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The Hi-Low card counting system

There is not just a single method for card counting in Blackjack. On the contrary, numerous systems have been developed. One of the simplest and most well-known is definitely Hi-Low or Hi-Lo. This system was invented by Harvey Dubner in 1963. Afterwards, Julian Braun and Stanford Wong improved upon it. It has become famous notably for having been the system used by the famous MIT Blackjack team. Recently, the movie Las Vegas 21 retraced the saga of this group of students who made their fortune at the casino with this system.

The basic operation of all card counting systems

Although there are many systems for card counting, an identical basic method of operation underpins them all. This is the assignment of point values (1, 0, or -1) to each of the cards dealt, whether to the players or the dealer. Once point values are assigned, simply add these values together to determine whether the shoe contains cards that are in your favor or not.

Card values in the Hi-Lo system

Hi-Lo is a balanced system. There are exactly as many +1 as -1 cards, therefore a count of the 52 cards in a deck gives 0 at the end. In the Hi-Lo system, Aces and ten value cards, that is cards whose value is ten (King, Queen, Jack, and 10), are assigned a point value of -1. The 7, 8, and 9 count as 0; and the 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are assigned a point value of 1.

Let’s use an example to simplify the explanation. Imagine that the shoe has just been shuffled and that the dealer deals the following cards: 4, 9, Jack, 3, 5, 7, and Queen. The card counter starts with 0. He adds +1 for the 4, 0 for the 9, -1 for the Jack, +1 for the 3, +1 for the 5, 0 for the 7, and -1 for the Queen. The result is that the shoe has a value of +1.

Betting with the Hi-Lo system

The higher your count is, the more +1 cards have been dealt, therefore, the more cards there are remaining in the shoe that have a point value of -1. These are the Aces and the ten value cards, and they are advantageous to the player. Therefore, the higher the total count is, the more heightened the shoe’s advantage is for the players, and the higher you should bet. Around 0, the shoe is neutral. It contains as many weak cards as strong cards. The further the count goes into the negative, the more the shoe is to the house’s advantage. When this is the case, it is necessary to bet the fewest chips possible or even leave the table.

The importance of Basic Strategy

Following Basic Strategy when trying to win money at Blackjack is almost universally recommended. However, there is an exception to this rule. When you use a card counting system, including Hi-Lo, it is sometimes necessary to go against basic strategy.

For example, imagine that the dealer’s upcard is a 10 and that you have a hard 16, that is, a hand without an Ace, as opposed to a soft 16. In this case, if the total count is 2, it is in your interest to Stand, contrary to what basic strategy dictates. In short, since the shoe contains more strong cards than weak cards, you risk busting. That is, surpassing 21.

Likewise, it is advisable to take insurance when the value of the shoe is 3 or more, even if basic strategy advises that you never use this game option.

On the other hand, the majority of the time, basic strategy remains a good method for winning while card counting, so continue to put your trust in it.

The Hi-Lo system at multi-deck tables

Obviously, the moment that a player should increase his bets with the Hi-Low card counting system also depends on the number of decks contained in your Blackjack table’s shoe.

For example, if the first six cards distributed by the dealer are weak, the total count will be 6, whether the shoe contains a single deck of cards or several. However, the advantage is not the same because, in the second case, there are more cards. Therefore, you must use a system to determine the True Count. To do this, divide the total count by the number of decks used in the shoe. This allows you to weight the advantage.