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Ken Uston (see bio) was a highly skilled blackjack player who had a knack for appearing to be nothing more than a drunken playboy gambler and his act helped him avoid being barred from play for more than two years while he and his team members extracted millions of dollars from casinos around the world.

When he first joined Al Francesco’s team of players, Uston was a San Francisco businessman, working as a Vice President at the Pacific Stock Exchange.  His job was a great cover, and he was taught basic strategy before ever setting foot inside a casino with other team members at Lake Tahoe. As his skill increased, he learned the Hi-Opt counting system so that he would be in line with his teammates, and he played the role of simple card counter during the team’s next trip to Las Vegas.

The team doubled their bankroll in a long weekend and he pocketed $2,100, about double what he was making at his job in 1974 for a week’s work. Uston and the team had great success over the next year, but he eventually went his own way and devised some of his own methods for winning more and more money. He also wrote several books on blackjack and exposed the Vegas Pit Bosses to his methods, but that didn’t stop him from playing.

In 1981 Uston wrote the book Million Dollar Blackjack. Inside the pages he outlined how the team made money, how he taught new players to play basic strategy, and how he used a new system, the Uston Advanced Point Count, to play at the tables. Over the next decade, players used many other systems to beat the game of blackjack, but after all these years, it seems the Uston APC is one of the best overall systems to play the game. Unlike the Revere Plus Minus, which is designed for single-deck play, Uston’s system works well for single as well as multiple deck games.

Assigning Value to the Cards

Computer simulations have proven that card counting works, that fives are most valuable to the dealer (because dealers must always hit until they make at least 17 and the five always fits) and that 10-value cards being removed through play hurt the player. As such, 5’s and 10’s carry the most weight in the Uston APC.

This is not a simple count. This is a very advanced, multi-level count with a side-count of aces. Don’t start your card counting with this system. Start with the simpler Aces and Fives count to get the hang of tracking cards. Then, move up to the next system. Why? Because this is tough!

The Uston APC also requires players to vary their strategy depending on the current true count, to convert the current running count to the true count, and to use the side-count of aces to adjust their wager. The following points are assigned to each card as they are used in play.

Card       Point Assigned

2              +1

3              +2

4              +2

5              +3

6              +2

7              +2

8              +1

9              -1

10           -3

J              -3

Q             -3

K             -3

Aces      0

As each card is seen in play, the counter must add or subtract the point number. This is a balanced count, meaning play starts at zero and after every card in the deck is seen the count returns to zero. Obviously not every card will be seen, especially with shoe games, but that’s where shuffle-tracking comes in! An example hand might be:

  • Player 1’s hand: 7-8         (count the 7 as +2 and the 8 as +1, running count is +3)
  • Player 2’s hand: 10-Ace (count the 10 as -3 and the Ace as 0, running count is 0)
  • Player 3’s hand: 10-4      (count the 10 as -3 and the 4 as +2, running count is -1)
  • Player 4’s hand: 5-5         (count the 5 as +5 and the other 5 as +3, running count is +5)
  • Dealer up card: 10            (count the 10 as -3, running count is +2)

Now suppose the player on seat one hits his 15 with a 3 and stands (count the 3 as +2, running count is +4). The player on seat 3 hits his 14 with a 6 (count the 6 as +2, running count is +6). The player on seat 4 doubles down and catches a 9 (count the 9 as -1, running count is +5), and finally the dealer turns over a 7 (count the 7 as +2, running count is +7).

The True Count

Before the next hand starts, you have a running count of +7. The shoe is new, and you want to divide your true count by the half-decks remaining (it’s a 6-deck shoe, so there are12 half-decks), of which there are 11. That gives you a true count of less than +1, but it is positive, so you raise your wager from the starting 1-unit to 2-units. You have a tiny, tiny edge over the house.

As for the side count of aces, well that’s another skill you’ll need with the Uston APC. In the example given there were 13 cards played, and there are four aces in a deck, so the one ace seen means you make no changes to your wager. However, the idea of side-counting the aces used is to see when the deck or decks might be rich or poor in aces.

For betting purposes only, you will add 3 for every extra ace or subtract 3 for every extra ace used in each one-half deck (that would be two per half deck, right?). So, if you have played half the decks and have a running count of +18 you should have seen 12 aces. If you saw only 10, you are 2 aces rich. You add 3+3 to your running count to get +24, and then momentarily convert to a wagering number. Your play doesn’t change, but your wagering does.

Yes, this is confusing, but follow along anyway. You take the new number 24 and divide by the half-decks remaining and get +4, then use that for your next wager. If you did not side-count the aces, your conversion of +18 would result in the number (18 divided by 6 half decks) +3. Again, your play doesn’t change, but your wager does – would be smaller without the knowledge about the ace-rich shoe.

This is somewhat simplified, but here is an example of how to wager:  With any 0 or negative count bet 1 unit. With a positive count, raise your wager to match the true count:

First Hand:

Off the top of the deck Wager 1 unit

2nd Hand:

True Count +1   Bet 1 unit

True Count +2   Bet 2 units

True Count +3   Bet 3 units

True Count +4   Bet 4 units

Continue raising your wager as high as you think you can get away with. Obviously you can’t bet 1 unit and then jamb 5 units into the betting circle on a regular basis on positive counts without being noticed, but you can double your wager, or go to two hands of double and probably not be noticed. Your ability to play the act will be as important to longevity and total winnings as your ability to play the Uston APC accurately.

Insurance

Taking insurance is an important part of any counting system. With the Uston APC you’ll take insurance each time the true count is +2 or higher. Unfortunately, Pit Bosses know that when counters have their big bets out (because the count is positive) they are likely to take insurance, which marks you as a counter. That’s the breaks, kid. However, you might want to take insurance occasionally as a cover measure when you have your smallest bet out there. That can buy you extra time playing and confuse surveillance, and it really doesn’t cost much to take insurance occasionally with a $5 wager when you are getting plenty of $50 wagers into action. Just consider the small loss a cost of playing.

The final note on an advanced point count is that they are designed to offer the player a chance to vary their play with certain counts. The matrix for doubles, splits and hitting where you would make changes to your standard playing rules for the Uston APC are only available in the book.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use what you find here and do very well, but when you are ready to take full advantage of one of the best systems ever, buy the book and gain an even greater advantage over the house!

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