Counting Cards Using the Zen Method

Like the Red Seven Count, the Zen Count is a card counting system created and explained by Arnold Snyder in his books Blackbelt in Blackjack and The Big Book of Blackjack. Unlike the Red Seven Count, the Zen Count is a balanced system, and it’s also a multi-level system. This page explains both of those ideas along with what a player needs to know in order to use the Zen Count to get an edge over the house in the casinos.

How Counting Cards Works

All card counting systems, including the Zen Count, gain an advantage for a player via two methods:

  1. The player is able to bet more when the odds are in her favor.
  2. The player can deviate from basic strategy when appropriate.

The first of those two is the most important, and it’s possible to count cards without deviating from basic strategy and still gain an advantage over the house. To get the full benefit from any system, though, memorizing a few tactical deviations in certain situations is necessary.

So the first thing that an aspiring card counter needs to learn is basic strategy. You can’t deviate from a strategy until you know it backwards and forwards. Luckily, blackjack basic strategy is relatively simple to learn. Most people can memorize all the rules via a chart in a couple of hours at most.

The reasoning behind card counting works like this—a deck of cards with a lot of tens and aces in it as compared to lower cards is more favorable toward the player. The reason for that isn’t hard to figure out. Blackjack players get paid 3 units to 2 for a natural, and you can only be dealt a natural if there are tens and aces in the deck.

You don’t have to memorize which cards have been played. You just use a point system to keep up with the ratio. When you see high cards come out of the deck, you subtract from your running total (called the “running count”), and when you see low cards come out of the deck, you add to your running total. The only difference between most card counting methods is how much you add or subtract for certain numbers.

How the Zen Count Works

In a balanced card counting system like the Zen Count, you’ll have an equal number of positive and negative points in a deck of cards. This ensures that if you’ve counted through the deck correctly, you’ll wind up with a total of 0 when you get to the end. The Red Seven count is an unbalanced system, but the Zen count is a balanced system.

In a single level counting system, you only add or subtract 1, based on which card you see. In a multi level counting system like the Zen Count, the amount you add or subtract depends on the rank of the card you see. The values assigned to the cards are listed below, from smallest to highest, in order of rank:

  1. 2s, 3s, and 7s = +1
  2. 4s, 5s, and 6s = +2
  3. 10s = -2
  4. Aces = -1
  5. All other cards are worth 0.

The Zen Count has some similarities to the Hi-Lo system, but it’s a little more complicated than Hi-Lo. They provide similar betting correlations, in fact, but the Zen Count provides a better estimate of changes to basic strategy, especially as it relates to whether or not to take insurance. (See for a comparison of the various systems along with the corresponding data about betting correlation, playing efficiency, and insurance correlation.

Betting correlation (BC) is an estimate of how accurate the count is in terms of sizing your bets. The Hi-Lo System has a BC of 0.97, which is the same as that of the Zen Count. Playing efficiency (PE) is an estimate of how accurately the count adjusts for deviations from basic strategy. The Hi-Lo System has a PE of 0.51, which is significantly lower than the Zen Count, which has a PE of 0.62. The insurance correlation (IC) estimates how well the system estimates decisions regarding insurance. The Hi-Lo count has an IC of 0.76, but the Zen Count has a 0.84.

Since playing strategy changes are more important in single deck and two deck games, the Zen Count is especially effective in those types of games.

Sizing Your Bets with the Zen Count System

The first step in deciding how to size your bets using the Zen Count System is to convert the running count into a true count. This conversion takes into account how many decks are in play. When you have multiple decks, the effect of any one change in that deck’s composition is less pronounced than when you’re playing with a single deck.

The calculation is simple enough if you’re good at division, but you also have to be able to estimate how many decks are left in the shoe. You divide your running count by the number of decks in the shoe to determine the true count. Then you size your best based on the true count.

You wager only a single unit if the true count is 1 or less. For every point beyond that, you bet an amount equal to the true count. So if you have a count of +2, you’ll bet 2 units, and if you have a count of +3, you’ll bet 3 units, and so on.

For information about how to adjust your playing strategy, including when to take insurance using this count, see Snyder’s book, Blackbelt in Blackack.