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Intro to Winning Blackjack
Card Counting Reality Blackjack Hype vs. Blackjack Reality
Blackjack Strategy Learn Blackjack Basic Strategy
Why Card Counting Works Card Counting
    (What It Is, Why It Works)
The Easiest Professional Level Card Counting System Easy Red 7 Card Counting System
This card counting system makes it easier than ever for blackjack players to win Easier OPP Card Counting System
Win at Blackjack with no Card Counting New!
    Free Card Counting Practice Software
Effects of Blackjack Rules and Number of Decks on Blackjack House Edge Calculating the House Edge
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Best Opportunities Right Now for Blackjack Players What's Love Got to Do with It?
The Best Blackjack Card Counting System The "Best" Card Counting System
Win at Blackjack with no Card Counting Comparing Card Counting Systems
Over/Under card counting system, unbalanced The Over/Under Card Counting System
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The Senior Count is a professional level blackjack card counting system for the vision impaired. The Seniors' Card Counting System
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The VIC Card Counting system is a professional level blackjack card counting system for the vision impaired. Vision Impaired Card Counting System
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Red 7 card counting system The Victor APC Card Counting System
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Over/Under card counting system The Unbalanced Over/Under Count
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Over/Under unbalanced card counting system The OPP Count: Attempting a Fair
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Simulations show that the Royal Match blackjack side bet can be beaten with the Davies Royal Match card counting system. The Davies Count for Royal Match
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Blackjack Card Counting and Dealer Tokes Faulty Logic: To Toke or Not To Toke
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Blackjack Card Counting Tips and Techniques ...And Chew Gum at the Same Time
    (Tips on Card Counting Technique)
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By Arnold Snyder
© 1983, 2005 Arnold Snyder

Blackjack Basic Strategy

Before you learn about counting cards, learn blackjack basic strategy. Even card counters use basic strategy to play most of their hands.

The Red Seven Count: Easy and Powerful

If you already know blackjack basic strategy, itís time to learn an easy and powerful card counting system.

The easy Red Seven Count gets 80% of the potential gain available from the Hi-Lo Count and other counts that are significantly more difficult to learn and use. It is the strongest professional-level card counting system ever devised for its level of simplicity and ease of use.

The Red Seven Count

Blackjack players count cards to keep track of the proportions of high cards (Tens and Aces, the cards that are good for the player) and low cards (the cards that are good for the house) remaining in the decks to be dealt.

We donít need to maintain separate counts of the Tens, fives, Aces, deuces, or any individual cards. We just need to know if the remaining deck has more high cards than normal or more low cards than normal.

In the Red 7 count, the high cards (Aces and Tens) are assigned the value -1, because each time one is dealt the remaining decks are a little poorer in the cards that are good for us.

Low cards (2, 3, 4, 5, and 6) are assigned the value +1, because each time one of these is dealt the remaining decks are a little better for us.

As for 8s and 9s, they are neutral cards, assigned a value of 0. This means that when we see them we ignore them, and donít count them at all.

We count red 7s as +1, treating them like another low card. But we count black 7s as 0óthat is, we ignore them as a neutral card. This is the device that creates the exact imbalance necessary for this count to work as an easy running count system, with no math at the tables. (Technically, it does not make any difference whether the red sevens or the black sevens are counted, so long as this precise imbalance is attained.)

Start learning to count cards by memorizing these values for each card denomination. Then practice keeping a running count by adding and subtracting these values from a starting count of 0 as you deal cards onto a table, one at a time from a deck. If the first card you turn over is a Jack, add -1 to your starting count so that your running count is -1. If the next card is a 6, add +1 to your count so that your running count is 0. If the next card is a 4, add +1 again so that your running count is +1.


Cards seen: 2, 6, A, 8, 9, X, X, 5

Point values: +1, +1, -1, 0, 0, -1, -1, +1

Running Count: +1, +2, +1, +1, +1, 0, -1, 0

By the time you get to the end of a single full deck of cards, your running count should be +2. If you have miscounted, try again. Then shuffle and go through the deck once more. Build up speed and accuracy, but do it at your own pace. Note that the deck ends at a running count of +2 because of those two extra red sevens we count as +1. They give the full deck 22 plus counts, against only 20 minus counts.

How to Practice Counting Cards

Practice, practice, practice.

Then learn to count as card counters actually do at the tableócounting cards in groups.

When you are proficient at counting down a deck of cards one card at a time, practice turning the cards over two at a time, and count the cards in pairs. This is how you will do it at the casino tables, because itís faster and easier for most people to count cards in pairs. This is because the cards in many pairs cancel each other out, so you donít have to count them at all.

For example, every time you see a ten or an ace (both -1) paired with a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or red 7 (all +1), the pair counts as zero. You will quickly learn to ignore self-canceled pairs, as well as 8s, 9s and black 7s, since all of these are valued at 0. When you are good at counting cards in pairs, practice turning them over 3 and 4 at a time. Counting in larger groups really speeds you up, and is a technique professional players use. If you turn over a Ten, 8 with a 2 and black 7, the change in your running count is 0, because the 8 and black 7 arenít counted at all and the Ten and 2 cancel each other out.

Always strive first to be accurate in your count. Speed without accuracy is worthless. You will do much better in your gambling career if you get in the habit right now of taking the time to learn to do things right.

After you are good at counting cards in pairs and groups of three or four, run through the cards by fanning them from one hand to the other as you count. This technique builds your skill for actual casino play. Allow your eyes to quickly scan the exposed cards for self-canceling pairs, even when these cards are not adjacent to each other. You should be able to count down a deck in this fashion in 40 seconds or less before you ever attempt counting cards in a casino. Most pros can easily count down a deck in less than 30 seconds. Most professional teams require players to demonstrate that they can count down a deck in 25 seconds or less, with perfect accuracy every time. The legendary card counter Darryl Purpose used to win card-counting contests with his teammates by counting down a deck in 8 seconds flat.

No matter how fast you get at counting at home, you will probably find it difficult the first time you actually try to count cards at a casino blackjack table. You may find you forget your running count when youíre playing your hand or talking to the pit boss. In face-down games, you may miss counting some cards as players throw in their hands and dealers scoop them up quickly. You may forget which cards you have already counted and which cards you have not.

Donít worry about itóevery successful card counter has gone through this initial awkward period. You will get better with practice. Before you try counting cards in a casino while actually playing blackjack yourself, spend some time counting while watching others play. Do not sit down to play until you feel comfortable counting while watching the game.

If you expect to play in multiple-deck games, practice counting down multiple decks of cards at home. But be aware that your final running count should go up as you add decks. In a single deck, your final running count should be +2 because of the two red 7s in the decks. But if you are counting down 6 decks, there will be twelve red 7s in the decks, so your final running count should be +12. Multiply the number of decks you are counting by +2 to get the correct final running count for your practice.

Setting Your Starting Count for Casino Play

To use your running count to make betting and playing decisions at the table, you need to know about the "pivot."

What is a pivot? For the Red 7 count, itís the running count at which you will know your advantage has risen by about 1% over the gameís starting (dis)advantage. The pivot will be an important indicator in making betting and playing decisions.

If you start with a running count of 0, your pivot will change with the number of decks you are counting, just as your final running count changes with the number of decks.

To keep things simple at the tables, and make your pivot and other indicators the same for all numbers of decks, the easiest thing to do is adjust your starting count.

To make your pivot equal 0 for all numbers of decks, simply multiply the exact number of decks to be dealt by -2 to get your starting running count. (With six decks, you should start your running count at -12. With two decks, you start your running count at -4.)

If you always start your running count in this way, your final count (if you count every card in the deck(s)) should always be 0.

Hereís a simple chart that shows what your running count should start at with various numbers of decks. And yes, there are a few casinos in this world that deal 3, 5, and even 7-deck games. Theyíre not common, but they exist.

Red Seven Starting Counts
# Decks Starting Count
1 -2
2 -4
3 -6
4 -8
5 -10
6 -12
7 -14
8 -16

The Red Seven Blackjack Betting Strategy

Once you are proficient at counting, you can begin to apply the Red Seven betting guidelines at the tables. The idea is to raise your bet when you have an advantage over the house, raise it even more when you have more of an advantage, and keep your bet small when the house has the advantage over you.

Remember, when counting cards in a casino, if you always begin your count at the appropriate starting count for the number of decks in play, your pivot is 0. This means, again, that any time your running count is 0, your advantage will have risen about 1 percent over your starting advantage.

This zero "pivot" is a good indicator of when to first raise your bet for nearly all the traditional blackjack games available in this country. About 80 percent of the traditional games have a starting advantage between -0.4 percent and -0.6 percent. So, your zero pivot usually indicates an advantage for you of approximately Ĺ percent. This is not a huge advantage. It does not guarantee that you will win the handófar from it. With a Ĺ% advantage, for every $100 you bet, you will end up in the long run with $100.50, or an extra fifty cents per hundred bucks bet. The important thing is that your count tells you when the edge has shifted from the house to you.

How much should you raise your bet when your running count hits the pivotóor beyond? This depends on many factors, including the rules of the game, the number of decks in play, the penetration (shuffle point), the size of your bankroll, what you can actually get away with in that particular casino, etc. (Casino personnel often view a large betting spread as a sign that a player may be a card counter.) The chart below will provide a guide for the most common games.

Units to Bet
Running Count 1 Deck 2 Decks Shoe
Negative 1 1 1 (or 0)
0 2 2 2
+2 4 2 2
+4 4 3 2
+6 4 4 3
+8 4 6 4
+12 4 6 6
+16 4 6 8

The general idea is to bet enough when you have the advantage to cover the cost of all the smaller bets you placed when the house had the advantage. Card counters call these small bets "waiting bets." Think of the cost of these waiting bets as overhead expenses, or "seat rental." When the edge shifts to your favor, you want to bet a sufficient amount to cover these costs, plus make a nice profit.

Card counters call the difference between your waiting bet and your largest bets (placed when you have your strongest advantage) your "betting spread." For example, if you bet $5 at the top of the shoe, but raise your bet to $10 when the advantage shifts to your favor, and bet up to $40 when your count is highest, indicating your strongest advantage, this would be a 5-to-40 betting spread. You may also express this betting spread as 1-to-8, with a betting "unit" of $5.

The guidelines above are not to be taken as strict betting advice. In many one-deck games, for example, a 1-to-4 spread according to the count will get you booted out in short order, especially if your unit size is $25 or more. In many shoe games, a 1-to-8 spread would barely get you over the breakeven point. This is why the 0-unit bet is suggested in shoe games at negative counts. It is often impossible to play only at positive counts in shoe games, but it is often wise to leave the table at a negative count.

Note that the suggested bets are in units, not dollars. Your unit size is dependent on the size of your playing bankroll. Iím going to provide some very simple bet-sizing guidelines here that should prove sufficient for most players. If you intend to take your game further, I recommend my book, Blackbelt in Blackjack: Playing 21 as a Martial Art, which provides very detailed betting advice for those whose careers depend on casino blackjack winnings as a sole or major source of income. Bet-sizing and bankroll considerations for professional players require a study of standard deviation, normal fluctuations, risk, and the relationship of your advantage to these factors. For now, letís stick with practical advice that will apply to most recreational players.

The "Trip" Bankroll

It is very important, first of all, for you to define exactly how much money you have available for gambling. Letís say you go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City a few times per year and you always bring somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,500 to gamble with. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but if you lose it all, no big deal. Youíll be back again in a few months with another fifteen hundred to take another shot at the casinos.

When you go to the casinos, you are always playing with a "trip bankroll." This is not your life savings, nor are you depending on this money to make your next mortgage payment. This is expendable income to you, earmarked for entertainment.

As a card counter with a "trip bankroll," you can play very aggressively. Divide your total trip bankroll by 150, and use this as your betting unit. With a $1500 bankroll, you divide:

$1500 / 150 = $10 unit

So, with the betting guidelines above, in the single-deck game you will spread your bets from $10 to $40. In the double-deck games, youíll spread from $10 to $60. And in the shoe games, youíll spread from $10 to $80. Whatever the actual size of your trip bankroll, use this method to obtain your betting unit.

If you think these betting guidelines are not aggressive enough for you, please follow my advice and use them anyway, at least until you learn more. You will soon discover that even when you play blackjack with an edge over the house, the short-term money fluctuations are huge on your way to the long run, and more aggressive betting than this will often get you into trouble. Even with these guidelines, you will sometimes lose your entire trip bankroll before your trip is over! In shoe games, with that high bet of $80, you are starting with fewer than 20 high bets with your initial $1500 trip bankroll. That doesnít give you a lot of wiggle room for bad luck.

The "Total" Bankroll

If the money you intend to go to casinos with represents any significant amount of your total savings, and it is not an easily replenishable amount, then you must size your bets less aggressively. This also means that you must start with a larger bankroll, or play in smaller games, if you want to survive. There are many professional players today who started out with total bankrolls of $5,000 or less, but this is a very tough grind, and often requires a player to (God forbid!) get a job during the toughest times.

As a general rule, if your card-counting bankroll is not replenishable, obtain your unit size by dividing your total bankroll by 400. Then use the same betting chart above to size your bets. Serious players will need to use much more precise betting strategies, according to their advantage, table conditions, the necessity for camouflage, etc. Again, those with professional aspirations should see Blackbelt in Blackjack for an in-depth treatment of this subject.

The Red Seven Blackjack Playing Strategy

Using the Red Seven Count, you can also increase your advantage over the house by deviating from basic strategy according to your running count. First of all, insurance is the most important strategy decision. In single-deck games, assuming you are using a moderate betting spread, insurance is almost as important for a card counter as all other strategy decisions combined.

Conveniently, you have a very nice insurance indicator with the Red Seven Count. In 1- and 2-deck games, you simply take insurance any time your running count is 0 or higher. In all shoe games, take insurance at +2 or higher.

As for other playing decisions, there are only a few to remember. Any time you are at 0 or higher (any number of decks), stand on 16 vs. 10 and on 12 vs. 3. (According to basic strategy, you would hit both of these.) In single-deck games, the 16 vs. 10 decision is the second most important strategy decision for a card counteróinsurance being first. After you find these strategy changes easy, there are a couple of others you can add that will increase your advantage a bit more. At running counts of +2 or higher, with any number of decks, stand on 12 vs. 2 and on 15 vs. 10; and double down on 10 vs. X.

In multi-deck games, by using this simple running count strategy, you will be taking advantage of about 80% of all possible gains from card counting. Using the simple Red Seven Count, you have no strategy tables to memorize. You simply have basic strategy, which you play on more than 90% of your hands, and a few changes that you will make according to your running count.

In my opinion, most card counters would be wise to ignore more difficult strategies because of the cost of mistakes if you are not perfect in deploying them. Any system that slows you down, or causes mental fatigue or errors, will put more money into the casinosí coffers than your pockets. Donít be tempted by a system just because it works better on paper. The simple Red Seven Count works at the casino tables, and it gets the money. Thatís the goal.

However, if you find yourself interested in using a more advanced card counting system to take advantage of every possible gain available from counting, I recommend that you look at the Hi-Lo Lite Count or the Zen Count, both included in Blackbelt in Blackjack. There is also an advanced version of the Red Seven Count in that book that is stronger and more versatile than the simple version presented here.

Table Conditions

The actual overall advantage that a card counter can get over the house depends primarily on how deeply into the deck the dealer is dealing between shuffles. Card counters call the depth of the deal "penetration." The deeper the penetration, the more often youíll see counts that indicate you have an advantage and the stronger the advantage will be. Without deep enough penetration, you will find that you simply count down shoe after shoe without seeing any high counts. The worse the penetration, the bigger your betting spread has to be to overcome all those extra waiting bets. If the penetration is 50% or less, youíre wasting your time counting cards in that game.

Card counting is also unlikely to be profitable in any game where blackjacks pay less than the traditional 3:2 payout. Thatís because you must overcome a higher starting disadvantage on these games. In a game with a 6:5 payout on blackjacks, for example, you must overcome an additional 1.4% house edge. To overcome this, you must use an enormous betting spread.

For more information on table conditions and your overall edge from counting cards, see Blackbelt in Blackjack.

History of the Red Seven Count

I first published the Red Seven Count in 1983. It was very controversial when published, as many experts believed it impossible to whittle a system down to the bare basics, require no math whatsoever at the tables aside from the counting itself, and still get any significant edge over the house. Since that time, however, many independent computer simulation studies have shown the Red Seven Count to be exactly as I first described it, a professional-level system that is both easy and powerful. Numerous system developers since have used the same approach I pioneered, but none have matched both the simplicity and power of the Red Seven. Some authors, like Ken Uston and George C., developed slightly more powerful systems using my "unbalanced point count theory," but their systems are also quite a bit more difficult to use than the Red Seven. Others, like rocket scientist Olaf Vancura and Ken Fuchs, developed systems very similar to the Red Seven Count, but that perform weaker in most game conditions.

[Note: Although hundreds of independent researchers and mathematicians have proven that card counting is a winning strategy over the long run, gambling is always risky. Anything can happen in the short run. Every professional gambler can tell many stories of seemingly impossible streaks of bad luck at blackjack, and no one can ever guarantee that you will win even when you are playing with an advantage. Never gamble with money you canít afford to lose.] ♠

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For professional card counting systems and analysis, and other articles by Arnold Snyder, see the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library.

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  The Easy Red 7 Blackjack Card Counting System
Arnold Snyder provides his Red 7 Blackjack Card Counting system, the easiest professional -level blackjack card counting system available. The article comes