Category Archives: Online Blackjack

Blackjack – The Red Seven Count Part2

I asked him to simulate the Red Seven Count, exactly as I had published it, with only six strategy changes, all made by running count, in two common games (at that time), and to compare the Red Seven results with two versions of the Hi-Lo Count, as published by Stanford Wong in Professional Blackjack, one version utilizing all 184 indices by true count, and one using Wong’s condensed -6 to +6 version (34 indices) by true count.

I published Gwynn’s results in the December 1983 issue of Blackjack Forum. John Gwynn did not test the 184-index version of the Hi-Lo in the one-deck game, though it surely would have outperformed Wong’s 34-index version, probably by a couple tenths of a %. He tested the full-blown Hi-Lo in the shoe game because I had also expressed the opinion that card counters were wasting their time memorizing 100+ index numbers for shoe games.

I had published my Zen Count system in 1981 with only 25 indices, and had stated that no counting system needed more than these for multiple-deck games. Among professional players, this was another area of great controversy at that time, though today, thanks to Don Schlesinger and others, most experts embrace my simplified approach as common wisdom.
Gwynn’s computer results, which substantiated my claims of the Red Seven’s power, surprised many experts, and revolutionized blackjack

4 Decks, 75% Dealt, Vegas Strip Rules, 1-10 Spread

# Indices Win Rate
Red Seven 6 0.77%
Hi-Lo (condensed) 34 0.87%
Hi-Lo (complete) 184 0.87%
1 Deck, 75% Dealt, Reno Rules, 1-3 Spread
# Indices Win Rate

Red Seven 6 0.73%
Hi-Lo (condensed) 34 0.89%

system development, as many other authors have since devised unbalanced count systems. For example, Ken Uston self-published his “Uston SS Count.” Uston, in fact, hired me to produce the strategy charts for him. George C. came out with his “Unbalanced Zen 11.”
Eddie Olsen, with assistance from Michael Dalton, presented his “TruCount” system.

More recently, Olaf Vancura and Ken Fuchs published their popular Knock-Out Blackjack. They presented their “knock-out” counting system, which essentially was a knock-off of the Red Seven Count; the only difference between the count values was that Vancura and Fuchs counted all the sevens, instead of just the red ones. Their system was one I had abandoned when I was devising the original Red Seven Count back in the early ’80s, because the imbalance created by counting all of the sevens was too heavily skewed toward the low cards. My analysis showed that if all the sevens were counted, the system wouldn’t perform as well.

I was amazed when Knock-Out Blackjack came out with computer simulation data that showed the knock-out count to be not only more powerful than the Red Seven Count, but more powerful than just about every other counting system on the market, including many of the “advanced” multi-level counts.

As it turned out, the authors of the system had made some major errors in their simulation methods. In the Fall 1999 issue of Blackjack Forum magazine, John Auston, author of the Blackjack Risk Manager software, provided his extensive computer simulation data that compared the win rates of the K-O count with both the Red Seven and Stanford Wong’s Hi-Lo Count in one, two, six, and eight-deck games. Auston’s data agreed with my own—in most games, both the Hi-Lo and Red Seven outperform the K-O Count. I still believe that the Red Seven count is the easiest, most straightforward, and most effective system ever devised.

Blackjack – The Red Seven Point Values

Learn to count cards by adding and subtracting the following values as the respective cards are removed from the deck:

Ace -1
10 -1
9 0
8 0
Black 7 0
Red 7 +1
6 +1
5 +1
4 +1
3 +1
2 +1

The one strange mechanism here suggests that you count black sevens as zero, and red sevens as +1! This device creates the exact imbalance necessary for this to work as a running count system. (Technically, it does not make any difference whether the red 7 or the black 7 is counted, so long as this precise imbalance is attained. One may even count all sevens as +1/2, or simply count every other seven seen as +1.)

Blackjack – The Red Seven Count

Thus, in 1983, the Red Seven Count was born. When the first edition of this book was published, many blackjack authorities expressed disbelief that such a simple counting system could be so strong. Peter Griffin, whose monumental Theory of Blackjack (GBC, 1979) established him as the game's reigning math guru—a position he held deservedly until his untimely death in 1998—reviewed the first edition of Blackbelt in Blackjack in Casino & Sports #23 (1983):

Arnold Snyder's latest offering will undoubtedly prove to be a mild disappointment. . . I have a developing sense that Snyder enjoys being different and provocative. This probably accounts for his advocacy of the 'Red Seven' system . . . Snyder bases his assertion of the dominance of unbalanced counts over balanced counts on the existence of a 'pivot'… What Snyder appears unaware of is that a balanced count also has a pivot, and that pivot is zero. This locates a far more useful and common point of reference…

Given Griffin's stature in the blackjack community, and the fact that I had developed the Red Seven system almost entirely from the data in Theory of Blackjack, which was my bible, I was crushed. Within weeks of his review, I was being barraged with letters from those who had already purchased Blackbelt in Blackjack, asking me if I had revised my opinion about the strength of the Red Seven, in light of Griffin's review. Many pointed out that Joel Friedman, another prominent gambling authority at that time, in that same issue of Casino & Sports, also expressed disappointment, pointing out that the Red Seven was weaker than traditional counting systems.

I had claimed in that first edition that despite its running count simplicity and a playing strategy that advised only half-a-dozen changes from basic strategy, the Red Seven system would capture 80% of the profit potential of the traditional, balanced point-count systems in multiple-deck games, even when those systems used over 100+ strategy changes. This was in the pre-personal computer days of blackjack, when you couldn't just sit down and whip out a few million hands to test a system. If you weren't a programmer yourself with access to a million-dollar mainframe through some university or major corporation, simulation testing of blackjack systems was not feasible.

Despite Griffin's reputation, and his unparalleled comprehension of blackjack's mathematics, I felt certain that the Red Seven would perform as I claimed, capturing 80% of the profit potential of the more difficult true count systems.

So, I enlisted Peter Griffin's colleague at California State University, Dr. John Gwynn, Jr., to test the Red Seven Count via computer simulation. I assured Dr. Gwynn that regardless of the results he obtained, and even if they proved the Red Seven system to be far less powerful than I'd claimed, I would publish his results in Blackjack Forum exactly as I received them.

Unbalanced Blackjack Systems

In 1969, a Berkeley math professor, using the pseudonym “Jacques Noir,” wrote a book called Casino Holiday, which contained an “unbalanced” ten count system which required no true count conversions. Within a few years, more refined versions of Noir’s running-count system were published by Stanley Roberts, and then John Archer. The power of the Noir count derives from its built-in imbalance, which makes it very simple to play. Tens are counted as -2, and all non-tens, including aces, are counted as +1.

We call this an unbalanced count because the value of the complete deck, when all point values are added together, does not equal zero. Because of the imbalance, however, no true count adjustments are necessary for many important playing decisions.
If you count down a deck using this count, any time your running count is +4, then the ratio of non-tens to tens is exactly 2 to 1, making this running count a perfect insurance indicator. This count has one major weakness—its betting efficiency: that is, the count is weak at telling you how much to bet. The ten-count has a betting correlation of only 72%. Compare this to the Hi-Lo count’s 97% correlation.

Quite a few players still chose to use this unbalanced ten-count, despite its betting weakness, because they did not consider their abilities in making true-count conversions to be very accurate anyway. Both Roberts and Archer advised players to keep a side-count of aces, which could greatly improve the poor betting efficiency of the Noir count, but because it was that much more difficult to keep a side count, then use it to adjust the primary count, many Noir counters simply ignored their advice.

Why, I asked myself, was this unbalanced ten-count, which had been around for more than a decade, the only unbalanced count system ever invented? Why not an unbalanced point count system designed to indicate perfect betting by running count, rather than perfect insurance?

Balanced Vs. Unbalanced Counting Blackjack Systems

In casino blackjack, high cards—tens and aces—are favorable to you, the player, and low cards—2s through 7s—are favorable to the dealer. With more tens and aces in the deck, more blackjacks will be dealt, and even though these blackjacks will be evenly distributed between you and the dealer, you get paid 3 to 2 for your blackjack, while the dealer only gets 1 to 1—the amount of your original bet. In addition, more tens and aces mean that you will have more double-down wins, and that the dealer will bust more often, since the dealer must hit all hands of 16 or less, even when you are stiff.

So, all blackjack card-counting systems keep track of the high cards versus the low cards. When more low cards have already been dealt, leaving the deck(s) rich in high cards, this is favorable for you. When more tens and aces have already come out of the deck(s), the reverse is true. Most professional-level counting systems are balanced point-count systems. The counter assigns plus and minus point values (usually +1 or -1) to the various cards based on their value to him. The system is said to be “balanced” when there are an equal number of plus and minus point values, so that the sum of all these values in a full deck adds up to zero.

As cards are dealt, the player adds the values of the cards he sees to his “running count.” The running count is the total count since the last shuffle. If you started your count at 0, then saw five low cards dealt (valued at +1 each), and three high cards dealt (valued at -1 each), your running count would be +2, since 5-3 = 2.

Once learned, this aspect of card counting becomes automatic and easy. The difficulty of playing a balanced point-count system comes when you must use the count to determine how much to bet and how to play your hand. First, the running count must be converted to a “true count” (there is an in-depth explanation of true count—for those who choose to use this more advanced technique—in a later section). Second, the player must memorize, and be able to apply, the correct playing decisions based on this true count. Learning to keep a running count is not difficult for most players. Applying the count properly at the tables, however, may be such a mental strain that many either give up on card counting completely, or continue to count but extract very little value from their efforts. This is why simpler “unbalanced” systems were developed.

Simplified Basic Blackjack Strategy

If you do not intend to learn accurate basic strategy, you can cut the house edge to about 1 % by playing an approximate basic strategy. Follow these rules:

1. Never take insurance.
2. If the dealer’s upcard is 7, 8, 9, X, or A, hit until you get to hard 17 or more.
3. If the dealer’s upcard is 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6, stand on all your stiffs, hard hands of 12 through 16.

4. Hit all soft hands of soft 17 (A6) and less.
5. Stand on soft 18 (A7) or higher.
6. Double down on 10 and 11 against any dealer upcard from 2 through 9.
7. Always split aces and 8s.
8. Never split 4s, 5s, or 10s.
9. Split all other pairs—2s, 3s, 6s, 7s, and 9s—if the dealer shows up—cards of 4, 5, or 6.
10. Surrender 16 vs. 9, X or A.

In Multi-Action games, your basic strategy does not change. Always play every hand exactly as if it is the only hand on the table. Do not be afraid to hit your stiffs—a common Multi-Action error. The Multi-Action format does not alter the house percentage, or basic strategy, in any way.

If you intend to learn to count cards, you first have to nail down accurate basic strategy. Once you know basic strategy, your decisions will become automatic. Even when counting cards, you will still play basic strategy on 80% or more of your hands. Basic strategy is your single most powerful weapon.

How To Practice Basic Blackjack Strategy

Study the Charts
Any professional card counter could easily and quickly reproduce from memory a set of basic strategy charts. Study the charts one section at a time. Start with the hard Stand decisions: Look at the chart and observe the pattern of the decisions as they appear in the chart—close your eyes and visualize this pattern. Study the chart once more, then get out your pencil and paper. Reproduce the hard Stand chart. Do this for each section of the chart separately—hard Stand, soft Stand, hard Double Down, soft Double Down, Pair-splits, and Surrender. Keep doing it until you have mastered the charts.

Practice with Cards
Place an ace face up on a table to represent the dealer’s upcard. Shuffle the rest of the cards, then deal two cards face up to yourself. Do not deal the dealer a downcard. Look at your two cards and the dealer’s ace and make your basic strategy decision. Check the chart to see if you are correct, but do not complete your hand. If the decision is “hit,” don’t bother to take the hit card. After you’ve made and double-checked your decision, deal another two cards to yourself. Don’t bother to pick up your first hand. Just drop your next, and all subsequent, cards face up on top of the last cards dealt. Go through the entire deck (25 hands), then change the dealer’s upcard to a deuce, then to a 3, 4, 5, and so on. You should be able to run through a full deck of player hands for all ten dealer upcards in less than half an hour once you are able to make your decisions without consulting the charts. Once you start to get the hang of it, every decision should be instantaneous. Strive for perfection. If you have the slightest doubt about any decision, consult the chart.

To practice your pair-split decisions, which occur less frequently than other decisions, reverse the above exercise. Deal yourself a pair of aces, then run through the deck changing only the dealer’s upcard. Then give yourself a pair of deuces, and all the cards that follow. Don’t waste time with any exercise you don’t need. Your basic strategy for splitting aces, for instance, is always to split them. You don’t need to run through a whole deck of dealer up-cards every day to practice this decision. Likewise, basic strategy tells you to always split eights, and never to split fives or tens. You should concentrate mostly on learning when to split 2s, 3s, 6s, 7s, and 9s, which you’ll master soon enough.

If you learn to play basic strategy without counting cards, most casinos will have only a 1/2% edge over you, meaning that in the long run, they will win about 500 for every $100 you bet. (In some games, the house advantage over basic strategy players amounts to slightly more or less.) If you play blackjack for high stakes, it is wise to learn basic strategy, even if you are not inclined to count cards, as using it accurately will greatly cut your losses.