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There is a misconception among casino-goers that card counting is illegal, and will somehow see them spending the night in the cells while being questioned by a heavy-handed police chief.
However, in real life rather than the Hollywood movies, the key distinction is that card counting is frowned upon by casino chiefs – indeed, you will face expulsion from the venue if caught – but it is not a crime in the truest sense of the word.
Of course, in online blackjack, there is no security or foreman on the floor watching your patterns of play or behaviour.
Now that this has been settled, we can begin considering the perks of card counting in blackjack, and one technique in particular: ace tracking.
Sometimes also known as shuffle tracking or ace sequencing, this is a technique that can yield positive results, and greatly increase your edge, when performed – and this is the key here – with a complete degree of accuracy.
As the name suggests, ace tracking is simply following the journey of each of the aces in a pack of cards.
That way, we can predict when the super A is going to turn up, which makes knowing when to hit, stand and double down in blackjack a whole heap easier.
Like many card counting systems, the concept of ace tracking is simple enough: the idea is to memorise the sequence of cards – known as key cards – that will be dealt just prior to an ace, and thus give complete accuracy to the count.
As ever, the reality is much more difficult than the idea sounds! There can be multi-deck games that may require you to memorise up to a whole catalogue of sequences, depending on how many decks are in the dealer’s shoe.
Even in the best-case scenario, you will need to be able to remember four sequences for the standard deck – and that’s with distractions and white noise going on around you.
Every time another deck is added into the mix, our ability to ace track becomes more complex as a result.
Think about the standard eight-deck game: that’s 24 aces in total, so 24 sequences that need to be memorised as a result – and don’t forget that a sequence can feature two or three cards in themselves.
However, before you start thinking that you need to be the Rain Man to be an ace tracker, remember that you don’t need to memorise all ace positions: even memorising a couple of ace patterns will increase your edge in blackjack.
This is the other fly in the ointment as far as ace tracking is concerned: don’t we lose our sequences when the shoe is shuffled?
Yes, that’s the downside to the whole operation. When a shuffle is made every five hands or so, we lose our marks accordingly, and so have to go through the process of identifying sequences again.
However, we can still take advantage pre-shuffle, and there will be a couple of rounds when we can maximise our position.
The real problem is with continuous shuffle machines (CSM), which were developed by casinos with the specific purpose of stamping out card counting. Here, the deal is constantly feeding used cards into the CSM, which basically wipes out the edge that a card counter may have had.
But here’s the thing: not all casinos and not all blackjack tables use CSMs, for the simple reason that they are frowned upon by players. Casinos are a business at the end of the day, and the laws of supply and demand rule!
There is no advanced technique to shuffle tracking: quite simply, you will need to remember one, two or three cards – depending on your abilities – that have emerged prior to an ace in a previous deal.
Of course, this process will need to be reset after the shuffle.
It can be a gruelling undertaking, but one that evidently produces results, with many case studies online of successful ace tracking.
Here are some basic ace tracking ideas that may just help…
There is absolutely no point in undertaking card counting of any sort if we aren’t going to take full advantage when the opportunity arises.
This is why sequencers are advised to try to learn two, three or even four cards in advance of the ace in blackjack, as it will greatly increase your edge over learning just one “tell” card.
Naturally, if we have counted accurately, then we can predict when an ace will emerge from the shoe with full certainty: one of the rare occasions that a “max bet” is encouraged.
For some people, their brain works better not when recollecting sequences of numbers and colours but when a memorable human element is introduced.
Card counters speak of giving cards in their sequences characters, or attributing them to people in your life: so your girlfriend/boyfriend might be the queen/king of hearts, for example.
But clearly, doing this for all cards in a deck is a tiresome and brain-numbing exercise.
Some card counters believe they can still trust their sequences after a shuffle.
It depends on the technique used: an automatic shuffling machine, remember, is predictable in the amount of “riffles” and the number of cards moved. A human shuffle is a touch more unreliable.
However, if there are two riffles per shuffle, then the prevailing logic is that exactly three new cards will be placed into a sequence.
Let’s say the two of diamonds was your trigger card for the ace of spades. With a classic two-riffle shuffle, three cards would now be placed between them – so while you have a longer sequence to memorise, at least there is still some context to it.
To answer the original question posed by this article, the only conclusion we can give is that ace tracking can yield good returns but only when performed with 100% accuracy.
As soon as mistakes creep into your count, you are on the path to bankroll devastation – and for amateur counters, add into the mix the shuffle and you have the potential for disaster.
That said, the maths stands firm. A player has an edge of 50.43% when they have an ace as their first card, with a further 31% chance, depending on the game, of landing a clean blackjack – and the chances of making a strong hand pay are much, much higher.
In short, ace tracking can pay when performed correctly.
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Words: Sean McNulty