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Blackjack claims the title of the single most popular casino card game in the world and rightfully so. The great success it continually enjoys can be attributed to the simplicity of its rules and the relatively low edge it gives the house. Yet, what many recreational players fail to recognize is there are ways to not only reduce this edge further but also to eliminate it altogether.

There are numerous stories in the rich history of this enticing game, relating the exploits of skilled and dedicated players who have attacked the blackjack tables, and with great success. The mention of the Czech blackjack team sends shivers down the spines of pit bosses the world over to this very day. Then again, the students from the MIT blackjack team have inspired thousands of players, proving that when perfect strategy, discipline, and determination are at hand, there is no such notion as “improbable”.

Legends like Edward Thorp, Kenny Uston, Stanford Wong, and George Hascik have helped shape blackjack into the beatable game we know today through the introduction of various mathematically sound systems that can tremendously improve one’s success at the table. Read on, if you are interested to know more about the most common blackjack systems that can help you become a consistent winner.

Benefits of the Strategies

blackjack strategy imageCompared to other casino mainstays like roulette, baccarat and craps, blackjack offers players a rather high value and a low house advantage. When joining a table with favorable rules and conditions, players using a strategy can rarely expect to fight a house edge that exceeds 0.8%. A person who fails to recognize the importance of strategies tends to make many mistakes when playing their hands, which naturally results in a substantial reduction of their bankroll.

Now, compare this to a person who incorporates a strategy at the table and follows it religiously. One such player will make the optimal decisions, bet more when they hold the advantage, and commit fewer errors during sessions. Fewer errors (or none at all) and proper bet sizing at the right moments translate into a reduction of one’s losses and helps them maximize their profits under favorable conditions.

Basic Strategy

blackjack strategy imageIn a conversation with more experienced blackjack players, you most certainly will hear them emphasize the importance of basic strategy. It is proven to work as it is based on an extensive study, conducted in the early 1960s. A computer specialist called Julian Braun conducted a simulation which involved around 9 billion combinations of hands against all possible face-up cards the dealer may show. The simulation was indeed extensive as it was based on blackjack games involving one, four, six, and eight decks.

After analyzing his results, Braun changed the game of Twenty-One forever as his findings served as the foundation for the basic strategy chart. The chart contains all the optimal moves a player can make on the basis of their own hand total and the value of the dealer’s up card. The basic strategy chart enables players to decide when it is the best time to stand, hit, double down, split pairs or surrender (if allowed).

Blackjack Basic Strategy Chart
Players’ Hand Dealer’s Up Card
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
8 H H H D D H H H H H
9 H D D D D H H H H H
10 D D D D D D H H H H
11 D D D D D D D H H H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
16 S S S S S H H H H H
A-2 H H H D D H H H H H
A-3 H H D D D H H H H H
A-4 H H D D D H H H H H
A-5 H H D D D H H H H H
A-6 H D D D D H H H H H
A-7 S D D D D S S H H H
A-8 S S S S S S S S S S
A-9 S S S S S S S S S S
4-4. H H H SP SP H H H H H
5-5. D D D D D D H H H H

Card Counting

card counting imageBasic strategy can reduce the house edge to 0.5% but there are ways to further decrease the advantage the house holds over you. One such technique is card counting and it was perfected by Edward O. Thorpe, professor of mathematics and a highly-skilled blackjack player. Card counting relies on the idea that players can boost their profits by betting more when they hold the advantage and reducing their stakes when the edge swings to the dealer.

People who use card counting are not cheaters, but merely advantage players. This technique may be frowned upon by pit bosses, but it is also perfectly legal. Card counters can tell when the odds are on their side by closely tracking the ratio of high cards and small cards. More Aces and face cards remaining in the shoe are favorable to players because they may potentially result in naturals with higher payouts. A higher number of small cards works to the benefit of the dealer and reduces their chances of going bust.

This approach is applicable to blackjack because the cards that are dealt on previous hands affect the composition of the cards remaining in the shoe or deck. Therefore, advantage players would base their decisions on the cards that are yet to be dealt. This would reduce their losses on unfavorable counts and enable them to increase their wagers when they are at an advantage.

Card Counting Systems

Various card counting systems have emerged over the last few decades, each one offering a different level of challenge and complexity to players. These can be grouped into two categories – balanced and unbalanced. Balanced counting systems require the player to convert a running count (RC) into a true count (TC).

The term “running count” is based on the values of the cards as they are dealt out of the shoe. With each card leaving the shoe, the counters would add or subtract from the running count, depending on the card’s point value. The counters would then divide their running count by the number of remaining decks to obtain a true count and base their decisions on that result.

The Hi-Lo System

The Hi-Lo is the most popular balanced counting system applicable to the game of blackjack. It was developed and introduced by Harvey Dubner back in 1963. The beauty of the Hi-Lo lies in the fact that it is both simple and extremely effective – many recreational players and professionals have used it with great success.

Hi-Lo Card Counting System
Card Value Count
2, 3, 4, 5, 6 count +1
7, 8, 9 count 0
10, J, Q, K, A count -1

The Red Seven System

The Red Seven system is also widely used by advantage players with a good deal of success. This card counting system was first introduced by Arnold Snyder and its greatest merit lies in its simplicity, especially in comparison to the Hi-Lo.

The Red Seven Card Counting System
Card Value Count
2, 3, 4, 5, 6 count +1
7 red count +1
7 black count 0
10, J, Q, K, A count -1

The KO System

The KO (abbreviated from Knock-Out) is another unbalanced counting system that is widely used by advantage blackjack players. The KO was first introduced in the book Knockout Blackjack, written by Olaf Vancura and Ken Fuchs, and is considered one of the simplest card counting systems to ever be devised.

The KO Card Counting System
Card Value Count
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 count +1
8, 9 count 0
10, J, Q, K, A count -1

The KISS Systems

The KISS counting systems gained popularity in the blackjack community following the publishing of Fred Renzey’s book Blackjack Bluebook II in 2003. The abbreviation KISS stands for “keep it short and simple” and refers to a group of counting systems, allowing beginners to progress through three levels of complexity. The group consists of three unbalanced systems but the unique thing here is that the color of the cards’ suits is also taken into consideration.

KISS (III) Card Counting System
Card Value Count
3, 4, 5, 6, 7 count +1
2 black count +1
2 red count 0
8, 9 count 0
10, J, Q, K, A count -1

The Omega II System

The Omega II is a balanced card counting system which gained popularity among advanced players in the 1990s, following the publication of Bryce Carlson’s book, Blackjack for Blood in 1992. Note that this is a more advanced system which also translates into higher efficiency. This, of course, leads to a higher complexity as the Omega II falls into the category of Level 2 counting systems. While in systems like the Hi-Lo and the KO the cards are assigned values of 0, +1 and -1 only, Level 2 systems also incorporate values of +2 and -2.

The Omega II Card Counting System
Card Value Count
4, 5, 6 count +2
2, 3, 7 count +1
8, A count 0
9 count -1
10, J, Q, K count -2

The Hi-Opt Systems

This group consists of two systems, Hi-Opt I and Hi-Opt II, which offer different levels of complexity. The interesting thing about Hi-Opt I is that it was developed by sportswriter Charles Einstein in 1968 while the majority of the other systems we have covered so far were created by people with extensive knowledge in mathematics.

Hi-Opt I Card Counting System
Card Value Count
3, 4, 5, 6 count +1
2, 7, 8, 9, A count 0
10, J, Q, K count -1
Hi-Opt II Card Counting System
Card Value Count
4, 5 count +2
2, 3, 6, 7 count +1
8, 9, A count 0
10, J, Q, K count -2

The Zen Count System

The Zen Count system is a more complex balanced system which was popularized back in 1983 by blackjack expert Arnold Snyder in his book Blackbelt in Blackjack. The Zen Count often poses as a challenge to less experienced card counters due to the fact it belongs to the Level 2 category of systems.

The Zen Count Card Counting System
Card Value Count
4, 5, 6 count +2
2, 3, 7 count +1
8, 9 count 0
A count -1
10, J, Q, K count -2

The Wong Halves System

The Wong Halves system borrows its name from mathematician and blackjack expert John Ferguson, who first introduced it in his best-selling book Professional Blackjack under the pen name Stanford Wong. This balanced card counting system is highly praised by blackjack pros for its impressive accuracy and efficiency. But before you give it a try, beware – the Wong Halves is rather difficult to master, which can partially be explained with its being a Level 3 system.

Wong Halves Card Counting System
Card Value Count
5 count +1.5
3, 4, 6 count +1
2, 7 count +0.5
8 count 0
9 count -0.5
10, J, Q, K, A count -1

Blackjack Money Management

money management imageAsk any gambler what is the main ingredient in the recipe for success when playing casino games and they will instantly snap “Money Management!”. This applies in full force to the game of Twenty-One as no card counting system or strategy can possibly do anything for you, if you are unable to manage your bankroll smartly. Mind that this has nothing to do with affecting the odds or reducing the edge the house holds against you.

When it comes to blackjack, there are several aspects of money management you need to consider prior to attacking the tables. Money management all starts with setting up a bankroll to play with. A sufficient bankroll is one of the biggest weapons a blackjack player holds against the casino, combined with a proper understanding of the game, of course. The bankroll should consist of money you can afford to spare and must not include funds you need to pay your rent or bills. If you cannot afford to spare the necessary amount right away, stay put until you build up a bankroll.