The Wong Halves System for Card Counting

The Wong Halves System is a complex, level-3 method for counting cards and it is suitable for professional, highly experienced blackjack players. Bearing the name of its creator, Stanford Wong, this is one of the most complicated, yet exceptionally accurate and powerful systems for counting cards.

This method was first introduced in 1975 in Stanford Wong’s book Professional Blackjack, which has since then become a classic. Wong, whose actual name is John Ferguson, is one of the most prominent blackjack authors and researchers of the past several decades. His system was devised with skilled blackjack pros in mind so before trying it, players should be able to easily deal with simpler and more basic methods for counting cards.

The Wong Halves System Fundamentals

Basics of the Wong Halves System
How to Use the Wong Halves System?
True Count

Basics of the Wong Halves System

The Wong Halves is a standard, balanced system for counting cards in blackjack, which allows players to track the ratio of high to low cards in the shoe and know when they have the advantage. The idea, of course, is that decks rich in high cards (Ace, 10s) are more favorable to the players, whereas decks with fewer high cards favor the house. The Wong Halves is a rather complicated, level-3 method, which means that there are three different numerical values assigned to the cards, positive or negative.

Moreover, this system uses fractions so compared to most methods, it is significantly harder to apply. Here are the numerical values used in the Wong Halves count:

  • 2, 7 – +0.5
  • 3, 4, 6 – +1
  • 5 – +1.5
  • 8 – 0
  • 9 – -0.5
  • 10, J, Q, K, A – -1

As we can see, the highest value is assigned to the 5s (+1.5). These cards have been proved mathematically to offer the worst odds for the player. The high cards forming hands of 20, 21 (including blackjack), on the other hand, are worth -1. The method also assumes that the 9s in the deck shift the odds slightly in favor of the player, which is why they are also given negative value (-0.5).

The sum of all card values for the deck is exactly 0, which makes the Wong Halves a balanced system. This means that before placing their bets, players will need to convert the running count into a true count but more on this below.

How to Use the Wong Halves System?

Before starting to count cards, players should determine their bankroll, as well as the minimum and maximum bets they are comfortable with. A good betting spread for beginners is 1-5, while larger spreads such as 1-10, 1-20 or more, offer more profitability and greater risk at the same time. Players start off the game with 1-unit bets after a reshuffle. They begin the count at 0 and add or subtract numbers from it as the cards appear on the table.

As the structure of this system is a bit more complicated than usual, let’s take a 6-deck game as an example. The first cards dealt on the table are 7, 2, Queen, 4, and 8, corresponding to +0.5, +0.5, -1, +1, and 0. This means that our running count is +1, indicating that the player has a slight advantage over the house. However, these are just the first five cards dealt out of all 312 cards in the six decks used in this game.

If even 2 cards with a negative value are drawn in the next deal, the count will dip below 0. This lack of uncertainty caused by the many cards still remaining in the shoe makes the running count of +1 completely irrelevant. In order to provide players with a more adequate count, the system requires conversion to the so-called “true count”.

True Count

Unlike the running count that is constantly kept by players during the game, the true count takes the number of decks still not played into consideration. There are several different ways to determine the true count but most players stick to a simple and proven method – they just divide the running count by the number of decks in the shoe.

Following the same example, we have a running count of +1. Assuming some cards have been burnt and some have been dealt, there will be around 5 decks and half still left in the shoe. If 5 decks of cards are remaining (at best), we need to divide 1 by 5 for a true count of +0.20.

Since higher counts indicate better odds for the player, the true count we have is not impressive at all. In fact, we need a minimum true count of +2 to gain some actual advantage over the house. This means that we keep placing our minimum wager until the count becomes +2 or higher. Then, we increase the bet size to maximize the potential profits resulting from a favorable situation. The higher the count, the greater the bets should be. Of course, players should bet less when the count is low.

Simplified Wong Halves Count

Before applying this system in real games, players should practice it for some time. It is quite complex mainly because of the fractions that are used in calculating the running count. To avoid this difficulty, some card counters have simplified the Wong Halves system in two major ways.

Doubling the Card Values
Hands with Eliminating Values

Doubling the Card Values

A good way to eliminate the fractions is to double all numerical values assigned to the cards – 2s and 7s will count as +1; 3s, 4s, and 6s will be worth +2; 5s will be +3; 8s will remain 0; 9s will count as -1; 10s and Aces will be -2. This does not change the plating strategy or the betting of the player. Rather, it simplifies the adding and subtracting of values during the game. Before converting to a true count, however, players need to cut the running count in half.

Hands with Eliminating Values

This is a great trick that could be used in all card counting systems. Players simply memorize particular hands with values that cancel each other out such as 4-K (+1 and -1). Since their total is 0, the hand is irrelevant to the count. Here are a few hands you can easily remember – 2-9, 7-9, 3-10, 4-A, etc. This technique may sound too complicated but it requires only a little practice. After a while, your brain will automatically eliminate such hands the second you see them on the table.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Wong Halves

Advantages of the Wong Halves
Disadvantages of the Wong Halves

The Wong Halves count is considered to be among the strongest and most accurate systems for counting cards. With a betting correlation of 0.99 or 99% (correlation between card point values and the effect of removal of cards), the method efficiently predicts when the cards in the shoe are favorable to the player and when the odds are in favor of the casino.

Unfortunately for most blackjack players, the efficiency of the Wong Halves goes hand in hand with a high level of difficulty. The multiple numerical values and the addition of fractions make the calculation of the running count really challenging, especially on a table with 5 or more players.

The most important thing to consider, however, is whether the system could be executed correctly in a real casino setting. It is most efficient in shoe games - 6 or 8-deck games, and when used in combination with near-perfect basic strategy and a suitable betting spread. Of course, players can also opt for the simplified version of the Wong Halves, where are all card values are doubled.

In addition, the need for converting the running count into a true count leads to even more complications. This is where the main weakness of the system remains - if it is not used perfectly, it is not as efficient as it should be. In fact, it could lead to financial ruin if applied by a less experienced player who makes small mistakes occasionally, bets large sums, and does not follow the basic strategy for blackjack.

Overall, the Wong Halves System is a great option for experienced, highly skilled blackjack players who are looking for the ultimate method for gaining an advantage over the casino or simply want a challenge. Many professional gamblers even avoid the method and prefer counting under classic and much simpler systems such as the Hi-Lo or the KO count.

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