Thursday, April 01, 2004

What's a multi-level count?

The simple count I described earlier, the plus-minus count, is a level-one count. What that means is that every card in the deck that has a nonzero value is worth either +1 or -1. Higher level counts use a larger range of values. For instance, I used to use Arnold Snyder's Zen Count, in which the card values are as follows:

A: -1
X: -2
8,9: 0
4,5,6: +2
2,7: +1

This is a Level 2 count, because the running count rises and falls by as many as 2 points at a time as cards come out. There are other counts that are more complicated than this, even to the point of including multiple side counts. (A side count is when you do get to act like Rain Man and keep track not just of an overall count but also, say, how many aces and eights and threes have been played so far.)

The trend over time seems to be towards ever-simpler counts. Ken Uston's teams did well using a count (Uston APC) that was excruciatingly complex, but computer simulations over time have shown that you don't really need all that complexity. Keeping track of fewer numbers in a simpler way doesn't cost very much, and often it increases profitability. Here's why:

  • If you can play faster using a simpler count, you'll get more hands per hour in; this can easily make up for a small reduction in expected value per hand.

  • You'll make fewer mistakes with a simpler count. For instance, forgetting the count or miscalculating it.

  • It is easier to carry on conversations and not look so much like you're concentrating on the count, which helps your longevity; you won't get barred as quickly from the game.


"Rain Man" counting systems do exist, but almost nobody uses them these days. Teams tend to use plus/minus. Shoe players often use an unbalanced count that avoids true-count conversions such as KO or Unbalanced Zen. Star individual players who get bored with plus/minus might move up to Wong Halves or Zen.

In terms of the mechanical and thinking skills required, the game keeps getting easier to play. (The tough part isn't playing the game well enough to make money; the tough part is not getting barred while doing so.)

Performancing