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Standard Hi-Low Card Counting

One of the most popular counting systems currently in use is the point count system, also known as Hi-Low. This system is based on assigning a point value of +1, 0, or -1 to every card dealt to all players on the table, including the dealer. Each card is assigned its own specific point value. Aces and 10-point cards are assigned a value of -1. Cards 7, 8, 9 each count as 0. Cards 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 each count as +1.

As the cards are dealt, the player mentally keeps a running count of the cards exposed, and makes wagering decisions based on the current count total.

The higher the plus count, IE: the higher percentage of ten-point cards and aces remaining to be dealt, means that the advantage is to player and he/she should increase their wager.

If the running count is around zero, the deck or shoe is neutral and neither the player nor the dealer has an advantage.

The higher the minus count, the greater disadvantage is to the player, as a higher than normal number of low cards remain to be dealt. In this case a player should be making their minimum wager or leave the table.

As the dealing of the cards progresses, the credibility of the count becomes more accurate, and the size of the player's wager can be increased or decreased with a better probability of winning.

It is important to note that a players decision process, when to hit, stand, double down, etc. is still based on basic strategy. Remember, you MUST learn basic strategy. However, alteration in basic strategy play is sometimes recommended based on the current card count. For example, if the running count is +2 or greater and you have a hard 16 against a dealers up card of ten, you should stand, which is a direct violation of basic strategy. But considering that the deck or shoe is rich in face cards you are more likely to bust in this situation, thus you ignore basic strategy and stand. Another example is to always take insurance when the count is +3 or greater. For the most part however, you should stick with basic strategy and use the card count as an indication of when to increase or decrease the amount of your bet, as that is the whole strategy behind counting.

Generally speaking, if the count is +2 or greater in a single deck game you should increase your initial bet. Of course, when are we ever playing in a single deck game anymore?

In a multiple deck game your wager should be increased when the 'true count' is +2 or more. What's the difference between a running count in a single deck game versus the true count in a multiple deck game? The true count in a multiple deck game is based on the actual number of decks left to be played. For example, in a single deck game if the first six cards dealt are small cards you have a running count total of +6, which is a nice advantage to the player. If the first six cards dealt in a multiple deck game are all small cards you also have a running count of +6. However, this doesn't add up to the same advantage because you have several decks in the shoe left to be dealt, therefore you must use a true count as your basis of increasing your wager. If you're at a six-deck game, and the first six cards are small ones, the count per remaining deck (the true count) is actually just a bit over 1, since there is just a bit less than 6 decks remaining to be played.

To determine the true count, divide the 'running' count by the number of decks remaining to be played. What this means is the number of decks left, whether they'll actually be played or not. In a six-deck game for example, a deck or more may be cut off by the dealer after the shuffle, but that means nothing when computing true count. Now figuring out the actual number of decks remaining isn't as difficult as you might think. Simply observe how many cards are in the discard tray. Using a six-deck game for an example, if you see about 2 decks in the discard tray you then have four decks left to be played. So at this point a running count of +8 translates into a true count of 2 because there are four decks left in the shoe. IE: Running count of 8 is divided by number of decks remaining, in this case 4, and the result is 2. 8 divided by 4 = 2. The dealer may shuffle before all four of those remaining decks have been played, but for true count conversion that doesn't matter.

So that's how you count cards. Yes, it takes a bit of practice and concentration and that may take away some of the enjoyment of playing the game. However, you may also choose to use an informal counting system, which is much easier to master.