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How Card Counting Started
The bible for Blackjack card counting is "Beat the Dealer," written in 1962 by Dr. Edward Thorp. Some of what he depended on for his counts, though, doesn't work now, like the fact that dealers used to deal all the cards in a deck.
Even before Thorp, though, people like Joe Bernstein and Jess Marcum did card counting. Also, five years before Thorp published his book, "The Four Horsemen"- James McDermott, Herbert Maisel, Wilbert Canteny, and Roger Baldwin- used math, although it was just simple calculations, for their strategy.
Card counting first became the subject of a book in the '70s, one written by Ken Uston and called "Big Player Team." He talked about his time on Al Francesco's team of card counters. Uston got to be very famous eventually by writing other books and appearing on TV.
In addition to Al Francesco and Ken Uston, several others started card counting teams, including Tommy Hyland. "Bringing Down the House," written by Ben Mezrich, talks about the MIT Blackjack Team, probably the most famous card counting squad.
Card counting continues even today, despite various measures that casinos around the world have taken to stop it.
How it Works
Card counting is an art, but it isn't as involved mathematically as most people seem to think. Card counters give values to each card to keep track. The Hi Lo system, Stanford Wong and Julian Braun's form, gives cards 2 to 6 a value of +1, 7 to 9 a zero, and 10 to ace a -1. The counter sees one of these cards and adds or subtracts, based on its value. It's a basic system, but very accurate.
Positive counts mean an increased bet; high cards are in the deck. Negative ones mean a lower one. Getting a natural is less likely when the higher cards are not in the deck.
Whatever system you use, you should be able to apply it to a deck of 52 cards and come up with a total value of zero. If you do, you have what is called a "balanced" system. Otherwise, throw it out.
Some more advanced card counting techniques assign values of +2 and -2 to certain cards. However, it really depends on the player as to whether card counting even works. Some find it distracting. If you think it might work for you, experiment and find out what kind of system works best. It may be also used at online blackjack.