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Since the early 1960’s when Dr. Edward O. Thorp told the world in his book Beat the Dealer that the casino game of blackjack could be beaten, players have dreamed of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to be won playing cards. Unfortunately, although the book was a best-seller and thousands of players read it, the average player couldn’t quite get the gist of the Good Doctor’s Ten Count. That was  a good thing for the casinos, because players developed a greater interest in blackjack but the casinos still made a lot more money.

It was also a good thing for card counting, because people like Julian Braun came along and improved Thorp’s original system, making the art of counting easier for players. Unlike slot machines, where the house edge is typically 4 to 6%, blackjack players who understand the standard plays of hitting, doubling down and splitting hands can experience better results:

Location House Advantage
Las Vegas 1.10%
Monte Carlo 1.10%
Atlantic City 1.00%
Reno and Lake Tahoe 1.50%
6/5 Blackjack 2.40%
Video Blackjack 2.50%

 House Edge for Novice Blackjack Players

When players put the time into learning Basic Strategy they can reduce the house edge to approximately half the above numbers. That means the house has a very small edge and you’ll be able to book some winners on occasion. For players who learn an actual card-counting system, the results can be positive numbers where they actually hold an edge over the house based on their proficiency and the house rules, as well as the strength of their system.

Obviously the better the system, the higher percentage edge the player can expect, but there is one other aspect of play that should be included in figuring out a players’ overall win rate or earnings potential and that is the bet spread. Early blackjack players tried to hide their ability and knowledge by keeping their bet-spread at about six units. That meant that a player who risked $5 off the top of the deck and spread to $30 as their highest wager could only make a small amount compared to the ideal bet-spread of 10 to 1.

For ease of argument, let’s assume that you earn just half as much overall with the smaller bet-spread. If you don’t find some clever ways of using Cover Play to hide your ability, you’ll only earn half the amounts listed under each count. If you have a good act and get good cut-card placement, you can certainly earn a long-term profit, although your bankroll must also be considered.

Aces and Fives Count Earnings

After graduating from basic strategy where you are playing at about a one-half percent disadvantage with liberal Las Vegas Strip or Atlantic City blackjack rules, you can pick-up about three-quarters of a percent by learning the Aces and Fives Count. Overall this means you’ll play with about a .25% edge (assuming a 1 to 10 bet spread).  Single deck games will have slightly better odds than multiple deck shoe games, but overall you’ll hold an edge.

The amount you’ll earn of course is based on how many hands you play per hour and your average bet. If your bet off-the-top of the deck is $5 and your top wager is $50, your average wager will be about $20. Since you can get up to 100 hands per hour with a speedy dealer on a three or four-handed game, let’s use that as the basis and say you’ll make .25% of one bet per hour. That equals $5 per hour in earnings.

While that might not seem like much it’s quite a difference from losing money each evening! Give it a try and see how you like it.

Simple Plus Minus Count Potential

After perfecting an introductory count, players usually move up to the Plus Minus count at blackjack to increase their earnings potential. By this time they should understand that you need a substantial bankroll to support the ups and downs of play (400 units is nice for a start). The higher the average edge, the smaller the number of units needs to be for the player to keep within a 5% element of ruin (where you lose your entire bankroll and want to punt your dog over a hedge).

With those nice liberal rules we all shoot for, the Plus Minus count can take you to about a .60% edge with a 1 to 10 unit bet spread. With 100 hands per hour a proficient card counter can expect to make about $12 per hour. If you want to earn more, you’ll need to learn ways to get your wager even higher during positive counts by spreading to two hands and letting wagers ride when the time is right.

Advanced Point Count

There are several good Advanced Point Counts including Hi-Opt, Revere APC and the Uston APC. Each has their own pros and cons. Some counts rely on more mathematics than others. Some demand more practice and patience. Some, like that used by Ken Uston, relied on a side-count of aces that improved the players’ ability to make specific wagers based on how rich the deck is in aces. That’s nice.

Overall, the successful counter with that sought-for spread of 1 to 10 units and a good act can expect to make about the same with any of the above counts – somewhere in the neighborhood of 1% of their overall wagers per hour. Players restricted by rules (such as double down on 10 and 11 only, as in Reno and Lake Tahoe, Nevada) will have a lower expectation, but can improve slightly with a 1 to 12 spread.

That 1% edge translates easily to about $20 per hour. If you play at a higher rate, say $25 to $250, your hourly earnings can top $100.  Is that enough to make you learn your lessons and move up?




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