First, you must memorize Basic Strategy and it must become second nature.
Then you need to learn how to add the point values of all the cards that you see. Using "Hi/Lo" as an example system, the 2-6 cards are valued at +1, and the 10-value cards and Aces are counted as -1. The 7, 8, and 9 are neutral in this system.
To learn how to keep the running count, get a deck of cards and flip the cards over one at a time and keep the running count. If the cards come out 8,Q,2,2,6,3,A,7 then we would count 0, -1, 0, +1, +2, +3, +2, +2. After you are done with the deck, the running count should be at 0. If it isn't then you made some mistakes. Keep practicing until you consistently get the running count at 0. Then you need to work on your speed. You need to be able to count down a single deck within 30 seconds (at most).
Next, try flipping over 2 cards at a time and keeping an accurate running count. Then you need to start working in shortcuts. One shortcut is learning how to ignore cards that cancel each other out. For example, if you see a Queen and a 3 then you know they cancel each other out so instead of adding both numbers into the count (which means doing 2 additional calculations) you ignore them and so you don't have to do any calculations.
This running count must be converted to a "true count" in order to know what your edge is and to bet accordingly. To do this we divide the running count by the amount of decks not seen. For example, in a 6-deck game, after 1 deck has been dealt and the running count is +15, we take the number of undealt decks (5) and divide that into +15, which gives you +3. If you have trouble keeping the count straight in your head, you can use your chips as a reminder. If the count is 4 then have a stack of 4 chips.
The first counting systems were geared toward single deck, because at the time that was the most popular game. Nowadays, most people play (and therefore count) with a multi-deck shoe. But for those who are playing single-deck games, the most difficult aspect is computing the true count because you are dividing by a fraction - which is harder than dividing by a whole number. For example, if you're at a single-deck game and a quarter-deck has been played, with a running count of 6, the true count is 6 divided by .75, which equals 8.
Casinos have many sights and sounds that serve as distractions, so a counter must be able to keep a count while ignoring these stimuli. To do this, try counting down a deck of cards while having the TV or music on loud. You also need to be able to casually count cards so you can hide that you're counting from the casino. You also need practice acting like a tourist by: getting excited when winning a hand, dressing like a tourist (or slutty), and drinking a drink that looks like alcohol (but isn't).
In order to gain a positive expectation, you need to bet more on hands where you have an edge and less on hands where you don't have the edge. The difference between the two amounts is known as the "bet spread". For example, if you bet $40 on favorable hands and $5 on unfavorable hands, then your bet spread is 8 (or "8-1").
The bigger the bet spread, the higher your profits will be, but the bigger the bet spread the more attention you will get from the pit boss because a large bet spread is the biggest indicator that someone is counting cards. So your bet spread needs to be high enough to make money but low enough not to attract attention. An 8-1 spread is good but anything bigger and you'll get some heat. Your bet spread should get bigger as the true count goes more in your favor. You can use the following chart as a rough guide on how much to increase your bet with the true count.
|True Count||Bet Size|
|+2 to +3||2|
|+4 to +5||3|
|+6 to +7||4|
|+8 or more||5|
In order to be a profitable card counter you need to find game that satisfies two key conditions. One is the ability to have a decent bet spread and the second is good penetration. "Deck penetration" is how many of the decks that are used are actually dealt. The higher the percent of the cards that are dealt, the more likely the count is to get high. Therefore, if the casino wants to minimize the probability of the count getting high then they may only deal out 3 out of the 6 decks they are using before shuffling. Don't play in any game where the game conditions are bad. The profit margin in card counting is so small that it is very sensitive to the variables involved.
You must have a large enough bankroll to suffer any drawdown. A card counter with an expected profit of $50 per hour may face a standard deviation of around $1,400 per hour. A rule of thumb for a recommended bankroll would be at least 300 "units" (what your smallest bet is). Another rule of thumb would be 100 times your largest bet. Bankroll swings are more drastic for counters vs. non-counters - even when they have the same average bet size - because their bet spread will mean they occasionally make large bets, which causes their bankroll to be more volatile.
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