system. Other systems are much harder, but there are also plenty of systems which are much easier and offer much better numbers. The Knockout System, for example, is significantly easier to learn and implement. And it actually providers a higher betting correlation (0.98). But the playing efficiency of 0.55 is significantly lower, and the insurance correlation of 0.78 is also not as good as the Unbalanced Zen Count.
- Some of this relates back to what kind of card counter you want to be. We know some counters who are content to get almost all of their edge just from raising and lowering their bets. They don't even bother with basic strategy adjustments. If you fall into that category, you're probably better off using a simpler system.
But if you love a challenge and want to get every tenth of a percentage in edge that you can against the casino, you could do a lot worse than the Unbalanced Zen 2 System. As with many gambling techniques, much of making the correct decision depends on understanding your own temperament and tendencies as a player.
The Unbalanced Zen 2 card counting system is a relatively hard-to-use system. It has 2 levels, and it's also unbalanced. But in terms of accuracy, it's more efficient than most other systems of similar difficulty. We don't recommend this to players just starting off as counters, but if you've been doing this for a while and want to get a bigger edge, this one is worth considering.