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Uston Advanced Plus-Minus

Ken Uston was one of the more well-known blackjack players of all-time, as well as one of the game's more flamboyant personalities. He began playing as part of a cohesive blackjack "team" in the San Francisco area, and had so much success that he quit his job as a vice-president with the Pacific Stock Exchange to play blackjack full-time. He certainly got more publicity than anyone else, and much of it stemmed from the stories of his being barred from casinos.

Uston wrote several books. Perhaps the most well-received was "MIllion Dollar Blackjack," published in 1981 and immediately recognized as one of the premier texts on the game. It was a mammoth work, and included several different blackjack systems. One of them was something called the Uston Simple Plus-Minus, which was designed for average players to learn quickly and start playing the kind of game that could extract an edge over the casino.

It was clearly an entry-level blackjack system, but it served as a strong fundamental basis for learning and maintaining a card count with proficiency. Uston also had something that was an upgrade. It was called the Uston Advanced Plus-Minus, and it constituted a blackjack system that was a little more complicated, but much more effective when playing blackjack.

The card values for this blackjack system called for everything from 3 through 7 to be counted as +1, with all ten-value cards and Aces at -1, and 2's, 8's and 9's as neutral. This reflected Uston's research - that the value of the two to the player and the house was relatively equal, and that the seven was a card that was favorable to the player when removed. This made it different than some of the other one-level blackjack systems, which might have counted the two as +1 or left the seven as neutral (uncounted).

Though the foundation of the Advanced Plus-Minus system was indeed simple, players had to convert the running count over a true count, using half-decks as the conversion factor (in other words, divide the running count by the half-decks remaining).

Uston's recommendation was that players take on the Advanced Plus-Minus (which he termed a "professional-level" system) only after they had mastered the Simple Plus-Minus, and this was a good idea, because with the card values the same, the player could concentrate on being able to keep the running count first.

Another big distinction between the Simple and Advanced versions of this blackjack strategy was the fact that there were quite a few strategy variations to learn - in fact, 155 in all - and Uston's notion was for the player to learn these strategy decisions with the use of sets of flash cards - something that was rather revolutionary at the time.

The Uston Advanced Plus-Minus blackjack system has a playing efficiency rating of .55, which is not especially strong, with a betting efficiency of .95, which compares to other one-level counts such as the Wong High-Low and the Hi-Opt I. It certainly is not at the same level of power as the multi-level counts that are available, but it is easier to learn, particularly with respect to determining betting situations.

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