The truth is, blackjack was always a major profit center for the house. It provided a minimum 20% drop on every dollar wagered day in and day out. To casino patrons, the game was thought to be pure luck. To the casinos, the game overwhelmingly favored the house.
Thorp had discovered that an abundance of 10 point cards (10's & picture cards) would favor the player by increasing the occurrence of drawing “pat” hands and blackjacks. While a greater number of low number cards (3 through 6's) would help the dealer, who had to draw a card on 16 or less, to fill their “stiff” hands more often.
By knowing the composition of the deck, the player would know when the odds favored them and would increase their bets accordingly.
What's The Problem?
When Dr. Thorp's book was first published the casinos dealt blackjack from a single deck of 52 cards. Pretty easy to keep track of, wouldn't you say?
The casinos, fearing someone had killed their golden goose, began implementing countermeasures. The first being an eight-deck shoe and allowing the dealers to re-shuffle at will. If a player began raising their bets in an extreme amount the dealer would simply shuffle up the cards. They also started teaching their dealers to keep a running count so as to know when the deck was rich in ten point cards.
In full panic mode, they tried to ban suspected card counters branding them a thieves. Talk about an over-reaction. Dr. Thorp was a mathematical genius. Any normal human trying to use his system would have found the mental calculations required to be mind-numbing and completely unusable.
The most important aspect of Dr. Thorp's book was the invention of what has become known as the “Basic Strategy.” This clearly instructed the player as to the correct procedure for drawing, standing, pair splitting or doubling down in relation to the dealer's face card.
This strategy is the key to the player's true advantage in playing an even game against the casino and the real secret to winning blackjack.
In 1994, the Hollywood movie “21” featured a group of MIT students led by their professor, took the Vegas casinos for millions of dollars. Working in teams of two and three persons, these math superstars employed spotters to pinpoint tables for an optimal entry point. They were extremely successful until the casinos caught on and shut them down.
This was followed up by well known card counters such as John Scarne, Richard Canfield and Lawrence Revere. All of whom were well documented to have won millions of dollars at the blackjack tables. All good things must come to an end. They were all eventually barred from ever playing casino blackjack again.
All of their methods, though based on Thorp's original work, were variations that would accommodate an eight-deck game. Somewhat simplified, but still far too many complicated calculations for the average player. This is most likely why card counting techniques are not as widely used today.
People tend to over complicate things. That's definitely the case when it comes to blackjack card counting systems. In understanding the key principles involved,
Keep in mind the casino's countermeasures, physical distractions and the natural speed of the game adds to the difficulty in maintaining an accurate count. Miscalculations lead to costly mistakes.
The answer lies in tracking the most important cards in the deck for the dealer. The cards are the 5's. While the dealer must draw a card on any total under 17, the 5's allow the dealer to fill the majority of their “stiff” hands. This means that will “bust” (exceed 21) less often. With thirty-two 5's in an eight-deck shoe. A depletion of 1/3 of the 5's or ten of them would mean the player would hold an advantage over the dealer at that stage of play. Remember, there are 128 ten point cards in an eight-deck shoe with which to offset the discarded 5's.
This is the simplest card counting system I have ever used and is an effective and valid approach. Simple is always better.
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