Can you count a six-deck shoe?

In a famous scene from the 1988 Oscar-winning film ‘Rain Man’, an apparently-savvy casino security guard says, sagely, while watching main protagonist Charlie Babbit playing blackjack at Caesars Palace, ‘You know there’s no-one in the world that can count into a six-deck shoe.’ However, as anyone familiar with the ‘High-Low’ card counting strategy can testify, this statement is completely untrue.

When using High-Low, a card counter starts with a ‘running count’ of zero at the start of a shoe and adds to, or subtracts from, the running count as each card is revealed, according to the point value assigned to each rank. Aces, court cards and tens are assigned +1, twos, threes, fours, fives and sixes are assigned -1 and sevens, eights and nines are assigned 0. The next step is to divide the running count by the number of decks remaining or, at least, a rough approximation of the number of decks remaining, to establish the so-called ‘true count’. In other words, anyone capable of basic arithmetic is capable of counting a six-deck shoe, or an eighty-deck shoe for that matter.

It is understandable that Barry Levinson employed dramatic licence to make card counting the preserve of those, such as the autistic savant character Raymond ‘Rain Man’ Babbit, endowed with extraordinary mathematical skills, but the mundane fact is that, with practice, just about anyone can do it. Any casino security guard worth his salt would have known this, even in the late Eighties, but such a revelation would have ruined the plot.