A New Approach to Card Counting 


The Easy OPP Card Counting SystemBy Carlos Zilzer [From Blackjack Forum Vol. XXV #1, Winter 2005/06] © 2005 Carlos Zilzer Blackjack Basic StrategyBefore learning any count system it is a must to master basic strategy. The use of basic strategy will cut the house advantage against the player to the minimum. The OPP counting system will turn that small house advantage into a small advantage for the player. Not using basic strategy may give the house such a large edge that no counting system will be able to turn the advantage to the player’s side. Very shortly, we will have a special basic strategy, devised by T. Hopper, available for you at Blackjack Forum. This special basic strategy will give you even stronger results. Counting Cards with the OPP: Two Easy Methods to Choose FromMethod 1: Number of Hands Method It is very easy to mentally count up or down in positive numbers. Considering that 80% of the hands you play will be in the counting range of 6 to +6, I recommend starting the running count for the OPP system at +6 at the beginning of a shoe. In this way, the count will very seldom reach negative numbers. So there you are at the blackjack table at the beginning of a shoe, thinking "+6." Before the first hands are dealt, immediately count the number of hands in play (be sure to include the dealer's hand) and subtract that number from your running count. So, if you use my suggestion to start counting at +6, with three players at the table each playing one hand, you'd make your count +2 before any cards were dealt (subtracting 1 from 6 for each player hand and the dealer’s hand). Then, as each player plays his hand, simply add the total number of low cards in it. Low cards are considered any 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. When the next round starts, again assuming three player hands are being dealt, immediately deduct 4 from the current running count, and repeat as above. That's it. You're now counting cards. See the betting advice below in the Betting to Win section. The chart below shows how you will count a typical round:
Method 2: Value of the Hands Method A different method of counting with the OPP is to count the value of the hands as follows.
This value is independent of the total number of cards in the hand. For example: Ace, Ace, 2, 2, 10, 3 has an OPP value of +2 2, 3, 5, 3, 6 has an OPP value of + 4 7, 7, 7 has an OPP value of 1 Ace, 10 has an OPP value of 1 6, 7, 8 has an OPP value of 0 9, 8 has an OPP value of 1 10, 6, Ace has an OPP value of 0 Again, it is very easy to mentally count up or down in positive numbers. Considering that 80% of the hands will be in the range of 6 to +6, I recommend starting the running count for the OPP system at +6 at the beginning of a shoe. In this way, the count will very seldom reach negative numbers. For Method 2, do not count the number of hands in play. Instead, wait for the dealer to deal the first two cards to each player, as well as the two dealer cards (upcard and hole card, if dealt). You can speak, make jokes, and drink your soft drink. You don’t have to count anything while the cards are being dealt. If someone gets a blackjack and the dealer pays him and places his cards in the discard try, subtract one from your running count. Then check the hand of each player as they are making their playing decisions. Here is how the count would go on a typical round:
Tips for Either MethodIf any player happens to split hands, they should be considered new hands and the value of the original hand should be ignored. Practicing the OPP CountThe best way to practice the system is to play blackjack at home. Use a deck and start dealing cards to three imaginary players and to yourself as the dealer. Practice the count using either method above while you play each hand. In this way you will see and practice counting all possible hands that can appear in real life games. You will learn to count spilt hands and to count very fast while the dealer is collecting the cards after a dealer blackjack. You will see that the OPP is very easy to learn and to master. When you feel proficient counting the cards at home, you can practice in an Internet casino playing for fun money at a table with multiple players. Be aware that the count won’t mean anything in an Internet casino where the online software shuffles after every round. You will only use these games as a practice method. Blackjack Forum Online will soon have free card counting practice software for players to download. After you have practiced enough at home, go to a casino and start counting while other people play. When you feel comfortable sit at a table and start playing using the OPP count. You will see that you will get used to the system very fast, and that it really does not require 100% concentration except when each player is making his playing decisions. The only moment you will need to count quickly is when the dealer has a blackjack, as he will collect the cards of all the players’ hands very quickly. Betting to WinOnce you have learned this very simple counting method the only thing you need to do is wait for the right moment to increase your bet. If you have started at a running count of +6, wait until the count reaches +12 for a sixdeck game, +14 for an eightdeck game, or +8 for a twodeck game. At these counts the advantage has shifted to the players. The higher the count value, the higher the player edge, and the bigger your bet should be. We call this point where the advantage turns to the player’s side the “pivot.” Be very patient. Only about 18% of your hands will be played at counts over the pivot in shoe games, and the player advantage will not occur in all shoes. It is possible that you won’t have an advantage for several shoes, or even all night. Also remember that there is no guarantee that you will win most of your hands when the count reaches the pivot. There is always “variance” in gambling results (you may call it luck). Remember that there will be many times when you will lose high bet hands. The following table shows the recommended bet ramps for games with two, six, and eight decks, to get the best advantage for the player at the minimum risk. The first column has the running counts where you raise your bet, according to the number of decks in the game. The second column is the recommended bet in “betting units.” And the third and fourth columns show the bet in dollars for $5 or $10 units. For example, if you are sitting at a $5 minimum sixdeck table, you may set your bet unit to $5, and if the count reaches +12 you bet 6 times your betting unit, or $30. If the count reaches +14, you will bet 16 times your betting unit, or $80. If you use Method 1 (the Number of Hands OPP counting method, above), size your bet for a round based on your running count at the end of the previous round, before counting the number of hands in play for the next round.
If the count reaches values of zero or less during two consecutive rounds in the shoe it is recommended to stop playing until the beginning of the next shoe. This will save you a lot of money. [Snyder comments: I will point out here that Carlos is playing primarily in South American casinos where card counters are uncommon and camouflage is not a big necessity. Players in the US or elsewhere must always bear in mind the heat factor. His twodeck betting strategy would likely get you booted out fairly quickly in many US casinos. For playing shoe games in the US, a backcounting strategy would likely be more advisable (and more profitable) than a 116 spread. To backcount is to watch the cards being dealt on a table without playing, ready to jump in and play when the count goes up and you will be starting play with an advantage. Tablehopping is an extension of backcounting that pros use in big casinos, which tend to have multiple pits with many blackjack tables. Tablehoppers leave the game when the count goes negative and start play at another table. They refuse to play when the casino has a big edge.] The Insurance BetBasic strategy recommends not taking insurance, but card counting sometimes indicates an insurance advantage for the card counter. With the OPP Count, if we start our count at +6 at the beginning of the shoe, the insurance index is +18 for the sixdeck game, +20 for the eightdeck game, and +11 for the twodeck game. This means that if you are playing in a sixdeck game and the running count reaches +18 or more, and the dealer has an Ace up, you should place the insurance bet, because you will win the bet more than 35% of the time. Simulations with PowerSim have confirmed these index numbers. More index numbers will be available to interested players soon. Final ThoughtsOPP is a very simple system to learn and to use. Practice at home, go to a casino and stand near a table and practice the count while others play. I know people who have mastered the system in less than a weekend and now they are part of the select group of players who are making money playing blackjack. Once you feel completely comfortable using the Easy OPP Count in live casino play, you may want to increase the power of the system with my advanced betting scheme and a special card counteroriented basic strategy. See my article "Improving the Power of the Easy OPP Card Counting System" for this information.
History and Background of the OPP Easy Card Counting SystemIntroduction by Arnold Snyder [Many blackjack players find even the simplest of the traditional card counting systems too cumbersome to use comfortably in casinos. I think the Red Seven Count is about as easy a counting system as has ever been developed up to now, but it’s not the answer for everyone. Many players simply don’t play in casinos often enough to maintain their counting skills, and do not have the time to practice sufficiently for their occasional casino trips. Carlos Zilzer has developed a unique method of counting cards that is even simpler than the Red Seven Count. In fact, he tells me he has taught a few of his friends to use his “OPP Count” and they mastered it in a matter of hours. When I first read his method, I didn’t doubt that an amateur could learn it very quickly, but it wasn’t clear to me whether it would have much value in comparison with more traditional counting systems where we always weigh the high cards versus the low cards as cards are dealt. Because there was no commercially available blackjack simulation software on the market that could handle the new method Carlos had devised for counting cards, he wrote his own program and begun testing his system on a simulator of his own device. But when he discovered ET Fan’s PowerSim software, he realized that it was much faster and more versatile than his own program, so he began running more extensive simulation tests with PowerSim. When he discovered that PowerSim was producing results comparable to his own software program, he submitted an article to Blackjack Forum describing his system and the simulation results. The OPP Count is such a radical simplification of traditional card counting methods that I wanted to see more data before publishing the system. I asked Carlos to run more extensive tests not only of his system as described in the initial article that he submitted, but of numerous variations of the system, along with simulations of the HiLo Count in the same games for comparison with his method. I also requested that he set counters on his simulations so that I could see that cards were being dealt accurately and randomly. Carlos spent weeks running the simulation tests I requested and sending me spreadsheets with printouts of his results. He then compiled some of the most important data from these tests into a new Blackjack Forum article describing his system, its development, and the results of his simulations. I am proud to publish Carlos Zilzer’s OPP Count as one of the first truly new methods of counting cards to be developed in many years—a method that is surprisingly strong for its incredible simplicity of use, and the ease with which most players could learn it. — A. S.] The Idea Behind Card CountingThe whole idea behind card counting is to determine how rich or poor the shoe is at any time with cards favorable to the player or the dealer. A shoe rich in high cards (tens and aces) is favorable to the player, while a shoe rich in low cards (2s through 6s) is favorable to the house. All modern card counting systems that I am aware of assign a negative value to the high cards and a positive value to low cards. The main difference between the systems is the value assigned to the different cards. As an example, the popular HiLo system assigns the value 1 to the tens and aces and the value +1 to the low cards, 2s through 6s. As the cards come out of the shoe, players add the values of those cards to obtain what is called a running count, which can be a positive or negative number depending on the proportion of low to high cards dealt from the shoe. With balanced counts, before making a betting or playing decision, the player divides the running count by the number of decks that have not yet been dealt to obtain what is called the true count. Counting this way is not easy, as the player needs to pay attention to the cards while they are being dealt and then must make mental calculations. There are easier counting systems that eliminate the calculation of the true count by assigning positive values to more cards than those with negative values. For example, the Red Seven Count developed by Arnold Snyder has the same card values as the balanced HiLo Count, but assigns a value of +1 to the red sevens, creating an imbalance of +2 per deck. The goal of a good cardcounting system is to be as simple to use as possible without losing the power to accurately determine when the player has the advantage. The OPP count does exactly that: It is a very simple method to learn and use that will give you results comparable to the Hi Lo Count. It is a running count system requiring no math at the tables, and it’s even easier to use than the Red Seven. The main difference between this new counting system and all of the traditional ones is that it uses new factors to determine the composition of the remaining decks. It is the easiest way to count cards with a high degree of betting accuracy. The Mathematical CoincidenceIn a deck of 52 cards there are 20 high cards (tens, faces and aces). There are also 20 low cards (2s through 6s). Since 52 / 20 = 2.6, if you shuffle a deck and start dealing cards you will see one high card every two or three cardsor every 2.6 cards on averageand you will also see one low card with the same frequency. It has also been determined with computer simulations that each player or dealer hand will receive an average number of cards very close to 2.6 cards in blackjack games with the European noholecard rule. (The actual number determined after the simulation of billions of hands using different simulators is 2.63.) With standard US rules, in which the dealer hand receives a hole card, the average number of cards per hand, including the dealer’s hand, is closer to 2.7. Now we have something very interesting: Since the average blackjack hand contains 2.6 to 2.7 cards, and the proportion of low cards in a deck (and high cards in a deck) is exactly 1 out of every 2.6 cards, then it follows that the average player or dealer hand can be expected to receive one high card and one low card. With the help of computer simulation (see my results below), it has been shown that any player or dealer hand will actually receive an average of about 1.02 low cards and 1.02 high cards per hand (with US rules where the dealer takes a hole card). In the table below, you will find the results of a 100 million hand simulation using PowerSim for a 6deck game.
This data is the basis of the OPP counting system. OPP stands for One Per Person. As I will explain, the number of low or high cards per hand will give a very good indication of the composition of the remaining decks. Developing and Testing the Count SystemI first tested counting the number of high cards that were dealt per round and comparing this number with the total number of hands dealt per round. Imagine a blackjack table with three players and the dealer dealing the first round of the shoe. These are the first round hands:
As you can see there were 4 hands played and 5 high cards were dealt (an ace and 10 to Player 1, a ten to Player 2, a ten to Player 3, and a ten to the Dealer). The OPP count was obtained by subtracting the total number of high cards dealt from number of hands played, in this case, 4 – 5 = 1, for an OPP running count of 1. The next round the hands dealt were:
At this time there were again 4 hands played, but only 2 high cards were dealt. Thus, the count for this round will be 4 – 2 = 2. The new running count is now 1 + 2 = +1 (The 1 is the running count from the previous round.) This process continues until the end of the shoe, adding the running count of each round to the cumulative running count of the prior rounds. None of the commercially available blackjack simulation programs could be adapted to test this new counting system, so it was necessary to develop a simulator for this job specifically. The first simulations I ran, using my own simulation program, were performed in the beginning of 2005 using a program specially written for the tests. It was slow but returned the data I was looking for. With the new powerful and fast open source PowerSim simulator, available on this Web site, simulations that used to take me about two hours are now performed in eight minutes. The first step was to verify that the count was producing logical results. We would expect the count to present a normal distribution of positive and negative counts with the majority of counts around zero, and a reasonable spread of counts on both the positive and negative side. This is a graph of what the simulation showed:
The chart shows the PowerSim results for 100 million rounds of a player using basic strategy in a sixdeck game. The running counts are on the horizontal axis, and the percentage of occurrence of these counts is on the vertical. About 80% of the hands were played with running counts between 6 and +6 and approximately 14% of the hands were played at a zero running count. But the graph shows that the count is negative more times than positive. This is not what we would expect for a traditional balanced counting system, which would tend to produce a more symmetrical pattern of counts on either side of zero. The next step, however, is to see how well the player’s advantage correlates to the count. In order to have an accurate counting system there must be a strong relation between the count and the player’s advantage. This was the case in all negative counts, but the results at high positive counts were not wellcorrelated to the player’s expectation.
The chart above shows that the relation between the running count and the advantage is almost linear up to counts of +12, but that the relation becomes erratic at counts higher than +12. I tried several simulations with PowerSim and always got inconsistent results starting at counts of +12 and above.
I next wanted to see what the overall player advantage would be using this counting system with a bet spread. I ran a 100 millionhand simulation using the following bet ramp: 1 unit up to count +1 and ramping up 2, 4, and 16 units respectively at counts +2, +3 and +4. The following results were obtained using the PowerSim simulator:
Although it was possible to get an edge using this method, these results were very disappointing and were not comparable to the results obtainable with a traditional card counting system. The system’s power represented less than 40% of the betting gain that could be obtained with the standard Hi Lo Count in the same game. Before dropping the idea I decided to reverse the OPP counting method. Instead of subtracting the number of high cards dealt per round from the number of hands in play, I decided to test the system subtracting the number of hands in play from the number of low cards dealt per round. Here’s how it modified the counting method: Imagine a blackjack table with three players and the dealer dealing the first round of the shoe. These are the first round hands:
As you can see there were 4 hands played and only 3 low cards were dealt (a 2 to Player 2, a 6 to Player 3, and a 5 to the Dealer). The OPP count is obtained by subtracting the total number of hands played from the number of low cards dealt, in this case, 3  4 = 1, and that is the OPP running count. The next round the hands dealt were:
At this time there were also 4 hands played but 7 low cards were dealt. The count for this round will be 7 – 4 = +3. The new running count is now 1 + 3 = +2 (The 1 is the running count from the previous round.) This process continues until the end of the shoe, adding the running count of each round to the cumulative running count of the prior rounds. When I reversed the OPP counting method in this way, comparing the number of low cards dealt to the number of hands in play, the PowerSim simulations gave the following result for the count distribution:
Again, the running counts are on the horizontal axis, and the percentage of occurrence of these counts is on the vertical. We again have a normal distribution of the counts with more than 80% of the counts occurring in the range from 6 to +6. But this time the count distribution is more positive than negative. As for the correlation of the count to the player advantage, I got the following results:
This graph shows that there is a much more linear relation between the running count and the player expectation. The unpredictable results obtained at high counts when using the OPP method to compare high cards to hands dealt do not occur when we compare low cards to hands dealt. The results shown in the graph are again from a simulation of 100 million hands played using basic strategy with standard US rules in a sixdeck game with 75% penetration. With this OPP counting method, the player starts to have an edge over the house when the running count reaches +5. I then ran a simulation applying a bet ramp of 1 unit up to a count of +5, and ramping up to 2, 4, and 16 units at counts of +6, +7, and +8 respectively. The following results compare the OPP with the Hi Lo Count with a similar 1to16 bet ramp. (Both systems were tested using basic strategy only.)
As shown in the table above, the new system has a betting power equivalent to 82+% of the standard Hi Lo system, but with far greater ease of use. A new and very simple count system has been born: the OPP Count system. The player counts only the number of low cards dealt per round and compares this with the number of hands played in the round. Mathematical ConsiderationsMany players may wonder why counting the high cards versus hands dealt was less efficient than counting the low cards versus hands dealt. That is because the OPP method does not really have us comparing low cards with high cards as with a traditional card counting system. Instead, we are comparing low cards or high cards with something that has a frequency distribution of its own—that is, the number of cards per hand. We know that the overall average number of cards per hand is 2.7, but that the number of cards per hand will also vary with the count. It is logical that the number of cards per hand will be higher when the count is rising because more cards will be required to complete the hands when extra low cards are being dealt. Consider what happens when counting high cards per hand if we have a hand with 3 or 4 low cards, then hit with a high card and bust. Because this hand contains only one high card, it is counted as “zero,” since there is no discrepancy from the normal number of high cards (one) that should occur per hand. If we were counting the low cards, this hand will accurately reflect the fact that the count has gone up in the player’s favor, since more than one low card has been dealt to it. It is less probable to have a hand with 3 or 4 high cards in it, because such a hand would require either a soft or stiff hand to start with that we hit with multiple aces. Multiplehighcard hands would be rare, while multiplelowcard hands would occur more frequently, and produce a more accurate measure of advantage. Analyses of Twodeck and Eightdeck GamesIn order to configure a system usable in most situations, I performed simulations with PowerSim to determine the effectiveness of the OPP count in games with two decks and eight decks, again comparing the betting gain with the gain from HiLo. Two DecksApplying a bet ramp with a spread of 1 unit up to a count of +1 and ramping up 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 units respectively at counts of +2, +3, +4, +5 and +6, the following results were obtained using the PowerSim simulator (again, with both systems playing basic strategy only):
The power of the OPP count is again about 82% of the standard Hi Lo with no index play. Eight DecksApplying a bet ramp with a spread of 1 unit up to count +7 and ramping up 2, 4 and 16 units respectively at counts +8, +9 and +10, the following results were obtained using the PowerSim simulator (again with both the OPP and HiLo playing basic strategy only):
The betting power of the OPP count is shown to be about 77% of the standard Hi Lo in the eightdeck game. Testing Other AlternativesI also tested alternatives for the OPP system, including:
Playing IndexesThe only playing index tested so far for the OPP count is the insurance index, which adds an additional 0.009% edge to all games tested (2, 6 and 8 decks) The running count insurance index for a 6deck game is +12. For a 2deck game the index is +5, and for an 8deck game the index is +14. [Snyder comments: It is not intuitive that the insurance gain from a 2deck game with 75% penetration would be the same as the insurance gain from an 8deck game with 75% penetration, as this would not be the case with a traditional card counting system. The OPP Count, however, does not correlate well with the insurance effects of removal since tenvalued cards are not actually counted. I suspect that OPP running count indices for some of the more important strategy decisions, however, especially standing on 15 or 16 v. Ten, will be found by Carlos and others through continued simulation tests, as the counting method will probably correlate very well with these decisions.] ♠

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Summary: The OPP Blackjack Card Counting System is easier than the traditional card counting systems that many blackjack players gave up on.
