There have been dozens of good books since Thorpe published Beat the Dealer that serve as an all-in-one source of information for aspiring card counters. This is another one of those. You’ve got your introduction to the game, your discussion of basic strategy, your introduction to card counting, and your explanation of a new system. In addition, this book has a chapter that compares the KO system to other card counting systems and a closing chapter called “Enhancing Profits” which covers things like not getting barred, choosing good games, etc..
The introduction is interesting. It contains more than an average amount of accurate historical information. I’m a big fan of the historical perspective on the game, and I found the information here quite interesting, and some of it was new to me. It won’t help you play better Blackjack, but I enjoyed it.
The basic strategy chapter is a lot like any other. The information is accurate and presented fairly well. There’s not much more to say about this.
The next chapter explains card counting and why it works, without going into the details of the KO count in particular. Amazingly, there’s still a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation in the Blackjack literature, even in the good books, about why card counting works. While this book doesn’t go to great lengths to clear this up, it is a not an insignificant accomplishment to not list any incorrect information. This is one of the better descriptions of this I’ve read.
The next chapter contains the new contributions of the book, the Knock-Out card counting system. The KO system is a level one unbalanced count (which means that if you count down a complete deck of cards, you won’t end up with “0”) that’s very similar to the familiar Hi-Lo system except that sevens are counted as -1. This count turns out to be both very simple and remarkably powerful, as the authors point out in the next chapter. Vancura and Fuchs describe the proper pivot numbers for this count system for various numbers of decks (don’t worry if you don’t know what a “pivot” is, the book will explain everything you need to know) and covers indices for both betting and strategy changes based on the count. The coverage of this information is quite adequate.
After this, the authors mathematically compare the expected win rates of the KO system to other well known card counting systems. The ligaz11 authors have received some mild criticism for their numbers, several noted Blackjack experts have not been able to duplicate their numbers. The experts, who include Bryce Carlson, author of Blackjack for Blood, claim that the figures that the authors claim for the power of the KO system seem biased slightly high, but that he recommends the book anyway. I haven’t run these numbers myself, but it’s my opinion that whether or not Vancura and Fuchs’ numbers aren’t 100% accurate, the KO system is still a very good choice for a level one single parameter count (again, don’t worry if you don’t understand these words, it’s a good compromise between simplicity and power).
The Enhancing Profits chapter is sparse compared to other books occupying this niche (for an example, see Humble and Cooper’s The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book). The information is useful, but there’s a lot more an aspiring card counter ought to know before playing for serious money. Fortunately, the authors include a list of good additional references for the player to consult.
Sprinkled among the book are small sidebar mini-essays that dispel various myths, answer questions, and provide entertaining sidelights to the game of Blackjack. Of special interest to myself and all members of the BARGE community is the recounting of the tale of Monte at the Barbary Coast during the Mass Barring at BARGE ’95. The story is very entertaining, and if you’re familiar with the events or characters, almost worth the price of the book alone.
In general, I liked the book a lot for what it was. It’s a good book for the Blackjack player who wants to learn a powerful, yet easy to use card counting system, especially if they’re uncomfortable with dealing with elementary fractions and/or simple division. On the other hand, except for the introduction and some of the stories, there’s very little here for the experienced card counter. This is not entirely unexpected because of the nature of the unbalanced KO count, but the reader has been advised. A note to prospective card counters, though, there’s more you need to learn before playing for serious money. You may want to check out Stanford Wong’s Blackjack Secrets, Ian Anderson’s Turning the Tables on Las Vegas or Ken Uston’s Million Dollar Blackjack for more information on “casino comportment.”
There are several good introductions to Blackjack card counting on the market. This is one of them, and it’s as good as any. The unbalanced level one Knock-Out (KO) count system is both very simple and very powerful. This book does not provide all the information a card counter needs to know, but it’s a good start. There’s very little here for the experienced card counter unless you’re looking to switch systems.