1 Sep

The Famed Hi-Lo Count or High/Low System

Card Counting Basics: The Hi-Lo Balancing Act in 21

Card Counting Basics: The Hi-Lo Balancing Act in 21

Among the many card counting strategies developed for playing blackjack, the so-called Hi-Lo Count or High/Low System is one of the oldest and probably the most commonly used. It is easy to learn and, if properly applied, can give the player a significant advantage in wagering against the House Edge, which changes from deal to deal depending on the composition of the deck as cards are eliminated from play.

Theory behind the Hi-Lo Practice

The Hi-Lo Count was first pioneered in 1963 by Harvey Dubner, who noted that the deck’s high cards (Ace through Ten) tend to favor the player, while low cards (Deuce through Six) are of greater benefit to the dealer. Specifically, the House Edge is 4% or more when the deck’s supply of high cards is depleted. Conversely, the player has an advantage of 4% or better when the availability of high cards is great.

Dubner began tracking the removal of high and low cards from the deck during play. By knowing which situation applied before wagering, he could increase his bets when the deck was relatively “rich” in high cards, which is true of about one third of all hands, and minimize his wagers for a third of the deals when it was “poor.” The rest of the deals fall somewhere in between. He also found there was no need to keep track of the middle cards (Seven through Nine), which are relatively inconsequential as regards their effect on the House Edge.

The problem, of course, is that few players of average IQ would be able to recall what individual cards have been played, especially when blackjack involves multiple decks and surrounding distractions. But fortunately, Dubner came up with a simple tracking method, so no photographic memory is required.

Learning to Count Cards

To begin, every card in the deck is assigned a value. The low cards 2~6 are worth +1 point apiece as they are removed from the deck. The middle cards 7~9 are counted as zero and can be ignored. The high cards A~10 count as -1 point each as they are played. Counting in this manner, it’s unnecessary to remember exactly what cards have been taken from the deck. The player simply concentrates on a single number, the “Count,” starting with zero when the deck is fresh and adding or subtracting points as each card is dealt.

For example, consider a dealing sequence of J/6/7/10/K/3/3/Q/A/8. The so-called “running count” (Count) starts at zero and the Jack is valued as -1 point, so the Count becomes -1. The Six is worth +1 point, so the Count reverts to zero. The Seven has no value and is ignored, then the Ten brings the Count to -1, the King makes it -2, the first Three returns it to -1, the second Three makes the Count zero, the Queen returns it to -1, the Ace makes it -2 and the Eight has no effect, which yields a final Count of -2 and the deck currently favors the dealer. It’s that easy.

And it is also easy to practice the Hi-Lo Count by simply shuffling a deck of cards and going through them one by one, keeping track of the Count as the cards are dealt. When the last of the 52 cards is played, the Count should always be back to zero.

Then, once the player becomes adept in tracking cards in this way, a simple betting strategy can be added. Card counting basics teach that is it best to wager the minimum when the Count is +1 or less, and double the bet when the Count is +2 or more.

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