5 Count System
Everyone who plays Blackjack knows what the important cards are. The Ace is most important to the players because it is absolutely necessary to forming a natural 21 or blackjack, the only hand that pays out at odds higher than even money. It is also the key to all soft hands, which may present opportunities to double down. If all of the Aces were removed from the deck, the house advantage would shoot up to 2.59%–equivalent to playing single-zero Roulette.
Players also know how important 10s and face cards are. Apart from being necessary to the formation of a blackjack, they are the cards most likely to bust the dealer when he/she has to draw. Also, because they make up four of every thirteen cards dealt, they are the most frequent cards seen during play, appearing with a frequency of 30.8%. Keeping track of 10s and face cards is at the heart of most card counting systems.
But what of the other cards in the deck? Is the relative importance of any of them being overlooked by players?
An Important Small Card
As it turns out, the removal of small cards from the deck really does have a significant effect on the player’s odds of winning. A deck rich in small cards adds to the house edge and reduces the player’s chances of winning. And one much ignored card is even more important than the rest—the lowly 5.
Calculations have shown that removing all of the 5s from a deck of 52 cards gives the player a 3.04% advantage over the house. In other words, the removal of 5s has more impact on the odds than the removal of Aces. How can that be so?
For one thing, the Ace works for the dealer just as it does for the player, allowing unbeatable natural blackjacks to be formed. When bad hands are held, such as 12~15, the Ace is of no help at all to the player (nor are 10s) and has no effect whatsoever on the dealer’s play of the hand. But the 5 turns all four of the worst hands—12, 13, 14, and 15—into potential winners, not only for the player, but for the dealer as well.
Also, like the Ace, the 5 has a role to play in doubling down. The 5, when coupled with a 3, 4, or 6, presents opportunities. However, every student of basic strategy learns that a pair of 5s is never split, so unlike those other small cards, it has slightly less versatility. That’s why a deck poor in 5s favors the player, and it should be bet accordingly. That is the logic behind the 5 Count System.
Tracking and Playing with the Five Count System
Tracking 5s is relatively easy. One should appear among every thirteen cards. When sitting at a table of six players plus the dealer, there are fourteen cards dealt at the start of each hand, of which thirteen are visible. If no 5 appears, the deck is rich in 5s. If one 5 appears, it is about even. And if two or more 5s come up, the deck is poor and ready for a larger wager on the next hand.
Of course, the player must also watch carefully as additional cards are dealt when players hit, split or double down. Adjustments must also be made for tables with seven players or fewer than six. But this is relatively easy to accomplish when there is only one card to watch for. It is a just matter of counting groups of thirteen cards and looking for 5s.
The information a 5-counting player obtains can be used to determine how much to bet. When the deck is low in 5s (more than one dealt per thirteen cards), increase the amount of the previous wager by one unit. When the deck is ultra-low in 5s (more than two of them dealt per thirteen cards), increase the bet by a factor of two or three units. When the deck returns to normal or is rich in 5s, decrease the wager by a unit or bet the minimum.
Similarly, when the deck is poor in 5s and the dealer shows a 4~6 as the up card, the player can be slightly more aggressive about splitting and doubling down. There is less possibility of the dealer turning a 14~16 into a winner.