There are more than a dozen professional strategies for counting cards but often, blackjack players prefer to avoid them due to their complexity and the risk of being detected by the pit boss. The Ace/5 Count, however, allows card counters to remain hidden while still gaining a small edge over the casino.
The Ace/5 system for counting cards was popularized by the famous mathematician and game researcher Michael Shackleford. Shackleford, also known as the Wizards of Odds, is a blackjack and poker player and along with this counting system, he has developed gaming strategies, as well as mathematical analysis of various gambling games. The Ace/5 Count, according to him, is currently the easiest counting system players can find since it only requires tracking of 5s and Aces.
This method for counting cards in blackjack simplifies the fundamental principles of counting, reducing complex systems to a plain tactic that is straightforward and perfectly manageable even for beginner-level players. It does come with its limitations, however, although that statement is true for all card counting systems ever created.
The Ace/5 Card Counting System Fundamentals
Basics of the Ace/5 System
Unlike the vast majority of methods employed by professional card counters, the Ace/5 Count does not track all cards in the deck. The beauty of this system lies in its plain structure – it assigns numerical values only to the 5s and the Aces in the deck, hence the name. Aces are assigned with the value of -1, while 5s are worth +1. For this count, all other cards in the deck are neutral.
The Ace/5 is a balanced system, which means that the sum of all numerical values is 0 and the count starts at 0. When practicing the Ace/5 at home, players who correctly count down to the last card in the deck will end up with a final count of 0. Since the only value used here is +/-1, we could say that this is a level-1 system and players simply need to add or subtract 1 from their count as the cards are being dealt on the table.
Some blackjack players would probably wonder why 5s and Aces, in particular? The idea behind this choice of cards is to only count the “best” and the “worst” cards from the deck, instead of having to track all of them and keeping a running count at any time. Aces are considered to be the most favorable cards to the player, whereas 5s are mathematically proven to offer the worst odds.
As Shackleford explains, however, this system was designed for 6 and 8-deck games. It is most effective on games that follow the liberal Las Vegas Strip Rules. Here, blackjacks pay 3:2 and the penetration is 75% or more. The dealer Stands on soft 17, while players are allowed to Double after a split. They can resplit Aces and Late Surrender is allowed. The system is also effective when used on 4-deck games. If the dealer Hits on soft 17, the player will lose a mathematical advantage of 0.22%
How to Use the Ace/5 System?
The Ace/5 System can be learned very quickly and applied in casinos by both professional and recreational players. As with all counting methods, it starts with a new dealing shoe or after a reshuffle. Since this is a balanced system with an initial running count of 0, players begin by placing their minimum bet. Whenever a 5 appears on the table, they add 1 to their running count. When they see an Ace, they subtract 1. The rest of the cards have a value of 0, so they do not change the running count.
The pivot for this system is +2, which means that when the running count reaches 2, players should increase their bet. The higher the count, the greater the stakes should be. When the count falls to +1 or less (+1, 0, -1, etc.), players place the minimum bet once again. For more efficiency, it is recommended that the bet is doubled on +2 – every time the count rises, the stakes should be doubled. It is better to double the bet only after a win, however, which eliminates the suspicion that you double due to the count you keep.
Players can use any type of betting spread but a good option is to choose 1-8, 1-16 or 1-32. The large betting spread increase players’ advantage over the casino as more money are wagered when the shoe is favorable. However, the edge counters can gain with this system would still be very small – less than 1%. This suggests high risk and greater variance than if another, more advanced system is used.
Let’s see the effect of the betting spread on the player’s advantage. When the count rises to +2, the player bets 2 units; on +3, he bets 4 units; on +4, he bets 8 units. This is a low betting spread that is safe but not particularly profitable, especially if the player wants to avoid raising suspicion that he is a card counter. In this case, he will only double his bets after a winning round, leaving the impression that he doubles the stakes on a “winning streak”.
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Advantages and Disadvantages of the Ace/5 System
The Ace/5 Count described by Michael Shackleford (and others) comes with many advantages over the majority of systems for card counting. First and foremost, it is simple and comprehensible as it focuses only on 2 cards and does not have a side count. Players do not need to convert the running count into a true count, which could be particularly tricky in games that use 6 or 8 decks of cards.
This system has two obvious weaknesses that should be taken into consideration. The simplicity of the Ace/5 Count is clearly reflected in its potential for bringing profits. Even when playing under liberal rules and following basic strategy for every decision in the game, players would not be able to gain a substantial advantage over the casino. This means that even those who are applying the system perfectly would be at risk of losing their bankroll.
Moreover, this system works best with 6 or 8-deck games but it can also be used with relative success in 4-deck variations of blackjack. Nowadays, casinos usually use 6 or 8 decks of cards for blackjack so the Ace/5 System would be perfect. It is also probably the best option for those who are new to card counting. Before considering popular methods such as the Hi-Lo or KO Count, novices should try the Ace/5 and see how well they would manage their betting – as this is one of the most important things in card counting.
The Ace/5 System also has a noticeable limitation – it is not only devised for multi-deck shoe games but also for a certain set of rules that are quite liberal and rare. For many players, who are new at card counting, this method will simply be ineffective. Many of them would be able to break even in their blackjack sessions and some of them would not be able to reduce the house edge at all.
Last, but not least, this system deals with another huge issue – casinos and their ability to recognize the betting patterns and specific playing decisions of card counters. When used carefully, the Ace/5 Count allows for a wonderful “camouflage” betting, a style of betting that conceals card counters.
Simplified and easy to learn, the Ace/5 System for counting cards is suitable for all types of players, including complete novices who find tracking all cards on the table too difficult or confusing for them. When using this method, they do not have to worry about complex principles such as true count, shifting pivot and initial running counts, etc. Moreover, they do not have to worry about being instantly detected by the casino and even though they may not earn a lot of money with the Ace/5 Count, they would still make a profit in the long term.