As I said earlier, the card-counter's skill is to predict which cards arc left in the shoe. People do this in a variety of ways, some more subtle than others. My approach, a variation on existing methods, is to assign a very specific value to each card as it is dealt. A high card has a minus value, and a low card has a plus value. (They range from approximately -2 to +2.)

As the shoe progresses, I keep a running total of the overall value, which I divide by a figure (anything between 1 and 8) reflecting the number of cards still to be dealt. This gives me what is known as a 'true count'.

In blackjack, you arc required to place your bet before the cards have been dealt. If, after the previous hand, the true count is greater than +.75, I will increase my bet for the next hand: the laws of probability tell me that the concentration of high cards still in the shoe has increased. If the true count drops below +.75, I know that there is a greater concentration of low cards still to be dealt. High cards, remember, give me an advantage. Low cards give the dealer an advantage.

Let me explain a little more about the number that I use to divide the overall value of the cards. In Britain, one shoe of cards consists of four decks. The dealer will place a blank card somewhere near the end of the shoe. This is known as the 'cut', and it is where the dealing stops. Card-counters prefer the cut to be as close to the natural end of the shoe as possible, for reasons that will become apparent.

At the beginning of the shoe, I divide the overall value by 8. Let's assume the game has just started and only five cards have been dealt. They are all low cards and the overall value is +6. It would be foolish to conclude from a mere five cards that a high card is likely to follow, which is why I divide the value by so much. The true count then becomes +.75 (8 divided by 6) and I don't increase my bet.

As the number of cards left in the shoe decreases, I divide by 7, then by 6, then by 5, and so on. In other words, the true count is calculated in proportion to the amount of cards remaining. (In France, where casinos play with six decks, I initially divide the pack by 12.)

Unless the croupier is inexperienced, you are unlikely to find yourself dividing by 1. The cut usually comes first. For the sake of example, though, let's assume that it is a very good cut and there are only a few cards left in the shoe. A lot of low cards have been dealt, so many, in fact, that the overall value is +12.

I would divide this figure by 1, still leaving me with a true count of +12 (an advantageous situation to be in). This means that there is a high concentration of court cards left in the few remaining cards still to be dealt. I increase my bet accordingly.

Using such a finely calibrated 'true count' allows me to adopt a more inconspicuous betting strategy. All I need now is a good disguise.

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