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Level-Two Counting Systems
The term "level-two" refers to counting systems where the point values assigned to the cards are either 1,2, 0, -1 or -2. This type of system recognizes that even within a category of cards ('low' cards for example), some cards have more of an impact than others. Fives are the prime example; they help the dealer most when s/he has a hand of 12 to 16, so if there are none left in the deck, it's likely that the dealer won't do as well. Threes are less important, but in many single-level systems, a 3 and a 5 receive the same weighting. Level-two and higher systems differentiate between 3s and 5s, as you'll see.
What I'll do here is examine the two primary types of level-two systems which exist: Ace-included and Ace-deleted. What this refers to is how the Ace is treated by the point system. The Ace plays a unique role in the game of Blackjack, because it's valued as a 'high' card for betting purposes and as a 'low' card for playing purposes. It's obviously the key component of a blackjack or 'natural', but if one hits a 14 and gets an Ace, it's acting as a low card. Knowing that the deck(s) remaining to be played have an abundance of Aces in it is very useful from a betting point of view, but of little value if one has to hit a 12, so many counting systems developed in two ways those that treated the Ace as a 'neutral' card (point value of 0) and those that treated it as a high card (point value of -1 or more). This has considerable impact on the playing, betting and insurance efficiency of a system. (If all that is 'greek' to you, please read the first chapter of this series.)
How Effective is a Level-Two System?
Only incremental gains are available by using a level-two count in place of the better level-one systems. For example, the best level-one system detailed in the previous installment of this series has a Playing Efficiency of 62.3% and the best level-two system which we'll review here has a P.E. of just over 67%. What does this mean? If one could play at a single-deck game with 100% accuracy and the dealer routinely dealt out half the cards, a strategy gain of about 0.95% could be effected at that point. With a counting system offering 67% efficiency, the gain would be 0.95 X 67% = 0.64% whereas the best single-level count (without a side-count of Aces) would produce an edge of 0.95 X 62.3% = 0.59%. Is a 0.05% gain worth it? Well, if your average bet is $10, it's a difference of a half-cent. If your average bet is $200, it's a dime. Level-two counts have Betting Efficiencies very similar to level-one counts, so there's no discernible difference between the two in that regard and, as you'll see, their Insurance Efficiencies are similar as well. The biggest gain that most level-two counts demonstrate is when they are compared to the single-level Hi/Lo system which was, for the most part, the first single-level count most people learned. In this comparison, the level-two systems offer Playing Efficiencies which are almost 25% higher and that's what gave them their boost in popularity. But, as better single-level counts were developed, the differences narrowed to what we have today.
From a personal point of view, I still think that the Hi/Lo is most effective against multi-deck games where one can get a decent bet spread, but I use the Hi-Opt 1 (a single-level count) with a side-count of Aces for single-deck play. If I played only single-deck games, I'd probably go with one of the level-two counts that I'll examined here.
The Primary Level-Two Systems
I have chosen 2 level-two systems to examine here. There are others, but my criterion was that there had to be available, at a reasonable cost, all the information a prospective user may need to effectively learn and use the system. This basically means that there has to be a book or software program currently in print which will give you the basic strategy variations, side-count information, etc.
The Zen Count
Point Values: 4,5,6 = +2; 2,3,7 = +1; 8,9 = 0; A = -1; 10 = -2
Betting Efficiency: 96%
Playing Efficiency: 64%
Insurance Efficiency: 85%
Most Effective: In virtually all games.
Good Points: Easy to learn; easy to use for long playing sessions
Bad Points: The true count is figured at the half-deck level and that's not easy to do in multi-deck games.
The Book to Buy: "Blackbelt in Blackjack" by Arnold Snyder
Comments: If you're looking for a good, relatively easy to use system, this may fit the bill. Since the Ace is included in the count, this is basically a beefed-up Hi/Lo and yet it's powerful in a single-deck game. The book has a lot of good, additional information, including a complete explanation of the first 'unbalanced' count which will be reviewed in a later installment.
The Omega II Count
Point Values: 4,5,6 = +2; 2,3,7 = +1; 8, A= 0; 9 = -1; 10 = -2
Betting Efficiency: 92%
Playing Efficiency: 67%
Insurance Efficiency: 82%
Most Effective: In single-deck games where it's difficult to achieve a big bet spread
Good Points: Very high Playing Efficiency, even without an Ace side-count.
Bad Points: Fairly low betting efficiency unless the Ace side-count is used.
The Book to Buy: "Blackjack for Blood" by Bryce Carlson
Comments: This count can be brought up to a 98+% Betting Efficiency by incorporating an Ace side-count. That's pretty easy to do in a single-deck game, but very difficult in a multi-deck game. The book is a worthwhile investment, even if you don't use the count.
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:
Third- and Higher-Level Counts
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.