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counting cards

The Highly Optimum card counting system was originally designed in 1968 by Charles Einstein. Einstein was obviously influenced by the work of Edward O. Thorp, who wrote the definitive blackjack book on card counting titled Beat The Dealer. Einstein sought to improve upon the Thorp’s Hi-Lo method of counting and the Highly Optimum method was born. It soon became known as the Einstein Count in honor of its creator.

The Einstein Count was later refined by Lance Humble and Carl Cooper into the system we know today as Hi-Opt I. Humble and Cooper took the concepts of Charles Einstein and tweaked them to produce what remains to be a very popular and effective card counting system.

How The Hi-Opt I Works

In practice, the Hi-Opt I is based on the general principles of card counting. The system is used to develop a running count which helps the player to determine the appropriate bet size. When the running count is high (+2, +3, +4), bets are increased. When the running count drops into a negative zone (-1, -2, -3), the bet size is reduced.

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The Hi-Opt I is also a balanced count. This means that the count begins at 0 and should also end at 0 when all of the cards have been dealt from the shoe. You can easily practice the Hi-Opt I at home and determine if you have performed it correctly by achieving a total of 0 when all of the cards have been dealt. In live play this is most often impossible because all of the cards in the shoe never make it into play. You should practice at home until you are confident you can apply the Hi-Opt I in a live situation.

The primary difference between the Hi-Opt I and the Hi-Lo system developed by Edward Thorp is the values assigned to the aces and twos in the deck. Here are the point values given to each card in the Hi-Opt I:

Card Values

2345678910JQKA
0+1+1+1+1000-1-1-1-10

What you will notice right away is that there are an equal number of +1 and -1 cards. This is beneficial because it simplifies the process of counting cards in live play. When using the Hi-Opt I system these cards offset or cancel one another out. This can make it easier to maintain the running count of the Hi-Opt I.

The Hi-Opt I True Count

The Hi-Opt 1 is a very effective card counting system that advises the use of something known as a true count. While a true count can increase the complexity of card counting at a live blackjack table, professionals believe that it gives a more accurate assessment of the count. To use the Hi-Opt 1 at maximum effectiveness you are going to have to make friends with the true count.

Here at Counting Edge some of the most frequent comments that we receive are related to the true count in blackjack card counting. Many people find the descriptions of the process confusing. We are going to try to explain it in a way that is easy to understand.

Let’s begin by stating the difference between the running count and the true count in card counting for blackjack. The running count is the count that you establish at the table in real time by assigning the number values of each card as the cards are dealt. Each card counting system can assign different number values to the cards. Let’s stick with the Hi-Opt 1 since that is the system we are discussing. Cards 3-6 are assigned a value of +1. All 10s and face cards (J, Q, K) are assigned a value of -1. All other cards are assigned no value and are ignored when making the running count. Remember, in this counting system Aces are regarded independently.

So. let’s say that you have seen the following cards dealt from a new shoe at the blackjack table:

  • 10, A, 2, 4, 9, Q, 7, 3, J

There are nine cards that have come out. Two each for four players and one visible for the dealer. Therefore, the running count should be as follows:

  • 10 – (- 1)
  • A – disregard
  • 2 – disregard
  • 4 – (+1)
  • 9 – disregard
  • Q – (- 1)
  • 7 – disregard
  • 3 – (+ 1)
  • J – (- 1)

The running count of this blackjack game now stands at -1 through the first nine cards that have been dealt. The card counter will maintain that running count throughout the entire duration of the shoe. Obviously, in most card counting systems the counter will begin to play bigger bets when the count gets in a positive range, say +4 or better.

The true count is then applied by the Hi-Opt 1 for more accuracy. To arrive at the true count, the player must divide the running count by the estimated number of decks remaining in the shoe. You can know how many decks are being used in the shoe by simply asking the dealer how many decks are used. So, if the total number of decks being used in the game is 8, you need to estimate how many decks have been played in order to get the true count.

The best way to learn how to estimate is practice. You should know that a regular deck of cards is about 3/4” thick. So, about every 3/4” in the shoe would represent one full deck. Granted, you are not going to be perfect. The dealer is not going to tell you how many decks are left in the shoe. You are simply going to have to eyeball it and make your best guess.

If you judge that there two decks have been played from an eight-deck shoe, how many decks remain? The answer is six. Therefore, you would divide the running count by 6 to get the true count.

Let’s say that you have arrived at a running count of +6. You determine that there are 6 decks remaining in the shoe. You now divide the running count of +6 by the 6 decks that are remaining to get a true count of  +1. The deck looks a lot less favorable now, doesn’t it?

Can you see why the true count could be useful? The reason it is used is to prevent the counter from getting a false assessment of the deck based on a minimal number of cards that have been dealt. In the example we gave above there were three 10-value cards that came out in the first nine cards that were dealt. But, this was at the beginning of the shoe when there were still 8 decks in play. If we divide that -1 running count by 8, we receive a true count of -0.125. That’s still not good for the player, but it is not quite as bad as -1. Why? Because the game has only just started and there are few cards in play.

True counts are used to prevent a short-term bias or swing in the running count. They will give you a more accurate picture of what is happening with the deck, and your bets will be more efficiently placed.

Aces In The Hi-Opt I

The Hi-Opt I does not require you to keep a separate count of the aces, but if you add this element into the Hi-Opt I the system becomes more powerful. Once again, we advise you to practice maintaining a side count of the aces until you are comfortable that your skills will hold up in live play.

Summing Up The Hi-Opt I

If you are looking for a system that takes the Hi-Lo count a little bit farther, the Hi-Opt I is the way to go. It tweaks the value of the cards and also incorporates the true count to increase the efficiency of the method. While the Hi-Opt I system takes longer to learn and perfect, the potential return on your blackjack investment is greater than it is with many other systems.

Counting Edge recommends the Hi-Opt I counting system for those who have a basic understanding of card counting at blackjack. It is not recommended for beginning card counters.

11 Response Comments

  • greyravenwolfeAugust 21, 2014 at 5:37 am

    Question: When you do the running count, do you carry it over into the next hand? For instance, lets say in hand one the running count is +3. Do I start the next hand dealt at +3 and adjust accordingly, or do I just reset at 0 for every hand played?

    • countingedgeAugust 21, 2014 at 5:01 pm

      Greyravenwolf,

      Thanks for being a Counting Edge reader, and we love your name! You asked a great question. In any card counting method that uses a running count, always begin the count fresh with each new shoe, not with each hand dealt. That means that every time the dealer shuffles the decks and places them back in the shoe, your count starts over. Card counting in a casino depends on something we call deck penetration. That means how deep the dealer deals into a six or eight-deck shoe. The deeper the penetration, the more accurate your count will be. So, keep the running count going until the dealer shuffles up.

      Online, you really don’t have a choice. The decks are shuffled after each hand so you have two options. You can either start a fresh count with each new hand or you can keep a running count going to practice your counting skills.

      Hope this helps!

      • greyravenwolfeAugust 21, 2014 at 7:34 pm

        Thank you! That is what I initially thought, but I wanted to double check. At home I have 6 decks, and I often practice by dealing out a hand of 6… 5 players plus dealer. I deal them right to left, as if I am one of the players and I am receiving cards from a dealer, etc. The only thing I am not too positive on are some of the why’s.

        For instance, I’ve gotten up to +24 in one deck, but still lost hands repeatedly. I am assuming that the plus side merely means you have a better hand chance of winning, as long as you don’t do stupid things like hit when you are showing 15, etc…. I’ve seen sites where they add in other factors, etc.. and I’ve never quite understood those factors… I’m great at the running count, but I can do the true count as well to an extent. When I reach +24 and try to divide that by 3 decks I often try to say 24 goes into 3 how many times, as opposed to 3 goes into 24 how many times, etc.

        • countingedgeAugust 22, 2014 at 3:11 pm

          GreyRavenWolf,

          First of all, respect to you for practicing in this manner. Too many people think they can just read about a counting method and attack the casino. They invariably end up busted and soured on the whole counting experience. So, your diligence will pay off in big profits and we are happy to be a part of your journey as a blackjack player.

          The thing you are experiencing when losing multiple hands even with a high count is what we call variance. Variance is something all blackjack players and other gamblers must contend with. No matter how well you count or play basic strategy, sometimes you will still lose even when the count is very high (and + 24 is HUGE…if that ever happens in a casino be willing to bet your lungs). To understand variance let us offer a simple example. The actual mathematics behind variance is far more complex than this basic example but it will give you and other readers a general idea of the concept. Let’s say that your card counting skills, playing basic strategy, and money management combine to give you a 1% edge over the house. What this essentially means, without complicated math, is that you can expect to win 51 of every 100 hands at the blackjack table. You will lose 49 times out of 100. Here’s where variance comes in: the math represents what would happen if you played to infinity. It’s a very long term statistic. What it essentially means is that if you played until the end of time and then tallied up the results, you would win 1% more hands than you lose. Variance happens when we attempt to make that statistic fit the short term. During that 100 hands the 49 losses can come individually or they can come in clusters…two, three, four, five, or more (yikes!) in a row. The same thing applies to the wins. This is why we tell everyone to only play live blackjack with a bankroll that is 50X the table minimum. If you sit down at a $5 table with $50, variance is going to clean your clock. If you sit down at the same table with $250, you can withstand the variance and wait for the cluster of wins when the count gets high. Plus, you’ll be betting more and your profits will be greater. The other thing players must learn how to do to beat variance is learn how to take a profit and leave the game. If you win 20% of your total bankroll, book that profit and take a break. Go back later for a new session. Greed is the enemy of every one that wants to gamble.

          It certainly sounds like you have the discipline and commitment to be a serious blackjack player. Be sure to keep us informed and share your big wins! We know they are coming.

          • greyravenwolfeAugust 22, 2014 at 5:03 pm

            Will absolutely do! And I completely get what you are saying about variance, which kind of goes hand in hand with Parlay playing. I see a lot of people bet a minimum of say $5.00 and they win, and so they then take that $5.00 and it to the five they bet in order of hoping to have a ten dollar bet and get ten dollars, and then they are mad when they lose the hand and lose and are in the hole.

            This is why I bet five, and if I win, I bet five again, and if I continue to win, THEN I will go up five dollars, so that if I lose a hand I am still up 5 or 10 dollars, etc.

            I have one more question for you though, and maybe you can explain this in a manner in which I can understand. I see a lot of illustrations about “Insurance” and the variations on playing those, and I don’t understand it at all. They refer to it as the “illustrious 18” and the “fab 4” tables, and I have no idea what the hell they are talking about. I mean, I have a few educated guesses but I don’t want to be guessing when I’m playing with my money, ya know? Do you guys understand these tables and how they work, etc?

          • countingedgeAugust 25, 2014 at 2:57 pm

            GreyRavenWolf,

            Another great question and one that will appeal to those who have moved beyond beginner status toward the area of serious card counter!

            The Illustrious 18 and Fab 4 are actually indices used in card counting, not specifically variations of the game you will find in a casino. Both of them were developed to amend basic blackjack strategy—in other words, telling you the correct play to make—to better account for when a player should take insurance at the blackjack table. The Illustrious 18 first appeared in an article written by Don Schlesinger.

            While we don’t discount Schlesinger’s thoughts on Insurance, we don’t necessarily agree with them either. Our position has always been that insurance is always a bad bet. Think about it. Would the casino really offer you a way out unless the odds were in their favor? The only exception to this rule is when you hold a blackjack. Then, and only then, do we recommend that you insure against the dealer’s ace.

            In the long run you will be far better off taking your chances against a dealer’s ace instead of taking insurance. Additionally, the Illustrious 18 and Fab 4 are complex basic strategy indices to learn and use.

          • grapesMarch 4, 2015 at 7:27 am

            I don’t know if anyone even reads these old posts, but I happened upon the site after a google search for info on the hi-opt 1 system. This comment is ridiculous misinformation, especially from a site that purports to be providing accurate information about card counting.

            Of course insurance is a bad bet overall, if you take it every time. For the card counter though, it often becomes correct. You are taking a bet that pays 2:1 that a particular unseen card is a ten. If more than 1/3 of the remaining cards left are tens (which is often the case when the count is high), you will win more money than you lose. It’s basic math, not something open to opinion or interpretation.

            It is also a side bet. What your cards are should play almost no role in the decision whether to take insurance. In fact, if you have a blackjack, insurance is a slightly WORSE bet than if you had two eights (or any hand that is two non-ten cards), because if you have any tens it is that much less likely that the dealer’s hole card is a ten.

            Fairly basic math, as well as simulation of card counting play, easily shows that insuring when the count is appropriately high is the single most valuable strategy change a player can make — and it’s not close.

          • countingedgeMarch 8, 2015 at 5:21 am

            Grapes,

            We love getting comments from experienced card counters and blackjack players like yourself at Counting Edge and we’re happy you took the time to visit.

            In regards to Insurance, you have a strong point that obviously comes from your advanced counting experience. We would agree with you wholeheartedly about the complexities of insurance. Our target audience is mostly novice or beginning card counters, so we try to steer on the simplified side of some subjects. For a beginner we would stand by our advice–simply do not take Insurance. In fact, your post mentions one reason why we advise against it. There is too much temptation for a player to take it each and every time, which we both agree is a bad idea.

            Our intention is to add content to our site that will benefit more advanced players and card counters. Some of that content will certainly address Insurance in depth and provide a more detailed strategy for how to use it effectively.

            Good luck at the tables!

  • PlamenOctober 17, 2016 at 5:42 am

    Hi all,
    While I was reading about the true count (above) , I noticed something strange – when converting the running count (+4) into true count with 50% left in a DECK – isn’t that a TC of +8 ?
    In order to arrive at a TC of +2 (as written in the article) i think it needs 2 DECKS to be left , not 50% of the deck
    Cheers

    • countingedgeOctober 19, 2016 at 9:38 pm

      Plamen, Thanks for being a Counting Edge reader!
      You make a good observation and ask a good question. The answer, however, is only a matter of semantics. The 50% calculation in the example comes from the player’s determination that half (50%) of the cards in the “deck” had been played. Remember, however, that it is a double deck blackjack game which means that we refer to a “deck” in this case as the two decks being used. Therefore, 50% would mean that one deck remains. To get the true count we divide the running count by the number of cards remaining. If you use your calculator and divide 4 by 50%, as we stated, you will note that the true count is 2, not 8. If 25% of the cards were remaining, you would divide 4 by 25% for a true count of 1. We hope this helps and good luck at the tables!

      • PlamenOctober 20, 2016 at 1:57 pm

        Hey Countingedge team,
        It is my mistake here. I thought it is a single deck game. Your calculations are correct

        Thanks for your answer

        Regards
        Plamen

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