In this installment, we’ll examine card-counting systems that push the limits of mental ability; the systems which try to replicate the power of a computer yet are still used by a solitary counter whose ability to add and subtract quickly and accurately in his or her own mind makes it all work. The term ‘level-three’ refers to a counting system that assigns a value of 3 (plus or minus) to one or more of the cards which it tracks. One of the counts which exists goes so far as to assign a point value of 4 to one of the cards, so it would be considered a ‘level-four’ counting system. My primary criterion for choosing the counts to examine has been that a reasonably-priced book had to be available in case you wanted to learn the count yourself. That being the case, I’m going to examine two level-three systems and not cover the “Revere Advanced Point Count which is a level-four system, but is sold for $200 or so.
As you’ll see, the gains made by these counts in their ‘efficiencies’ are just incremental when compared with level-two systems, so I really question the value of taking on the extra work involved. Sure, they can be learned, but the big question is how accurately they can be used in actual casino playing conditions? That decision is up to you, naturally, so let’s proceed.
How Effective is a Level-Three (or higher) System?
In spite of the fact that one of these systems here counts the Ace as a value of -1 and the other counts it as 0, neither of these offer much improvement over the betting efficiency of the level-one Hi/Lo system. If the majority of your play is at multi-deck games (double-deck or more), the betting efficiency of a system needs to be your primary concern, since these games are beaten mostly by a large bet spread. But, if you’re fortunate enough to play a lot of single-deck games where a narrow bet spread of 1-4 is about all that’s practical to use, then the Playing Efficiencies available from at least one of these counts will probably impress you. If a dealer routinely uses half the cards in a single-deck before shuffling, a strategy gain of 0.95% is available through perfect play; that is, play where each hitting, standing, doubling, etc. decision is made knowing the exact composition of the remaining cards. No mentally-based counting system offers 100% playing efficiency, but something on the order of 69% can be achieved by a level-three count whereas the best level-one system is in the 62% range and the best level-two system hovers around 67%. Is it worth it? If you bet $100 or more per hand, it probably is, but the key is accuracy. Sure, you can check your accuracy at home and it will probably be pretty good, but how can you check it under actual playing conditions in a ‘real-life’ casino with all the distractions they offer?
I have to say that I used to use one of the systems here in a multi-deck game venue but went back to the simplicity of the Hi/Lo when I found that my mental alertness fell off after only an hour or so of play. But, that’s just me, so whatever count you choose, I wish you the very best.
The Primary Level-Three Counts
The two systems here meet the criteria mentioned above but you’ll find that they are considerably different in their overall efficiencies. That’s mostly because one assigns a point value to the Ace and the other doesn’t. Remember, in order to get the most out of a system that doesn’t assign a point value to the Ace, there has to be a side-count of them. This is pretty simple in a single-deck game, but, I can assure you, very, very difficult to do in a six-deck game.
The Uston Advanced Point Count
Point Values: 2, 8 = +1; 3, 4, 6, 7 = +2; 5 = +3; 9 = -1; 10 = -3; Ace = 0
Betting Efficiency: 98%
Playing Efficiency: 69%
Insurance Efficiency: 91%
Most Effective: In single-deck games
Good Points: This count offers the highest combined efficiencies of all the counts we’ve covered to this point.
Bad Points: Difficult to learn and hard to use accurately in multi-deck games.
The Book to Buy: “Million Dollar Blackjack” by Ken Uston
Comments: If you can’t bring a computer into the casino with you, this is the next-best thing. But, it does require a sidecount of Aces to extract this power and true count adjustments are at the half-deck level which isn’t easy. And bear in mind that all cards except the Ace have a point value; you’ll be very busy at a full table when the cards start flying.
Stanford Wong’s Halves Count
Point Values: 2, 7 = +0.5; 3, 4, 6 = +1; 5 = +1.5; 8 = 0; 9 = -0.5; 10s and Ace = -1
Betting Efficiency: 99%
Playing Efficiency: 57%
Insurance Efficiency: 73%
Most Effective: In multi-deck games where a large bet spread can be obtained
Good Points: This is actually a lot easier to learn than it looks.
Bad Points: The Insurance Efficiency is quite low.
The Book to Buy: “Professional Blackjack” by Stanford Wong
Comments: Yes, this looks like something other than a level-three count, but if you double all the point values, you’ll see it is. I learned this count after I mastered the Hi/Lo and used it to great effect in really good multi-deck games but for me, it was tiring to use.
Just so you know where I’m heading with this, here’s a list of forthcoming chapters listed in the order in which they’ll appear:
I’ll probably toss in a final chapter covering any counts or counting methods which don’t get covered by the above.
See you here next time.