Gambling Tips > Blackjack


By Henry Tamburin

If you are a recreational blackjack player, I have some good news for you. You can elevate your game a notch by leaning any number of easy-to-learn-and-use card counting systems that can be mastered in about the same time it takes to master basic strategy. Why go through the trouble of doing this? That is because you the have the potential to save $20,000 or more over your lifetime of playing blackjack.


Assume you’re going to play 10,000 hands of blackjack per year (assuming 100 hands per hour, and 100 hours of blackjack per year) for the next 25 years. If your average bet is a modest $10 per hand, you will have wagered $2,500,000. If you never bothered to learn the basic strategy and play by intuition, you are expected to lose $50,000, assuming a disadvantage of 2%. If instead you play basic strategy perfectly, you are expected to lose $12,500 (assuming a 0.5% disadvantage). Now let’s assume you take my advice, learn a simple card counting system, and have a modest 0.3% advantage (the latter could be slightly more or less depending upon the number of decks of cards, the rules, and the bet spread that you use). We’ll assume the total amount of your wagers over the 25 years is the same ($2,500,000). Your expectation is to win (not lose) $7500 with your modest 0.3% edge over the house, Now what would you rather do, lose $12,500 or possibly more money or win $7500?


Now that I hopefully have your attention, I’m going to briefly summarize five simple card-counting systems, including a reference so that you can get more information on any system.


Ace-10 Front Count
Fred Renzey developed this counting system and it appears in his book Blackjack Bluebook II. The Ace/10 Front Count is a way to gauge the strength of a six-deck shoe game after two decks have been dealt. If the remaining decks in the shoe are Ace/10 rich, you bet more the rest of the shoe. Here’s how it works. After the shuffle, you add up all the Aces and 10s that were dealt out during the first two decks. There are twenty Aces and 10s in a deck of cards or 40 in two decks. Anytime there are 36 or fewer Aces and 10s dealt after the first two decks, you will have a slight edge and you will bet more for the rest of the shoe. (Consult Renzey’s book for details on how much to bet and how to vary your playing strategy depending on the number of Aces/10s in your Front Count.)


Speed Count
Dan Pronovost developed this system and you can read about it in the book Beat Blackjack Now! by Frank Scoblete. The key metric in Speed Count is the number of low cards per hand (on average there are 2.71 cards per hand, and one of them is a low card). The way Speed Count works is as follows. You start your Speed Count at 30 (two-deck game) or 27 (six-deck game) following the shuffle. You wait until a player completes his hand and then you add one to your Speed Count for every low card (i.e., 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6) in the hand. You do this for very hand including the dealer’s hand. At the end of the round, you subtract one for every hand played. When the Speed Count rises to 31 or higher, you have the advantage and you should bet more (likewise when the Speed Count is less than 31, the player is at a disadvantage and should be the minimum. (Consult Scoblete’s book for details on the betting methodology plus when to make the Insurance bet and when to leave the table based on the Speed Count.)


Ace/Five Count
The Wizard of Odds, Michael Shackleford, has a simple Ace/Five on his blackjack page (Appendix 17) on his site With the Ace/Five count, you start your count at zero after the shuffle and make a minimum bet. For each five dealt, you add one to your count. For each Ace dealt, you subtract one. When your count gets to two or more you bet more. If the count is one or lower, you make your minimum bet. (Check Shackleford’s site for details on the bet spread and player’s edges.)


Rookie Knock-Out System
This unbalanced counting system is a simplified version of the full-blown preferred Knock Out System described in the book Knock-Out Blackjack by Olaf Vancura and Ken Fuchs. You only make two bets with this system, a small bet when you don’t have the edge and a larger bet when the edge swings in your favor. With the Knock-Out system, you add one every 2 through 7 card dealt and you subtract one for every 10-value card and Ace dealt. For a six-deck game, your initial running count after the shuffle is -20 and you bet when your running count is below minus 4 and you bet big when your running count is at or above minus 4. (Consult the book for details on the bet spread, and how to use the system in single- double-, and eight-deck games.)


Even though you will have a slight advantage over the casino with any of the above systems, this doesn’t mean you will win every time you play. If you play these systems accurately, you will win in the long run, even though in the short run your bankroll will fluctuate and sustain losing sessions. It’s important, therefore, that you not overbet in relation to your bankroll; otherwise, you risk the chance of losing your bankroll during the “negative swings.” As Vencura and Fuchs eloquently said it in their book, “You want to sure that you remain in the game for the long run.”