If the game you join is in the middle of a deck, bet only the minimum and keep it that until the cards are shuffled, when you can start counting. And you must start a count over each time they’re shuffled. Card-counting depends on being able, naturally, to see the cards, so a game dealt face-up is best. If the cards are face-down, you may only see them when a player busts or after the dealer resolves each player’s hand, in which case you’ll have to count fast, and you should be sitting in the farthest left seat so you are dealt to last. And so far we’ve only been considering the single-deck game. The running count is based on one deck only. To use it to play in a game using multiple decks, you apply your count to a formula to get the true count.
The true count equals the running count divided by the number of decks remaining. You look at the discard tray and make your best estimate of how thick the pile of cards is. To estimate this requires developing an eye for the size of a deck of cards. (I’ve measured it against all sorts of things, and my best way of remembering its thickness was that it was a little thinner than a pack of my brand of cigarettes.) A deck is a little over half an inch thick – about 5/16 inch. So if you’re playing in a game with a 6-deck shoe, and the discard pile looks like about 2 &1/2 decks, there are 3 & 1/2 decks left in the shoe. Say your running count is +7. Divide 7 by 3.5, and the true count is 2. You bet according to that +2, which in our simplified method would mean you’d bet 4 units. But you must remember your 7 when you continue the running count! It’s easy to get mixed up.
The next thing you ought to consider is the penetration the dealer is allowing, that is, how far into the deck or shoe he continues to deal before he shuffles and makes you restart your count. The farther the penetration, the more reliable your count, since, clearly, you’ve counted more cards and it’s a better representation of what cards are where. In single-deck games you may see the dealer shuffling after every couple or three hands. What’s the point of playing in this game? However, you would be lucky to find a game where the penetration is more than 50%. If you want to get really accurate, you must realize that the true count in a single-deck game equals the running count divided by the number of cards remaining. This is something you can only approximate. For better play in a single-deck game, and if you’re up to it, consider your running count to equal the true count only during the play of the first fourth of the deck. After one-fourth of the deck has been played, start pressing, because your count is becoming a more reliable bet. Play the second quarter-deck as if your running count were 1.5 times what it is. For instance if you have a running count of +4, act as if it were +6, and bet accordingly. For players who can card-count pretty well, it’s worth betting with a wider spread, or more range of units than the 4 we’ve mentioned here.
Last but definitely not least, remember that every single player attempting to count must also develop his ability to hide the fact that he is counting. Anyone sitting with fixed, rigid attention to the game is immediately suspect. Some skilled players manage to talk and count at the same time; one man I knew, who counted at blackjack for a number of years, said he’d taught himself to talk aimlessly at any little task he was doing, and it didn’t distract him a bit. When I tried to do it myself, I found that I talked about card-counting. So be careful!