KO Counting System

The KO System is one of the easiest card counting strategies to learn and use. It’s a recommended strategy for beginners because all you have to do is assign a +1, -1 or 0 to each card that is dealt. That’s much easier than using a system like the Zen or Uston Advanced Count, where you’re assigning 3+ values, as well as keeping running, true and side counts.

However, players were (and still are) having a problem with calculating the true count. Not everyone is good at division, especially with fractions, let alone having to figure the math out while playing.

Seeing this, Ken Fuchs and Olaf Vancura developed the Knock-Out System in 1998. The KO strategy is similar to the Hi/Lo in that you assign a +1, -1 or 0, but different in that you only have to keep track of the running count. You don’t have to figure out the true count, so there’s no need for complicated math.

How to Use the KO System

The KO System assigns the value of +1, 0 or -1 to each card that is dealt. Here are the cards and the values you will assign to each one:

  • 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 – Count +1
  • 8, 9 – Count 0
  • 10, J, Q, K, A – Count -1

For you Hi/Lo System users, the difference between the Hi/Lo and the Knockout is that the 7 is assigned a +1, whereas it’s a 0 in the Hi/Lo. Because of this the Knockout System is unbalanced. If you count through a deck of cards your final count will be a +4.

Since there’s no true count you’ll use the running count to determine how much to bet. The rule of thumb is that the higher the count, the more you should bet, and vice versa. That said, it’s recommended that you use a spread betting system. As your count increases/decreases, so will the number of units you bet. Here’s an example to show you what I mean:

Running Count / 2 Decks / 6-8 Decks

  • 0 or less / 1 unit / 1 unit
  • +1 / 2 units / 2 units
  • +2 / 3 units / 4 units
  • +3 / 4 units / 8 units
  • +4 / 5 units / 10 units
  • +5 / 6 units / 12 units

A unit refers (in this case) to the minimum table limit. If the minimum table wager is $5, that would be one unit. So if your running count is a +4 then you’d bet $25 at a 2-deck game or $50 in a 6-8 deck game.

A spread betting system is a good idea because it maximizes and minimizes how much you win and lose depending on how likely you are to win or lose. It disguises you as a card counter, too. Instead of betting at one extreme or the other (table minimum or table maximum), your betting is gradual. It’ll be harder for casino staff to tag you as an advantage player.

How Hard is the KO System to Learn?

If you already know how to use the Hi/Lo system then the KO should be no problem. You’re merely adding a +1 to the 7-card, and eliminating the true count.

However, if you’ve never counted cards before, the KO System is the easiest one to learn. The quickest way to pick it up is to practice with a deck of cards. Go through each one and assign it a value, all the while keeping track of your total (running count).

For example, say the following cards were dealt:

2, K, 4, 5, J, A, A, 3, 8, 9, 6, 5

As each card comes out you assign it a value:

(2) +1, (K) -1, (4) +1, (5) +1, (J) -1, (A) -1, (A) -1, (3) +1, (8) 0, (9) 0, (6) +1, (5) +1

Adding all of these up we get a count of +2.

But you want to make sure that you keep a total as you go. You won’t have the time to wait for all the cards to be dealt to figure out your count. Especially if you have poor table position (the closer you are to the dealer’s left, the worse your position).

So as you see each card you’ll want to keep a (running) total. Using the same example as above (card = running count):

  • 2 = +1
  • K = 0
  • 4 = +1
  • 5 = +2
  • J = +1
  • A = 0
  • A = -1
  • 3 = 0
  • 8 = +0
  • 9 = +0
  • 6 = +1
  • 5 = +2

Each time you go through a deck of cards you should try to do it faster than you did before, while staying accurate (+4 count when you’re done). Experts also recommend playing background noise so that you can practice with distractions. You could also go to the casino, stand behind a blackjack table and try to keep count. This will show you what it’s like to count cards in an distraction filled, action paced environment.

Books That Teach the Knock-Out System

What we’ve covered above is a primer to the Knock-Out System. It would still be a good idea to read more about it, especially if this is the system you’re going to master.

We recommend going straight to the source: Knock-Out Blackjack by Olaf Vancura and Ken Fuchs. You can pick it up at Amazon for less than $7 on your Kindle, or for $15 for the paperback. This book will cover basic blackjack strategy, an intro to card counting and finally it’ll walk you through the KO System and betting strategies.

This books come highly recommended, even from blackjack greats like Edward Thorp:

"K-O is a simple and powerful card-counting system that deserves serious consideration, clearly and entertainingly presented."

–Edward O. Thorp, Ph.D., Author of Beat the Dealer