The Blackjack Page Archive
The Ace-5 Count Revisited
The idea of playing a "break-even" game is undesirable, perhaps even repugnant to someone who has gone to all the trouble of learning how to count the cards. On the other hand, I think it's fair to say that the average casino patron - the gambler - would be very happy to end up breaking even after a year's worth of play. While they wouldn't walk away with any $$$, it's almost certain that they'd get comped for meals or rooms and other amenities like that if their average bet size is large enough. And, if nothing else, at least they got some free or low-cost entertainment by making regular visits to their local, friendly casino and playing Blackjack. That's a pleasant idea, isn't it? Sure beats losing. Well, it's not a dream and I can show you how to make it happen.
The concept behind the Ace-5 Count is simple: It recognizes two key cards in the deck: the Ace, which is most important to the player because it forms the major part of a blackjack (or "natural", as I call it), which pays us 3 to 2 for our bet. The other card is the 5, which is good for the casino because it helps turn the dealer's "stiff" hands of 12 - 16 into good hands of 17 - 21. Obviously, these cards appear in a deck in equal quantities, four of each per deck. So, if more 5s have been played then Aces at some point in the game, it stands to reason that the remaining deck(s) are slightly in favor of the player because our chances of receiving an Ace have improved, plus there are fewer chances for the dealer to get a 5 to help his or her hand.
Certainly, the dealer's chances of getting an Ace have improved, too but you need to remember that the dealer wins only our original bet if she gets a natural, but we get paid 3 to 2 when we get one. In a fair game, the number of naturals we get will equal the number the dealer gets, so in the long run we'll profit. Another little side bonus of this count is that it can help us with that vexing, and all-too-common hand of 16 versus a dealer's 10. In actual play, we hit a 16 versus a dealer's 10 but mathematically, it's really just a coin toss; you'll lose just as much by standing as hitting. However, if you know that a higher proportion of 5s are already out of the deck, standing with 16 vs. 10 reduces your losses slightly. Understand, 16 versus 10 is a losing hand, regardless of how you play it but if you can play it just a little bit smarter, it'll pay in the long run. Plus, it's really cool when you choose to stand and the next card out is a 10 that would have busted you.
Now, don't get me wrong here. The Ace-5 Count is not going to get you much above the break-even point at the "average" multi-deck game found here in the U.S., but breaking even isn't the worst thing that can happen to you, either. Let's say you live near several casinos and you enjoy them as a form of entertainment. You're not out to make your living in them and wouldn't, even if you could. But wouldn't it be a lot more fun to go to the casino knowing you can take advantage of free meals or rooms or shows and so forth, yet it won't cost you anything - or at least not very much - in the long run?
That's a key point: The Long Run. Everybody, including the best counters in the world have losing sessions. Because you're going to be at or near the breakeven point when using this count, there will be times when you have 4 or 5 losing sessions in a row. And, if your local game has so-so rules, you might never get a long-term edge and will eventually lose all the $$$ you're willing to commit to this venture. Okay, that's the bad news. The good news is the comps you might get and the edge you can attain if your local casino offers a decent game. What's decent? In the simulations I've done for this article, it's readily apparent that the best thing you can do for yourself is play at a casino that offers good rules; that is, there's a low house edge to overcome. As an example, if you can play where they use 6 decks and the dealer stands on soft 17, you may double on any first two cards and double after split is allowed, the Ace-5 count will get you above the breakeven point rather easily. Here are some figures:
6 Decks, dealer stands on soft 17, double on any first two cards and after splitting pairs: House edge of 0.41%.
With a 1-8 betting spread that I'll explain in a bit, a long-term edge of 0.08% is attainable in the first game if the casino deals out at least 75% of the cards before shuffling. Sure, it's not a huge edge and in reality, the mistakes you make will likely cancel that out, but it'll still be near breakeven and that's better than you're doing now, isn't it? In comparison, if the dealer hits soft 17 and late surrender is available, your long term edge isn't an edge at all; it's a loss of 0.08%. That's a small number too, but it's not an edge. What that number means is that you can expect to lose 0.08% of all your bets - again, in the long run - and it will add up over time. Just so you understand this, let me use some more simulation figures. If you use the $5-$40 betting schedule I'll be recommending, your average bet will be just about $10.50 per hand. If you were to play, say, 200 hands per week, which represents about 3 hours of Blackjack at a semi-crowded table and you went every week for a year, your total bets would be approximately 10,000 hands multiplied by $10.50 per hand or an amazing $105,000. If your expectation is to lose 0.08% of that, it's an annual cost of $84.00. That's not so bad, but if you can play a similar game where the dealer stands on soft 17, your expectation is win about 0.08%, which is an annual profit of $84, a $168 swing in your favor! Just like any other card counter, the game you choose to play will determine, to a large degree, how well you'll do. I'll talk more about that after I cover some basics for learning and using this count.
Learning this count is really easy. All you have to do is assign a "point value" of plus 1 to all 5s and a value of minus 1 to all Aces. Whenever a 5 comes out of the shoe, regardless of who gets the card, you say "plus 1" to yourself. Everytime an Ace comes out, you say "minus 1" to yourself and combine that with any preceding count, which will give you what we call a "running count". So, if two 5s come out, you'll count plus 1 for the first 5, then plus 2, which will acount for the second 5. At this point, two more 5s have been played than Aces, so your running count is plus 2. Now, if an Ace comes out, its value is minus 1, so the running count will drop to plus 1. By using these plus and minus values, you automatically know that the deck is in your favor (or nearly so) whenever the count is "plus" and it's in the casino's favor whenever the count is "minus." You continue along, keeping a cumulative total - the running count - from the first card out of a newly-shuffled shoe until the dealer shuffles, at which time you'll go back to zero.
The running count will also tell you how much to bet. The whole idea behind counting is to bet more when you have an edge and bet the minimum (or less, as I'll show you) when the casino has the edge. From my simulations, I know that the casino's edge is zero when the count is plus 3 in the game where the dealer hits soft 17 (H17). It's even at 2 when the dealer stands on soft 17 (S17). Therefore, if we have to play the H17 game, it's easy to conclude that we should bet the minimum at a count of 3 or lower. But we want to look like a "gambler", so even though we'll be giving up some profits, we'll raise the bet to 2 units when the count is 2 and we'll continue to raise the bet if the count rises. Here's the betting schedule I recommend you usefor both the H17 and S17 games:
This is a very aggressive betting schedule, but it's necessary in order to beat the game. You might be wondering why you should bet more in the H17 game, even though you'll never actually get an edge over the casino. The reason is simple. If you do not vary your bets according to the count, the only logical alternative is to bet the minimum on each hand. If you were to play the same 10,000 hands per year, your bet total would be $50,000. With the casino edge at 0.54%, your expected loss is $270. By using the Ace-5 count, you'll actually bet more, but ultimately lose less! Plus, a higher average bet will get you more comps.
As I mentioned earlier, the running count will tell you how much to bet on the next hand. So, when the dealer finishes playing out his or her hand, you'll have a count that will be plus, minus or zero. If it's plus 1 or lower, bet $5. (Remember that zero is "lower" than 1, as is any minus number). If it's higher than plus 1, bet according to the chart above.
We can actually increase our edge a bit by using some of the techniques that apply to the Hi/Lo count, which is what I teach in my Blackjack School. The best "trick" is to leave the table when the count drops to minus 3 or lower. All of my simulations are based upon the idea of playing at all counts; of course, you'll be betting $5 if the count is plus 1 or lower, but if you can leave the table (take a bathroom break, make a phone call, etc.) whenever the count drops to minus 3 or lower and not come back until the decks are shuffled again, you can raise your long-term edge from 0.08% to 0.25%. That's a significant increase and, while you may not be able to leave each and every time the count drops, any bets saved this way are profits to you. Another good gain can come from playing games where they deal out more than 75% of the six decks. For example, if you can find a S17 game where they deal out 5 of 6 decks, your long-term gain would be 0.12% and that's while playing through all counts. Combine the good penetration with a "leave the table" strategy and your long-term edge could be as much as 0.31%, which is well above the break-even point.
Another idea that I talk about in my Blackjack School lessons is to avoid using the words plus and minus when you're counting. For minus, I just say "M", so a count of minus 4 is M-4 to me. If the count is plus, I just say the number because any integer is assumed to be a positive number anyway. To review, a minus 5 count is M-5 and a plus 3 count is 3.
One important point: For the game where the dealer hits soft 17, I'm assuming that "late" surrender is available. You really shouldn't play a H17 game without surrender being available, because your long-term disadvantage will be more like 0.20%, as opposed to the 0.08% I talk about above.
Regarding the insurance bet or taking "even-money" when the dealer's showing an Ace; because this count does not track 10s and face cards, we have no way of evaluating the bet. Just follow Basic Strategy, which says to never take insurance, although you won't go broke if you take even money - he has a 'blackjack' and you have one, too - whenever you have more than a minimum bet out there.
I'll see you here next time.
Site design by William R. Channels Copyright 2010