Blackjack basic strategy is important. Playing exactly according to basic strategy, at a table with decent rules, can reduce the house's edge against a blackjack player to half of a percent. This makes blackjack one of the best games on the casino floor, especially for advantage gamblers.
If you're the type of player that just can't handle even a -0.5% return, overcome the long term with these three basic card-counting tactics.
Remember that there is no way to consistently beat the house besides gaining an advantage through keeping track of the cards removed from play. Whether you're new to the game and just want a leg up on the casino or a person who has been using a basic card count for years, the methods below will help you improve your odds against the house.
An advanced basic strategy will help you step your blackjack game up and reduce the casino's edge from that 0.5% mark to something a little closer to a positive expectation. Your results will vary based on how well you learn and apply the tactic.
This method requires you learn basic game strategy first. After that, you're instructed in how to pay attention to the cards showing on the game table. The idea is to gain insight into the number of high-value versus low-value cards remaining in the shoe.
Some writers call this process "counting the table" in order to differentiate it from a traditional card counting practice. Though you won't be keeping the kind of complex count that made the MIT blackjack team famous, you are essentially engaging in card-counting by following this method.
How does it work? Simply take stock of the exposed cards for every hand at the table, all players and the dealer. Start by counting the number of ten-point cards ("high cards") and the cards worth between two and five points ("low cards"). This count is really simple because there are an equal number of these high and low cards in every deck.
Players are at an advantage when the deck is rich with high-value cards – when a lot of low cards are exposed. If six or more high-value cards are exposed, the deck is less favorable for the player. This method works in other situations, as well.
For example, imagine you hold a ten and a six against a dealer's face card. This is one of the toughest hands in the game – going by basic strategy, you would always take a hit. It's a tough call, because only a four or a five will make your hand competitive against the high likelihood that the dealer's second card will be worth ten points.
If you're keeping an advanced basic count, you'll have a good impression on the likelihood that the dealer's second card will be worth ten points. If your simple count shows at least six or more low-value cards compared to high-value cards, you should buck basic strategy and stand on sixteen. The fact that the table is rich with low cards means your odds of drawing that four or five are significantly low.
The Hi-Lo system is widely-recognized as the simplest of the traditional card counting methods. This method is easy to learn, fairly easy to put into practice, and very effective at the tables.
Because every blackjack shoe is made up of a finite number of cards, and because rounds of the game are dependent events (provided the casino doesn't shuffle after every hand), you can gain an advantage by knowing what cards are left in the shoe.
If you know when the house edge is at its lowest (when the cards that favor the house are in a significant minority), you know when to increase your bets. The opposite is true, too – you can limit your risk by betting small when the shoe favors the house.
The Hi-Lo system is based on two facts: each time a two, three, four, five, or six is removed from play, the player benefits, and each time a ten, jack, queen, king, or ace is removed from play, the house benefits.
To use this method, start in your head with a total of zero. Every time a two, three, four, five, or six is removed from play, add one to your total. Every time a ten, jack, queen, king, or ace is removed from play, subtract on from your total.
If you're keeping a good count, the amount that your total is positive tells you how much the deck is in your favor, and the amount that your total is negative tells you how much the deck is against you. Conservative Hi-Lo counters start increasing their wagers at a total of +2.
Though a system liked Advanced Omega II does require an advanced understanding of the game (and a head for quick calculations), it can still be called a simple system. That's because the system greatly improves your knowledge of the true house edge by adding a single step to traditional count tactics. Once you've advanced past Hi-Lo, consider a system like this.
What makes Advanced Omega II different? For starters, every card has a positive or negative value. Unlike the Hi-Lo and other simpler counts, which only require you to keep track of nine cards that can either be +1 or -1, this system gives every card one of five values, from -2 to +2.
This value system makes Advanced Omega II more complex than Hi-Lo. But to improve your ability against the house with card counting, you'll simply have to learn a more complicated system.
Another big difference between advanced tactics like this one and the simpler methods described above – you have to track aces two different ways. During regular play, aces are worth 0 in the Advanced Omega II count. Proper use of this system means keeping separate track of how many aces are still in the shoe.
Knowledge of remaining aces means knowledge of your likelihood of drawing a natural. Using this method, players combine a more accurate overall count than Hi-Lo or Advanced Basic with knowledge of how ace-rich the shoe is at any given time and make their bets accordingly.