Any serious blackjack player, be it a leisure player wanting to hold his own in a casino while on vacation or an experienced professional card-counter, has at least a basic knowledge of the Hi-Lo card-counting system. The reason is that the Hi-Lo strategy, which is undoubtedly the easiest system to learn, is the very bible of all card-counting, in much the way basic strategy is the bible for playing strong basic blackjack.
Hi-Lo counting was invented by a mathematician named Harvey Dubner who was associated with blackjack legends Dr. Edward O. Thorpe and Stanley Wong in the pioneering card-counting days of the early 1960s. The best thing about the High-Low is its simplicity, and due to that it still remains by far the most implemented card-counting strategy in use today.
Learning the Simple Hi-Lo Count
Just get yourself a single deck of cards, take one of each from Ace through King and sort the thirteen cards like this:
In a top row place the cards: 2,3,4,5,6
In a middle row place the cards: 7,8,9
In a bottom row place the cards: 10, J, Q, K, A
Assign a value to each of the cards in each row
The cards in the top row count as +1
The cards in the middle row count as 0
The cards in the bottom row count as -1
You will note that the total cumulative count for the top row is +5, for the middle row 0, and for the bottom row -5. So if you count all thirteen cards in cumulative fashion, you will reach 0. If you don’t reach 0, you have made a mistake.
Learning the Running Hi-Lo Count
Take the whole deck of cards, shuffle them up, and then count them down one by one. You should again end up at zero. Repeat the total-deck count as many times as it takes for you to reach zero every time.
Learning to Convert to the True Hi-Lo Count
Since you will most likely be playing and counting multiple-deck as well as single-deck games, you need to learn the true count for both scenarios. The true count is simply the running count divided by the number of decks remaining to be played, including the cards that are burned off in the back of the card shoe.
For instance, if you play a single deck and have a running count of +4 with half the deck remaining, your true count is +8 (4 divided by .5). If you play a six-deck shoe with the same running count of +4 with three decks remaining, your true count is +1.33 (4 divided by 3). You always round up or down to the next whole number.
Practice identifying how many cards (single-deck) or how many decks remain. You don’t have to be perfect but you do have to make an accurate estimation.
Learning the High-Low Playing Strategy
Simply go online and learn the exact Hi-Lo strategy for every given count and hand situation vs the dealer’s up-card. Learn to read these charts and memorize them. You will notice that 80% of the hand-play decisions agree with basic strategy, thus you must memorize basic strategy as well. In high positive and negative counts, the hand-strategy will vary.
For example, in basic strategy you would always hit your ten against a ten or an ace up-card. But when the count is high positive you would double down.
In basic strategy you would always stand with thirteen against a two up-card. But when the count is high negative you would hit it.
Learn how to take Advantage of Surrender and Insurance Bets
These are the biggest money-making plays in all card-counting systems, so learn when to surrender and when to take insurance.
Learn How to Camouflage Your Play
You can’t always play your hand according to the Hi-Lo strategy because unusual play or play deviating from basic strategy sometimes arouses casinos’ suspicions. So learn how to detect and deal with heat from the casino pit. We have covered different camouflage techniques in a previous article.