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Blackjack card counting is one of the most exciting things that gamblers can ever learn. To put the power of card counting into perspective, image you play poker, any style of poker, and every wager has to be $1, no more, no less. And, you have to play every hand and you can’t bluff. That’s what it’s like playing blackjack when you don’t know the rules.

Now suppose you learn blackjack basic strategy and know when to hit, stand, double down and split pairs. In poker that would be like getting the option to slow-play a hand, or to bluff. Now image you learn a blackjack card counting system and can bet less (when you have a negative count and the house has the edge), or you can also bet more (when the count is positive and you have the edge). At poker that would be like taking away the $1 limit and letting you bet whatever you want! Welcome to real blackjack.

Over the years several blackjack players and mathematicians have written about playing the game and making money with card counting systems, but the most popular system ever devised, mostly due to ease of learning and ease of play, is Lawrence Revere’s Plus Minus Count. The system is often referred to as a simple hi-low count. This is an easy, balanced system, meaning the cards are assigned a value and you count them as they are used in play. On the first hand (off the top of the deck) the count starts at zero. At the end of a deck after all cards have been seen and counted the count will return to zero. Give it a try with a deck of cards.

Card Values

  • 2             +1
  • 3              +1
  • 4              +1
  • 5              +1
  • 6              +1
  • 7              0
  • 8              0
  • 9              0
  • 10           -1
  • J              -1
  • Q             -1
  • K             -1
  • A             -1

When playing a card counting system you have to count and add or subtract as the cards go by. When the count is positive, the player has the advantage. When the count is negative, the house has the advantage.

So, here we go. You make a small, 1-unit wager before the first hand and the dealer sends out the cards:

  • Player 1’s hand: K -4       (you count -1 for the King and +1 for the 4, your count is back to zero)
  • Player 2’s hand: 7-4         (you count 0 for the 7 and +1 for the 4, your count is now +1)
  • Player 3’s hand: A-9        (you count -1 for the ace and 0 for the 9, your count is now zero again)
  • Player 4’s hand: 10-Q     (you count -1 for the ten and -1 for the Queen, your count is now -2)
  • Dealer Up Card: 8             (you count 0 for the 8, your count is still -2)
  • The first Player hits their K-4 with a 5 and you count +1, your count is now -1.
  • The second player doubles down and gets a Jack and you count -1, your count is now -2.
  • The dealer turns over a 10 and you count -1, your count is now -3.

On the next hand you keep your 1-unit wager because the count is negative. On subsequent hands you continue adding and subtracting and always wager 1-unit with a negative count or a zero count. When the count is +1 or +2 you wager 2-units, when it is +3 or +4 you wager 4-units, when it is + a higher number you wager from 5 to 8 units at your discretion. It always looks more natural if you simply let winnings ride (such as going from 1-unit to 2, or 4-units to 8). Trying to raise your wager from a single chip to 8 chips will be much more noticeable.

In addition, lowering your wager from 8 units to 1 unit after winning several bets looks bad, but you’ve got to get that bet down in negative counts. Sometimes it is better to just drop down to 2-units on the first wager after a big win. Cover play and avoiding detection is important if you want to have a chance to collect on all of your hard work learning a card counting system.

Multiple Deck Play

The Plus Minus was originally devised for single-deck games, way back when they were most popular. To reduce the number of successful players, casinos changed to mostly 6 and 8-deck shoes. You can still use this system for multiple-deck play, but you’ll have to do some additional work by converting your count.

There is a difference between the count you are keeping (the running count) and the actual count (the true count). On a single deck, converting isn’t really necessary; especially for a simple plus minus system, but on multiple decks you’ll convert your count by the number of remaining decks.

Suppose you are playing a 6-deck shoe and have a count (your running count) of +10 after the first deck. Before you bet the farm on that count, understand that you only have a small amount of information and lots of decks left, so you must divide your point total by the number of decks remaining to get the true count. That would be a simple: 10 divided by 5 equals 2. Now you see that your true count is really just a +2, so just a 2-unit wager is in order, not that 8-unit wager you were thinking about!

Using the Revere Plus Minus Count won’t make you rich, but with good blackjack rules you can expect to hold an overall edge of about .60%, providing you get good bet variation. Balance the chances of being noticed and being greedy. A 1 to 10 variance in bets would be great, but start out just doubling your bet and doubling again if the situation warrants. That will keep you flying under the radar.

Remember that practice is your best strategy at blackjack, and treating your bankroll like your best friend will keep you in the game!

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