Advanced Blackjack Playing Strategies - Part 3 - True Count

Now that you've learned how to keep the running count (see Part 2 Article) it's time to learn how to compute the true count. You will use the latter to vary the size of your bets in single and multiple deck games and also when to deviate from the basic playing strategy.

Why do you have to convert your running count to a true count? Because the running count doesn't take into consideration the number of unplayed decks of cards and therefore you can overestimate your advantage. For example, a running count of +6 with 2 decks unplayed in a 6-deck shoe game is a greater advantage for the player than the same running count with 5 unplayed decks of cards. To compensate for this difference, we normalize the running count by dividing the number of unplayed decks in order to get a true count per deck.

Mathematically, true count is the running count divided by the number of decks unplayed. Suppose your running count is +6 after the first round in a six-deck shoe. There is essentially 6 decks left unplayed so the true count is +1. If instead there were only 2 unplayed decks, your true count would be +3.

You can determine how many unplayed decks of cards there are in a multiple deck game by eyeballing the number of decks of cards in the discard tray. For example, if you are playing in a 6-deck shoe game and you estimate 3 decks of cards in the discard tray, then there must be 3 unplayed decks left in the shoe. Likewise, if 2 decks are in the discard tray, then there must be 4 uplayed decks in the shoe.

You don't have to be supper accurate in estimating the number of decks in the discard tray. In fact if you practice at home, you'll see it's not that difficult to estimate the number of decks in a stack of cards.

Remember that you will be converting your running count to a true count just for a split second so you know how much to bet then you revert back to keeping the running count of the cards.

The more positive the true count, the greater will be the counter's advantage on the next hand. As a general rule, each additional unit of the true count will add 0.5% advantage to the player. In a typical 6 deck game, the casino's edge after the shuffle is about 0.5% (that's equivalent to a true count of 0 or a neutral deck). When the true count is +1, the player is playing even against the casinos and when the true count is +2, the player has a 0.5% edge and at a true count of +3 the counter has about a 1% edge.

In Part 2 of this series I described how you could use the running count in single deck games to vary your bets. It's also possible to compute a true count in single deck games

(which you will need in order to vary your playing strategy). The equation is running count divided by the number of unplayed cards. However, an easier way to do this conversion in single deck games is as follows:

Running count = true count during the play out of the first quarter deck

Multiply the running count by 1.5 for the play out of the second quarter deck

Multiply the running count by 2 for the play out of the third quarter decks.

Notice that in single deck games the true count is always greater than the running count whereas in shoe games it's the other way around.

Let's try an example so you see how easy this is. If you are playing in a single deck game and during the play out of the second quarter deck your running count is +2, your true count is +3 (+2 running count times 1.5). If your running count is +2 during the play out of the third quarter deck your true count is +4 (+2 running count times 2).

In single deck games a bet spread of 1 to 4 units is sufficient to gain the edge. A suggested betting scheme is to bet 1 unit when the true count is 0 or negative, 2 units at true count +1, then bet 3 units when the true count is +2, and 4 units when the true count is +3 or more.

For double deck games, I would suggest a 1 to 5 bet spread using the above betting schedule except bet 5 units when the true count is +4 or more.

For 6 deck games, you will need at least 1 to 8 and preferable 1 to 10 betting spread. For 8 deck games your betting spread should be 1 to 10 or 12. An easy to remember betting schedule for 6 deck games is to just bet two times the value of the positive true count. If your true count is +1, bet 2 units, at a +2 true count bet 4 units, at +3 bet 6 units and +4 bet 8 (or 10) units. For an 8 deck game I'd suggest a slightly more aggressive betting schedule with a top bet of 12 units (+1 bet 3 units, +2 bet 5 units, +3 bet 8 units and +4 or more bet 12 units).

The above betting schedule is not absolute. The key point is that your big bets need to be larger than your small bets because the very positive true count situations do not occur that often especially in shoe games. In fact most of the times you will be playing at a disadvantage making small "waiting" bets until the advantage turns in your favor and then should bet more.

Another more practical and easier way to bet using the true count is to parlay your bet when you win and have the advantage. In fact this method of betting helps disguise the fact that you are card counting. I'll discuss this point more in part 4 of this series along with another important variable, the penetration or the percentage of cards that are played prior to the shuffle.