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The True Count Revisited
If you're a counter that uses the Hi/Lo or some other "balanced" counting system, then you're at least familiar with the concept of converting the running count to a True Count. In my Blackjack School, this is introduced in lesson 7 and the concept is used in most of the lessons from that point on. For those of you who don't yet count, but are considering learning, the True Count conversion process is probably the most difficult part of learning the Hi/Lo count. It isn't nuclear physics or anything like that, but it can seem difficult until you get the basics of it conceptualized and that's what I want to do here.
We deal with two counts in Hi/Lo: the running count, which is the net total of the point values of all the cards we've seen up to a certain point and the True Count (don't know why I always capitalize it), which converts the running count into a count per remaining deck. For example, if we're at a six-deck game and the running count goes to 10 on the first hand, with 5+ decks left to play that's not as important a count as a running count of 10 with two decks left to play. In the first case the True Count (TC) is just under 2 and in the latter case, it's 5. The "standardization" created by the True Count conversion does two things for us. First and foremost, it allows us to precisely measure our advantage (if any) over the casino, which in turn tells us how much to bet on the next hand. A secondary use of the TC is to alter the play of our hand by deviating from the Basic Strategy, thus "Basic Strategy variations" that we talk so much about here. But maybe I'm getting a little ahead of myself.
One of the frequent questions about counting in general is when do we start the count and when do we finish it? In terms of the running count, we begin tracking it on the first hand after the shuffle and stay with it until the deck, decks or shoe has ended and the dealer "breaks" the deck(s) for a new shuffle. The running count is constantly being updated; if we see a card, we add it to or subtract it from the current running count. The ability to keep the running count all the way through a 6- or 8-deck shoe is actually fairly easy because all you're doing is a simple exercise in adding or subtracting. Because each card has a point value of either plus 1 or minus 1 (yes, some are 0, but we ignore those), updating the running count is no big deal. If you follow my instructions in the Blackjack School, you'll be counting - admittedly slowly - but counting nonetheless, after only a few hours of practice.
Once you're proficient at keeping an accurate running count, it's time to start doing simple True Count conversions. We do this after the current hand has been played and the dealer is paying people, picking up the cards, etc. We take the current running count, divide it by the number of remaining decks and size our bet accordingly. The True Count is something that we figure on a temporary basis; one quick calculation that will tell us how much to bet on the next hand. So you do that, put your bet out, revert back to the running count and start tracking it again - from the point at which it was at the end of the hand - as the cards are dealt. Remember, the running count is maintained all the way through the deck, decks or shoe; it's the one constant in this whole affair; we do not "zero it out" until the dealer shuffles. However, the True Count is temporary and is discarded once the bet is set.
As you get used to converting the running count to the True Count, you'll find that you're able to keep both counts in your head at the same time - with the running count in the forefront and the number of decks remaining in the "background", so to speak. Knowing both the running count and the number of decks remaining to be played (which you judge by looking at the discard tray) allows you to make a True Count conversion at any time. When that process becomes more or less automatic (don't worry, it will), then you're ready to start working Basic Strategy variations into your game. This is the altering of the play of your hand according to the count - the True Count. In the "Advanced Course" portion of my Blackjack School lessons, I explain how all that works, so I won't go into it here. But again, it's not nuclear physics, so if you'll follow my training regimen, it won't take long to add this to your counting skills.
Is it necessary to use the Basic Strategy variations in order to be a winner at Blackjack? The quick answer is no. If you can play at a game that offers good penetration and are able to use a sufficiently large bet spread, then you may do very well without the variations. Or, you might choose to incorporate only the most important variations, like Insurance, 16 vs.10, etc., into your game and that'll work just fine, if the game you play has decent penetration, good rules and so forth. The Basic Strategy variations will, however, take a barely acceptable game and turn it into a decent (though not great) game. For example, if your long-term edge is 1%, adding the variations can probably push that to 1.25%, again, depending upon the game. The variations will typically add 0.2 - 0.3% to your edge, although they won't turn a bad game into a great game.
But let's say you have a good game available to you; something like 6-decks, the dealer hits soft 17, you may double on any first two cards, plus after splitting pairs, late surrender is available and they deal at least 4.5 of the 6 decks before shuffling. Well, a game like that can be beaten with a good bet spread alone, which means you can likely use an "unbalanced" count that doesn't require a True Count conversion. The most popular of the unbalanced counts is the "Knock-Out" or KO count. All you have to do with the KO count is maintain the running count and place your bets according to the schedule that's recommended in the book, "Knock-Out Blackjack" by Vancura and Fuchs.
To me, it's not important which count you use; what's important is that you learn some sort of mathematically sound "system" that will make you a winner at the tables. Unfortunately, there is no "up your bet if you win" type of system that works on a continual basis, because if it were that simple, there wouldn't be any Blackjack games available, period. No, in order to become a long-term winner at the Blackjack tables, you're going to have to learn some sort of counting system. If you're lucky enough to have good games available, keep it simple with a count like the KO count. But, if you have just "average" games like most of us, then the Hi/Lo count enhanced with a fair number of Basic Strategy variations, plus some of the other tools I talk about in my lessons is the way to go. Whichever you choose, I'm here to help, so don't hesitate to send your questions.
I'll see you here next time.
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