Card Counting Systems

Choosing a system

You should definitely learn a simple system. Even though the more complex systems can theoretically make more money per hour, the complexity and the higher error rate usually more than wiped out the gains over simpler systems. Not to mention, multi-level systems only have a marginal advantage over one-level system, especially in multi-deck games.

Different Systems

The most popular counting system used today (and one of the easiest to learn) is the "Hi/Lo" system. The system is a good first system to learn because it is easy but effective. It uses a simple one-level count where the Ace is reckoned (where the Ace has a value). Counting systems that don't assign a value to the Ace need to use a "side count" for betting purposes. "Hi-Opt I" is a good simple system which keeps a side count for Aces. Systems that keep a side count of Aces are better when playing a 1- or 2-deck shoe. Systems without a side count of Aces are better when playing a 6- or 8-deck shoe. So, use "Hi-Opt I" when playing 1- or 2-deck games, but use "Hi/Lo" when playing many-deck games.

Counting System Comparison

System 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 J Q K A
Hi/Lo +1 +1 +1 +1 +1 0 0 0 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1
Hi Opt1 0 +1 +1 +1 +1 0 0 0 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Hi Opt2 +1 +1 +2 +2 +1 +1 0 0 -2 -2 -2 -2 0
zen Count +1 +1 +2 +2 +2 +1 0 0 -2 -2 -2 -2 -1

Characteristics of a System

Different counting systems can be classified different ways. It is good to be able to look at a system and be able to see if it fits your goals. Some of the most important classifications used by Norm at are:

  • Balanced vs. Unbalanced
  • In a balanced count, the sum of all of the point values for all the cards in the deck add up to zero. In an unbalanced count, the sum of all the values does not equal zero. Unbalanced counts are better suited for single- and double-deck games. Balanced count systems generally are a little more accurate though. Another advantage of a balanced count system is that it is easy to see if you are making mistakes when you are just learning because the final count when counting a whole practice deck should be 0.

  • Ace-Reckoned vs. Ace-Neutral
  • In a counting system, the Ace is assigned a negative value (Ace-reckoned) or zero (Ace-neutral). Ace-reckoned strategies are generally better for many-deck games and Ace-Neutral systems are better for single and double-deck games.

  • Level
  • The "level" of a counting system refers to the highest value assigned to cards. For example, in a "Level 1" system, the high cards are counted as -1 and the low cards are counted as +1. Most popular counting systems today are Level I. Higher counting systems are more accurate, but the errors due to the complexity aren't worth the extra profit.

  • Side Counts
  • Some systems, like the Hi-Opt I system used in The World's Greatest Blackjack book, use one or more side counts. The most common side count is keeping a separate count of Aces when using an Ace-neutral system. This is because Aces are considered large cards for the betting purposes but considered small cards for playing purposes (when you don't have a Blackjack).

Evaluating a system

  • Playing Efficiency
  • This tells you how well a card counting system handles changes in playing strategy. Playing efficiency is particularly important in one and two deck games.

  • Betting Efficiency
  • An index that measures how closely a counting system approximates the advantage that a player has in a given situation. Betting efficiency can approach 1.00 (100% correlation) when the Ace is given a non-zero value. Betting correlation is particularly important in six and eight deck games.

  • Insurance Correlation
  • This is the correlation between value of cards assigned by the system and the value of cards in insurance situations.


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I was wondering if I were able to correctly count every card that had been played, as in your example,

I could remember the count as one 2, two 3's, one 6, one 7, one 8 one king and one ace, would this be more benificial than the Hi Opt 2 or Hi Opt 1 counting methods?

Is it really possible to gain an advantage with that kind of accurate counting with an 8 deck table where the reshuffle is after approx 4 packs and the table limits are $5-$2500?

jrc334 on January 21, 2010

I'm confused. Is the ace for the hi/lo system counted as a 0 or counted as -1. Also can you use hi/lo system for a single deck game if so plz help.

XcardXcounterX on April 9, 2009