If you’re ready to turn the blackjack tables around on the casinos there are several card counting strategies you can choose to learn. You can learn the Zen, Uston Advanced or Red 7 Count, for example. But these are advanced strategies that will take a lot of time and effort to learn, let alone use.
Now if you want a system that is easier to learn and use, you don’t have to look any further than the Hi/Lo System.
The Hi/Lo System was first introduced by Harvey Dubner in 1963. It’s an improved version of Edward Thorp’s 10-Count system that took the blackjack community by storm just a year or 2 prior.
When used in it’s entirety the Hi/Lo System will swing the casino advantage to about 1 percent in favor of the player. So between how easy it is to learn and use, and it’s effectiveness, it’s definitely worth your time to learn more about it.
How to Use the Hi/Lo Card Counting System
The Hi/Lo system is easy to learn. All you need to be able to do is add or subtract the value of 1 quickly. Here are the values you need to assign to each card:
- 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 – Count +1
- 7, 8, 9 – Count 0
- 10, J, Q, K, A – Count -1
What you’ll do is look at each card as it’s dealt and assign the value. For example, if the first card dealt is a 2, your count would be +1. If the next card is a J, you’d assign it a -1 and your overall count would be 0. Another J would make your count -1. And so on.
The Hi/Lo System is known as a balanced system. What that means is that if you go through an entire deck of cards, and you count each card correctly, your final count should be 0. This is useful to know, if anything, so that when you practice counting you know you’re doing it right.
So that’s going to be your “running count.” What you’ll want to do next is figure out your “true count.” This is the number you’ll use to determine how much money to bet each hand. To figure out your true count you’ll take your running count and divide it by the number of remaining decks. For example, if your running count is 5 and there are 2 decks left, your true count would be 2.5. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be exact. Just get as close as possible.
With your true count you’ll be determine how much to bet. Experts recommend using a bet spread. A bet spread is a range of units you’re willing to bet. For example, a 1-5 spread would mean that on any particular hand, you’ll bet as little as 1 unit and as much as 5 units. The higher your count, the more units you should bet.
The overall idea of the bet spread is to minimize your losses when the deck is full of non 10-point cards, while maximizing your (long term) winnings when the deck is rich with 10s. A bet spread also minimizes detection, as you’re not going from one extreme (table minimum) to another (table maximum).
The last step is to use your true count to deviate from basic strategy. This is outside the scope of this article. But just know that, at times, you’ll use what’s known as index numbers. These numbers will tell you what to do differently (from basic strategy) based on your hand, the dealers’ and the true count. This is more advanced card counting, though, and probably not worth your time if you’re playing for fun. But you can visit the Wizard of Odds or read Blackjack Attack to learn more and get the index charts.
How Hard is the Hi/Lo System to Learn?
Relatively speaking, the Hi/Lo System isn’t hard to learn. You’re merely adding or subtracting 1 point for every card that is dealt. You just need to memorize what values to assign to what cards.
The bigger challenge comes from actually putting this strategy into motion. Keeping track of the cards. The action in a casino is fast; you need to be able to keep track of all the cards dealt, between the initial deal, splits, double downs and hits. Then use that information to make your own decision. All the while you’re dealing with people talking, loud noises and cocktail waitresses asking if you want a drink.
So the best way to prepare is to practice at home. Go through a deck of cards and make sure your count is accurate. Then work on speed. Each time you go through the deck try to go through it faster than you did the last time.
Once you get quick then add some distractions. Turn on your TV, a radio or have a friend try to distract you with conversation while keeping an accurate count. Anything you can do to emulate the experience you’ll have in a brick and mortar casino.
You should also brush up on your basic math. Make sure you have your addition, subtraction and division down. With the true count I would start with whole numbers, and slowly incorporate dividing with decimals/fractions (.5, .25, etc). The more accurate you can be, without screwing up your count, the more accurate your true count and betting will be.
Books That Teach the System
All the information on this page is a primer to the Hi/Lo System. I recommend picking up a book or two if you want to learn more about it.
According to the Wizard of Odds, every major blackjack author has talked about the Hi/Lo System to some capacity. However, he mentioned that the best books are:
- Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong – This has excellent introductory information.
- Blackjack Attack by Don Schlesinger
Both books can be purchased at Amazon. Professional Blackjack is by far the most cost effective option at $8-$15.