If you’ve read any of the blackjack content on this site, you already know what a card counting system is. You’re probably also aware that there are multiple methods of counting cards, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Speed Count blackjack is another of these counting systems.
The Speed Count is the system promoted by Frank Scoblete and Henry Tamburin in their book Golden Touch Blackjack. If you want the complete details for how the Speed Count works, you should probably buy a copy of the book.
On the other hand, I’m not convinced that this is a worthwhile counting system to learn. There are better systems with the same advantages as the Speed Count that also lack some of the Speed Count’s drawbacks.
This post is meant to provide you with a high-level overview of how the Speed Count works.
How Card Counting Works (In General)
I don’t want to get into too much detail about the theory behind card counting, because I’ve covered it elsewhere on the site. But in brief, here’s what you need to understand about counting cards:
The best hand in blackjack is a natural (a 2-card hand totaling 21). This hand pays off at 3 to 2 odds, and it can only be made if you get an ace and a 10.
Since the distribution of cards in a deck is random, sometimes you’ll have decks which become lopsided in terms of their ratio of high cards to low cards. (Aces and 10s are high cards.)
When you have a deck with a lot of 10s and aces, the probability of being dealt a natural and getting that 3 to 2 payout goes up.
A card counter tracks—in a general way—which cards have been dealt, so that he has a rough idea of how lopsided (or not) the deck has become. When the deck is rich enough in 10s and aces, he raises the size of his bet.
Most systems add 1 to the count when a low card is dealt and subtract 1 from the count when a high card is dealt. When the count is positive, you bet more. When it’s 0 or negative, you bet less.
Some players also adjust their strategy decisions based on the count, but most of the value from counting cards comes from raising and lowering your bets based on the count.
The different counting systems count different cards with different values. Some systems are balanced, which means there’s an equal number of high cards as low cards in the deck. Some systems (like the Speed Count) are unbalanced.
Here’s the other tricky thing about counting cards:
You must take into account how many decks are being used. The more decks in use, the less of an effect on the deck’s composition each individual card has.
You do this by converting the running count into a true count. To do this, you divide the running count by the number of decks left in the shoe.
An unbalanced system like the Speed Count eliminates the need for a conversion from the running count to the true count.
Why the Speed Count Is Different from Other Card Counting Systems
Now we can get into the nitty gritty of why the Speed Count differs from other card counting systems. We also look at how and why the Speed Count works in theory.
The premise behind the Speed Count is that the average hand in blackjack consists of 2.7 cards. Also, on average, one of those 2.7 cards is a small card (2, 3, 4, 5, or 6).
Most card counting systems involve adding and subtracting. At the very least, you have cards worth +1 and cards worth -1.
The Speed Count eliminates half that equation. The only cards you count are the small cards, and they each count as +1. All the other cards in the deck are treated as 0.
To put this into action, you count all the small cards you’ve seen at the table, then you subtract the number of hands that were dealt that round. Include the dealer’s hand. If someone splits, then you count both those hands, too.
If you’re playing at a table with 3 players and a dealer, you’re looking at a total of 4 hands. If the total number of small cards is greater than 4, you’ve seen more than the average number of small cards dealt. This means you can raise your bet on the next hand, because the deck is richer in 10s and aces than it should be.
What Kind of Edge Can You Get Using the Speed Count?
I usually use Norm Wattenberger’s site to get an idea of how effective a card counting system is, but he doesn’t list the Speed Count there. That’s not a good sign, by the way, as Wattenberger is pretty thorough.
I saw one site claim that the edge using the Speed Count is 1% over the casino, but the same site claims that this is 3X the edge you’d have playing blackjack using basic strategy. That’s clearly questionable, as a basic strategy player doesn’t HAVE an edge against the casino. (If you triple the casino’s edge, the game gets worse for the player.)
I did see a reference to the KO counting system, where one of the creators of the Speed Count, Henry Tamburin, admitted that the KO offers a bigger edge against the casino. Tamburing also claims that the Speed Count is easier to use.
It’s hard for me to imagine a card counting system getting much simpler than the KO, but okay.
I did see a forum thread where Norm Wattenberger discusses the Speed Count and compares it to the KO system. According to him, the Speed Count offers an advantage that’s only a fraction of what is claimed in the book. Apparently, the KO system is more powerful and just as easy to use.
Most of the websites with pages about this leave off an important step. As with any unbalanced count, the Speed Count starts at a number different from 0. This number is based on the number of decks being used in the game. The forum thread I mentioned suggests that the starting count with 6 decks is 27.
Some Thoughts on Frank Scoblete and Henry Tamburin
I’m not as much of an expert on counting cards as some people are. But I am an expert on gambling writers and gurus. I’m not as familiar with Henry Tamburin’s stuff as I am with Frank Scoblete’s stuff, but I can offer some observations about Scoblete’s work.
A lot of his advice is bad.
Some of it’s REALLY bad.
I read his book Guerrilla Gambling about 15 years ago when I first got interested in writing about gambling for a living. Even then, as a neophyte, I was disappointed in some of the bad advice in the book. For example, he suggests the video poker machines are worse than craps, which just flat-out isn’t true. (Both games have their advantages and disadvantages.)
He also has a lot of advice in that book about biased roulette wheels, but I’ve discussed in multiple posts about how trying to clock a roulette wheel is a fool’s errand. I won’t repeat that criticism here.
Scoblete is best-known now for his advice about learning how to influence the dice when playing craps. I’m skeptical in the extreme of this scheme, although I don’t doubt he makes a lot of money from his seminars and DVD’s on the subject.
All that said, Scoblete seems like a nice enough guy.
Henry Tamburin, on the other hand, seems to offer much better advice more of the time.
But let’s face it. Neither of these guys are the ones you should be learning to play blackjack from.
The real experts in blackjack and card counting are the guys like Arnold Snyder and Stanford Wong. The Red7 Count from Snyder is probably more powerful than the Speed Count while being just as easy to use.
The Speed Count in blackjack is an interesting enough card counting system that completely eliminates the need to account for both high cards and low cards. You just track the low cards and the number of hands dealt each round.
Sadly, to the best of my estimation, the Speed Count isn’t powerful enough or accurate enough to make it worth your while. If you’re looking for an easy, unbalanced card counting system, try the Red 7 or the Knockout system instead. Both are more powerful and just as easy to use.