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Ralph Stricker September 2000

Blackjack: Card Counting Systems

by Ralph Stricker

In 1962 Edward O. Thorpe's book "Beat the Dealer" appeared. Thorpe, through the use of computer trials, proved that certain cards were favorable to the player, and other cards favorable to the dealer. He proved that "depending" on what cards had been played, one could determine what cards were left.  Therefore if more cards were left that favored the player, the player had an advantage and could now raise the bet according to this advantage.

There have been over 100 card counting systems published. This does not mean, because it is a mathematical valid counting system, that it is worth pursuing. The first counting systems were geared toward single deck, because at the time, the only legitimate casinos in the United States were in Nevada. Card counting systems are either Balanced or Unbalanced. Balanced means that we start on a number and at the end of the deck/shoe we arrive at that same number. This is because there is an exact ratio between "plus" and "minus" card values. Unbalanced means that we start on a certain number and at the end of the deck/shoe we arrive at a different number. In an unbalanced count there is a disparity between plus and minus cards.

Both balanced and unbalanced counts are mathematically valid, although both vary in strength depending on the count and amount of decks. Usually unbalanced counts are better suited for single- and double-deck games.

There are also single-level counts and multi-level counts. Single level means only one value has been used for the plus and minus cards (usually +1 and -1). Multi-level count means different values for different cards. (For example, the 2 and 3's may equal +1, the 4 and 5's may equal +2, 9's equal -1, 10 and Aces equal -2)

I recommend that the person who wishes to pursue card counting learn a simple one-level count where the Ace is reckoned. (a value on the Ace). Count systems that assign no value on the Ace need to use a "side count" for betting purposes.  This is extra work at the table. The object is to play as expeditiously as possible without holding up play of the game. This is so the pit personnel cannot "make" you as a card counter. The "Silver Fox" count is a balanced count which requires no "side" count of Aces & Fives. It is also effective in single, double and multiple deck play.

We all owe Thorpe a debt of gratitude for his work in defining card counting as a way to play blackjack.

Ralph Stricker, also known as the Silver Fox, is an expert gambler selling books and tapes called the Silver Fox Blackjack System.

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