I had always thought that card counting involved somehow picturing all the cards in the deck, multiplied by the number of decks in the shoe, and then mentally marking them off in your head as they appear on the table, leaving you with the information to figure out exactly what is left in the deck; I was wrong!
It turns out that there are a bunch of card counting strategies, and the method that I had assumed was the norm doesn't figure in any one of them. Rather, each card in the deck will be allocated a value and you must keep a tally in your head of the sum of all the values of all the cards that have been dealt.
This system of adding up the values is the basis of card counting, and this ongoing tally is known as 'the running count'. Different systems will assign different values to different cards. For example, the hilow system will allocate 2 through 6 with the value of +1; 7 - 9, 0; and 10 - A, -1. In this case a deal sequence of A, 6, 3, 4, will result in a running count of +2 because those numbers correspond to -1 +1 + 1 +1 = 2. This mathematical sequence will continue uninterrupted throughout the game.
The final but crucial stage of card counting is understanding what the count means in terms of the cards left and subsequently in terms of the bets you should be making. Basically, the higher the count is the more large value cards are left in the deck. The more large value cards there are left in the deck, the higher the chances are of the dealer pulling one when he has to hit due to a low first deal; this means that a high count means that you should bet, a low count means you shouldn't. In terms of the bottom end of the spectrum the general rule of thumb is to not increase a bet unless your count hits 1.5 minimum.
However, the running count is dependant on a number of variables other than the cards seen, not least of all how many cards are left in the shoe; for example a running count of 5 means something very different with 3 deals left of the game than it would 3 deals into the game. In order to get the most accurate count you divide the running count by the number of decks left, in which case a running count of 5 with 2 decks left will mean a true count of 2.5; it is this true count that should determine your actions.
Past this it all gets a little complicated to be honest, however I read enough to convince me that card counting is a skill that requires a steely concentration, absolute application, tones of practice, and a quick alert mind; card counting is no where close to cheating, it is simply using all the resources available to you to beat the house.
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