Blackjack’s Hi-Lo Card Counting System

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One of the oldest advantage techniques in the casino is the Hi-Lo approach for counting cards in blackjack. Most people who are knowledgeable about card counting refer to this particular system when they talk about the topic. It’s simple to understand, efficient, and efficient.

It’s likely that the Hi-Lo System was employed in the study’s analysis if you’ve read any academic or mathematical explanation of how and why counting gives you an advantage over the casino.

Harvey Dubner is credited with developing the technique in the beginning, according to Norm Wattenberger of QFIT. Edward Thorp released the concept after Julian Braun made some adjustments in his book Beat the Dealer (which is considered by many to be the first card counting book.) Stanford Wong later improved it and republished it in the book Professional Blackjack.

Card Counting with the Hi-Lo System

To increase their wagers when the odds are in their favor, card counters keep track of the ratio of high cards to low cards that are still in the deck. You’re more likely to be dealt a blackjack (or “natural”) and get the 3 to 2 reward when a deck has a lot of aces and 10 cards. Try a quick thought experiment if you’re not sure why this works:

Remove all the cards from the deck that aren’t aces or tens. Do you believe that deck would increase your chances of receiving a blackjack? You would, of course, and the reasons for doing so are clear.

But in actuality, those probabilities are impacted by each card that is dealt face-up from the deck. You’ll be able to predict when and how much to increase your wagers if you can maintain a rough approximation of that ratio.

As a result, each card in the Hi-Lo System has a value that you add to or deduct from as you view each card to keep a running total.

The value given to each card in this system is as follows:

  • Aces and 10s have a -1 value.
  • The value of 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s is +1.
  • The wordths for 7s, 8s, and 9s are 0.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that there are 20 cards totaling +1. (4 of each rank.) There are 20 cards total, each worth -1. (4 jacks, 4 queens, 4 kings, 4 10s, and 4 aces.) This is referred to as a “balanced count” since the cards have values of +1 and -1 and there are an equal number of each value.

The result of employing this method to count through a whole deck of cards is zero. Any counting system that is balanced will have that.

You’ll also see that there is only one addition or one subtraction required. There are no cards with a value of two or three points. A “single level” system is what experts in card counting refer to as here.

Sometimes, more advanced card counting systems will give various cards a distinct score. One system that we are aware of awards some cards with half points.

These imbalanced and multi-level techniques are designed to improve your ability to accurately calculate your advantage over the casino so that you can place more wagers of the right size. Additionally, they give you more precise data that you might utilize to modify your strategy choices in light of the count.

Making a True Count Out of the Running Count

You won’t need to be concerned about this if you’re playing single-deck blackjack. Your running count gives you a fairly accurate idea of how strong or weak the deck is.

In actuality, 6 or 8 decks are used in the majority of games.

Each card dealt has less of an impact because there are so many more cards in a pack with several decks.

This is why:

There are only three more aces available if an ace is dealt from a single 52-card deck. That is a substantial difference.

However, if an ace is dealt from an 8-deck pack of cards, there are still 31 aces in the deck. While that is a shift, its impact is not nearly as great.

The running count is divided by the number of decks still in the shoe to account for this dilution impact.

You’ll also need to practice estimating how many cards are still in the shoe.

Using the Hi-Lo System for Bet Sizing

Hi-Lo System users can get the most of their advantage by carefully sizing their wagers. To achieve this, choose a betting range in units before starting the game. There have been suggestions that you place wagers that range from one unit to four units, but there have also been suggestions that you be prepared to stake up to ten units.

To lessen the likelihood of drawing attention from the casino, use a more moderate maximum stake. Pit managers and dealers are aware of how card counting functions, so when they notice a player placing wildly varying bets, they begin to investigate to see if you are counting.

They will start shushing every hand if they believe you are counting. You might even be asked to stop playing blackjack or to leave the casino altogether.

In any case, the true count, not the running count, should be used to size your bet. To determine your stake size, multiply your starting unit by the true count. But regardless of the count, you never exceed the upper limit you’ve set.

  • You will place a flat wager with your minimum bet if the count is negative, zero, or one.
  • This stake size will be doubled if the count is +2.
  • You’ll triple that wager’s amount if it’s a +3.

If you bet $100 per hand, you would need to wager $200 if the count was +2, $300 if it was +3, and so on.

If you’re currently using basic strategy and don’t make any other adjustments, this one change to your playing approach will offer you an advantage over the house.

In reality, this method is really good at advising you when and how much to increase your bets. The betting correlation for this technique is 0.97, according to QFIT. Perfect would be one. It’s challenging to improve upon that.

On the other side, some card counters prefer to gain an advantage by modifying their fundamental strategy selections in response to the count. With a playing efficiency score of just 0.51 for this objective, the Hi-Lo System performs far less well.


The Hi-Lo System is ideal for beginners because it’s perhaps the simplest and most popular card counting system in use. The Hi-Lo System is probably the best place to start if you decide you want to try card counting.

By using a straightforward approach to determine the approximate ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck, you get an advantage. You only need to add and remove 1 at the proper intervals.

The running count is then changed into a genuine count. How much you should wager per hand depends on the true count. Your advantage comes from the possibility that you will bet more money when you have a higher chance of being dealt a blackjack and the ensuing 3 to 2 payout.

The Hi-Lo System isn’t the ideal for guiding modifications to your selections regarding your fundamental strategy, but it isn’t where the majority of your edge comes from anyhow. Even seasoned advantage players like David Sklansky suggest counting cards in blackjack utilizing the Hi-Lo System.

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