Hi Lo Card Counting
The Hi-Lo Count may be the most widely known count in blackjack, and is a count that most serious card counters have used at one point or another. It is a more robust system with a greater potential profit than the Ace-Five system; however, it is also more complex, and more prone to detection, since you’ll be making more adjustments to your play.
In the Hi-Lo Count, each shoe starts with a count of 0. The player must be very aware of the cards coming out of the shoe, because this count will change rapidly. The cards in the deck have the following values:
Obviously, high cards – tens and aces – are good for the player, while the lowest cards are bad for the player. As cards come out, add and subtract according to the chart above, keeping what’s known as the running count.
Here’s where things get a bit complex. You’ll need to divide that running count by the number of decks remaining in the shoe to get a true count. This is not simple to do precisely, especially when you’re first starting out. However, you can get most of the benefits of the Hi-Lo system simply by estimating this number to the best of your ability. Try to get it to the nearest deck; if a game starts with eight decks, you should be roughly aware when about 52 cards have come out of the deck, which would mean that there are now seven decks left, and so on.
As with most card counting systems, you’ll want to start with a small bet (like the table minimum). If the true count is at +1 or better, you have the advantage, and can begin increasing your bets. Many different books and writers suggest different ways to increase your bets, but of course, avoiding detection is also important, so following a set system may not be the way to go. One popular method is to only raise your bet when the count is both in your favor and you’ve just won a hand. Conversely, you might want to wait to drop your bets until you lose a hand, even if the count has gotten bad. Even if it eats into your profits slightly, avoiding detection is worthwhile.
One of the great things about the Hi-Lo count is that, since it is counting tens in addition to aces, it gives you a chance to make more strategy adjustments than you can when using a simpler count like the Ace-Five. One of the major adjustments to make is to start taking insurance when the true count is at +3 or higher. This is actually a large part of the advantage you’ll get over the house, since you’ll be able to make profitable insurance bets. More advanced Hi-Lo systems will also allow you to surrender additional hands, and even play hands differently than basic strategy dictates depending on the true count.
Depending on the exact rules used, how much of the advanced playing adjustments you use, the bet spread you’re comfortable with and how much cover you have to use to avoid being detected, the Hi-Lo Count has the potential to give greater rewards than the simpler Ace-Five count. In most cases, the advantage will range anywhere from .5% to 1.2%. This may not sound like a lot, but it’s actually a fairly significant advantage – often more than the advantage the house has when you simply play with basic strategy.
Even more complex systems exist, but if you can master the Hi-Lo count, chances are that you’ll be handle most systems you’ll find in blackjack books. It will give you practice making strategy adjustments, keeping both running and true counts, and avoiding detection by casino personnel – making it the perfect way to jump into serious card counting.