Movies and other assorted popular media have created a myth surrounding the act of counting cards. They usually tend to give it an unrealistic spin by making it look like you need to be a genius to make it work. That couldn’t be further from the truth, with a little bit of practice and a good grasp over some basic math anyone can count cards.
So you should most definitely try learning a system. The more complex system can theoretically give you a chance at more money per hour. Multi-level systems have only a slight advantage over one-level systems, especially in games which use more decks.
Nowadays the most used counting system is the “Hi/Lo” system. This is a very good system to learn at first because it’s easy but effective. It makes use of a simple one-level count where the Ace has a value. System which don’t assign a value to the Ace have to use a “side count” for betting purposes. “Hi-Opt I” is a very good system which keeps count of Aces. System which keep a side count for Aces are better when using a 1 or 2 deck shoe. When playing in a 6 or 8 deck shoe it is better to use systems without a side count of Aces.
There are many ways you can classify a counting system. Here’s a quick rundown of them so you can more easily decide what the best system for you is.
Balanced vs. Unbalanced
When using a balanced count, all the point values for all the cards in the deck add up to zero. In an unbalanced count, this sum does not equal zero. Unbalanced counts are best used when playing in a single or double-deck game. Generally a balanced count will be a bit more accurate though. Balanced counts are more advantageous for beginners because the final count when you count an entire practice deck should be 0.
Ace-Reckoned vs. Ace-Neutral
The Ace is either given a negative value (Ace-Reckoned) or zero (Ace-Neutral). The first is usually better for many-deck games while the second is best used in single or double-deck games.
This “level” refers to the highest value given to cards. In a “Level 1” system, high cards count as -1 while low cards are counted as +1. Most of today’s popular counting systems are Level 1. Higher counting system can be more effective but the chance of error due to the complexity is not worth the profit.
So there you have a bunch of characteristics of counting systems. Another important aspect is “Playing Efficiency” which is how well a card counting system handles changes in your playing strategy. This is mostly important in one and two deck games. Then you have “Betting Efficiency” which is how closely a counting system can estimate the advantage a player has in a given situation. This can approach 100% when the Ace is given a non-zero value. This is particularly important in six and eight deck games. Now that you know all these things, good luck trying to master the game.