The Zen Count is an advanced, two-level system for counting cards in blackjack that was popularized in the 1980s. This is a balanced system that allows players to determine the ratio of high to low cards in the deck and find out when the odds shift in their favor. Compared to other pro-focused methods, the Zen Count system is easier to learn and promises good profits to the committed player.
This system for card counting was first introduced by legendary blackjack player and author Arnold Snyder in his 1983 book Blackbelt in Blackjack: Playing 21 as a Martial Art. Snyder, a professional card counter for more than three decades, has developed several strategies and systems, including the Red 7 and the Zen Count methods, as well as various methods for estimating the true count. Moreover, all his ideas and systems are founded on mathematical proof and supported by solid evidence.
The Zen Count, in particular, has become very popular among blackjack players due to its relative simplicity. Still, it would not be suitable for novices – to truly master this system, players need to have a deep understanding of the game, and be proficient in applying basic blackjack strategy. It also should be practiced a fair amount of time before it could be executed quickly in live casino games.
The Zen Count System Fundamentals
Basics of the Zen Count
Like all systems for counting cards in blackjack, the Zen Count rests on the idea that high cards, i.e. Aces and 10-value cards, are more favorable to the player, whereas low cards (from 2s through 7s) are more favorable to the house. Finding out when more high cards are to be expected, the method transforms blackjack from a negative expectation game to a positive EV (expected value) one. In other words, players who manage to apply this system properly in combination with a perfect strategy would be able to increase their theoretical advantage to 1% or even 2%.
Following the method, players assign point values of +/-1 and +/-2 to the different cards in the game. This means that the Zen Count is a two-level system as opposed to simpler methods where the only value is either a positive or a negative 1. Unlike many other advanced techniques for counting cards, the Zen Count does not require keeping a side count for the Aces. Here are the numerical values used for this method:
- 2, 3, 7 – +1
- 4, 5, 6 – +2
- 8, 9 – 0
- 10, J, Q, K – -2
- Aces – -1
How to Use the Zen Count System?
As the structure of the system is fairly simple and there are only a few numerical values that have to be memorized, players should find it relatively easy to apply it in real games. The only thing they need to do is to keep an accurate running count as the cards are being dealt. The count starts from 0 and with every card appearing on the table, players either subtract or add its numerical value.
For example, the cards we are counting are 5, 8, Ace, 5, 2, Jack, 6, and King, which correspond to +2, 0, -1, +2, +1, -2, +2, and -2. The sum, in this case, is +2, which is the running count. However, for the purposes of this particular system, the running count must be transformed into a true count. With this step, players take into consideration the number of decks still in the shoe and as a result, the count becomes more accurate.
To calculate the true count, players simply divide the running count by the number of decks remaining. If, for instance, we have a running count of +6 in an 8-deck game and we estimate that around 6 decks are remaining in the dealing shoe, our true count will be +1. Of course, this is a rough estimate as determining the exact number of remaining decks is virtually impossible.
This is when players can make some adjustments to their play in order to gain a mathematical advantage over the casino. This can be done in two ways – by deviating from the basic strategy when it is required, and more importantly, by changing the bet size accordingly. The idea is to increase the stakes when the cards remaining in the shoe are more favorable to the player. If the cards favor the casino, the bet is reduced to minimize the potential losses.
Of course, when there are more high cards still in the shoe, this means that the odds are good and players should take advantage of them by raising the bets. When the count is low, i.e. when it is less than +2 (-2, -1, 0, or +1), players should stick to the minimum, placing only 1-unit bets. When the count rises to +2, players bet 2 units; when the count is +3, they bet 3 units, and so on. This is a fairly conservative betting pattern, which is suitable even for those who are just starting to use the Zen Count.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Zen Count
Blackjack players who decide to use the Zen Count will immediately notice its effectiveness – even if they do not convert the running count into a true count, in fact. If they manage to estimate how many decks have remained in the deck, their count will be more accurate and more efficient in generating good returns over time.
There are not many disadvantages to this method. It can be used in various pitch and shoe games, although its efficiency decreases with the number of decks added. In 6 and 8-deck blackjack variations, the Zen Count still works well but it is advisable to start using it after half of the shoe has already been dealt.
Another thing that should be taken into account is that although this is a 2-level system, it is relatively simple and could be learned easily with little practice. Players do not need to count the Aces separately, which is necessary for other successful counting methods. Here, the only tricky part is to calculate the true count and adjust your bets accordingly.
The true count manages to compensate for this deficiency but only to a certain extent. The calculation of the true count can also pose some difficulties to less experienced players since it requires them to be able to estimate how many decks have not been played yet.
Arnold Snyder’s Zen Count System is a wonderful option for those who already have some basic knowledge about blackjack strategy and card counting. It can be used by advanced players, as well, and the results will be even better. This system could be very efficient in helping players gain some advantage over the casino but the variance of blackjack should also be taken into account.