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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.

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