System Review
Winning Blackjack Without Counting Cards

by David S. Popik


This is a relatively short review, for an equally short (and therefore questionably useful) book on the subject of winning Blackjack. Because this book touts its method as a non-counting "winning system", it seems beyond being a "mere" (or routine) Blackjack book. Therefore, I put the review in THIS section of the website, instead of under the book review section.

On the cover is this amazing claim: "This book studies an area of Blackjack never before examined. The final results [sic] prove how the Player can actually gain a percentage over the house with NO card-counting". One wonders what it is that has never been examined before; Basic Strategy or Progression Betting Systems?

When I ran across this book 2 years ago, I naievely hoped that because it was a reprint, it might ALSO be a revisal as well. You know what the word ASSUME means, don't you? Like virtually all books which employ a title along the lines of "...winning without counting", this book is no different than the rest. However to Popik's credit he does not advocate the idea of cheating as a "without-counting" technique, as Standford Wong did in his "without-counting" book. (And, no, Wong was not kidding, as his supporters would have you believe.)

To set the stage for our acceptance of the material in this book, we are seduced by the self-description of his interest in mathematics, along with his (in my mind unnecessary) use of various statistical terms, that sound impressive but offer little value in the text, other than to impress us.

               In summary, Popik's book is an embodiment of the following formula:

			Success = B.S. + M.M.

	Where:  B.S. = Basic Strategy and M.M. = Money Management.

It is well known that Basic Strategy alone, coupled with ONLY a betting system that is not influenced by tracking the cards played cannot, overall, result in consistent winning. I will have more to say about this later in this review.

In Chapter 3 ("Card Counting") the author demonstrates that he doesn't REALLY understand card-counting. First he calls counting an "art", when in fact it is a science. He then states that a well-versed non-counter (one assumes he means someone using HIS method), can actually outdo a card-counter, except that he ALSO admits that card-counting is more effective in single deck games, than non-counting methods. Are you confused? So am I.

We CAN rationalize his apparent contradictions if we assume that he is referring ONLY to the Atlantic City game. Unfortunately, the book does not make such a qualification, as we might find in a book such as Playing Blackjack in Atlantic City (by Chambliss and Roginski).

Even if he IS discussing Atlantic City play only, Chapter 4 of Popik's book is riddled with errors, by making statements about ALL Atlantic City Blackjack games; statements that were assumptions even then. It is assumed that ALL Atlantic City games are 8-Deck, for example; ignoring the fact that 6-deck (and even 4-deck) games are available, and WERE available at the time this book was written.

The author's confusion about the game is best expressed on Pp. 31-32, wherein he says: "The dealer must follow very restrictive rules as to how his hand is played. He must hit totals of up to 16 and stand on totals of 17 (soft or hard) and over. He draws no additional cards if his point count will have no effect on the outcome of the round of play."

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? Even if the dealer WERE to draw to a hard-18,19 or 20, it WOULD have an effect on the outcome play; just as hitting a hard-16 will have an effect. Additionally, I assume that by use of the phrase "point count", Popik means card total.

It is clear that Popik's Blackjack experience (all 18 months worth at the time the book was written) was limited to Alantic City play ONLY (and yet not all the available casinos there), prefaced with some informal Blackjack play during his stint in the Army Air Corp. Back in 1941.

Chapter 5 (The Basic Strategy) is a well-meaning, yet mis-guided attempt to simplify one's understanding of Basic Strategy. Unfortunately, it does just the opposite. Based on the strategy chart on P.38, one MUST conclude that the ONLY time you hit a hand of 12 thru 16 against a dealer upcard of 7 thru Ace, is when you have three or more cards in your hand. When I asked begining players about their understanding of this chart, this is what they concluded. David redeems himself at the end of the chapter (p. 44) with a condensed version of Basic Strategey, to make things easier to assimilate; except that was the PURPOSE of the chart on P. 38.

Popik's writeup on Basic Strategy is little more than warmed over material from the past (although he earlier criticizes other books for being JUST THAT). While David goes to cosiderable trouble elsewhere in the book to describe how he arrives at his conclusions, here, we are simply HANDED his version of Basic Strategy. Is it based on guess work or a few hundred hands of play? If computer simulations WERE involved, it is a likely assumption that the shuffle algorithm used simulated a "Random shuffle", and not a realistic simulation of actual procedures used in Atlantic City, or anywhere else for that matter.

Lastly, regarding his presentation of Basic Strategy (which we are told is THE way to play the cards if you do not count), David tells us to NEVER hit a 12 against a 2. He backs himself up with data in the Appendix (Pp. 101-102), but doesn't tell us anything about this data: where he got it, or how it was arrived at. Against today's non-random cards (an issue he never acknowledges or addresses) hitting virtually all hands against a dealer's 2 is smart play. The Basic Strategy II method bears this out. Unfortunately, to prove his point, Popik recommends (Ch. 7, P. 51) that we hand deal 500 rounds and track the win/loss rate. 500 rounds is HARDLY a large enough sample to draw any serious conclusions from.

The writeup in Chapter 6 (Insurance Anyone?) is well done, if you ASSUME a non-counting player. Otherwise, the statement "The examples herein described will show that taking insurance is always a bad bet, no matter what hand you may hold" is dangerously inaccurate. Also, I question the NEED for a separate chapter on insurance, when the material is a virtual repeat of the last section of Chapter 5 (on Basic Strategy). It feels to me more like an attempt to "pad" the book, than to present us any useful and/or new information.

In my opinion, Chapter 8 (Averages and Probabilities) and Chapter 11 (Tossing Coins) are unnecessary fluff and completely out of place, other than to make the book SEEM more impressive and serve as a setup for Chapter 12, the beginning of the "Miracle System" soon to come in the book.

Chapter 12 (The Win-Loss Group System) is where it all happens. To introduce this [sic] "miracle" system, David extends the coin toss discussion into the game of Blackjack, treating us to such profundities as the idea that being paid 3:2 on natural hands (i.e. Blackjacks), along with the double/split options of the game, improve our advantage by a WHOPPING 9 percent (over NOT allowing these features).

In checking the player advantage against the rules-settings screen with Boris's Blackjack Simulation Software, we find a total difference of 3.01%. This is arrived at by adding the percentage gained by ALL doubling features (except doubling on 3+ cards) which is 1.79%, to the 2.03% advantage we enjoy by being paid 3:2 on Blackjacks, and finally adding the split advantage of 0.19%. How David arrives at 9%, is beyond the reach of THIS brain.

Later in the chapter (p.75), Popik installs a footnote reminding us: "These figures take into consideration the house's edge, and assumes that the player is playing perfect strategy." Unfortunately, David fails to define what would constitute such a strategy.

In similar vain, one of the most amazing statements in the book appears on P. 76: "As a result, with the 9 percent average gain added to the winning hands, each increase of one unit to a bet placed after three consequetive losses, plus the same increase after the first winning hand (after a loss), will result in an overall gain of about .5 percent. This statement (along with the 9% assumption) is important. It sets the stage for his progression method (divulged in the next chapter).

In chapter 13 (Basic Betting Progressions), after nearly a half-hour struggling with the material on Pages 78 and 79 (the bullet items identifying the two aspects of this betting method were printed in reverse order), it became clear to me that this "magical betting system" hinges on the statistical probability that 4 consequtive occurances (of a win or loss) rarely happen. Popik's system seems to have been tuned to accomodate this particular fact.

After confusing us with a horribly written description of his betting progression system (on P.78), on P. 79 Popik condenses the formula, in effect saying "forget what I just described - it's too complex - we don't need it any more". His replacement, while consistent with what comes before it, is still poorly written and requires careful study and contemplation to really understand how it works.

However, for those readers who have survived to this point, fully understanding this betting method, we are rewarded the following promise: "Playing this betting progression and the recommended basic strategy will result in about a .5 percent gain for each unit wagered in addition to the lowest unit bet." He then details what this translates into. To make his promise easier to visualize, let's put it into a table.

Betting Spread Player Advantage

Popik ends this discussion by musing: "The obvious question now arises as to why we do not simply play a ratio of, say, 1 to 7, gain a 2 percent advantage, and let the averages 'average out'? This can well be done, but first we should examine a few facts". David then proceeds to explain why with a limited bankroll our spread should be no more than 1:2 or 1:3, and ONLY with larger bankrolls 1:4 and 1:5.

If this method is so powerful, why the cautious approach? Also, how a 1:7 spread equates to a 2% advantage (when by his own forumla, it should result in a 2.5% advantage) is lost on this reviewer.

Next, Figure 7 (which lists the above data in column format) is riddled with inconsistencies. For example, a "conservative" player with a $500 bankroll betting $5 units should never spread more than 1:2, yet the same player with a $1,000 bankroll betting $10 units is allowed a 1:3 spread.

If you are an "agressive" player, with that $500 bankroll you are permitted to utilize a 1:3 spread. Additionally, with a $1,000 bankroll you not only up the spread, but the unitsize as well - to $15 units; or stick with $10 units and adopt a 1:4 spread. This assumes the two factors have the same effect and are therefore interchangeable, yet no proof is offered to support this idea.

How the ability to risk more money translates into a guarantee that we can [sic] safely increase our betting spread (with the same unitsize/bankroll ratio) is never explained. Earlier in the book we are slowly groomed on the importance of using probability and statistics. Now we are being asked to make a dangerous leap of faith. This might be excuseable if Popik's betting progression method were viable.

Unfortunately, upon closer inspection, it is clear that the Popik Miracle System (PMS?) is subject to the ravages of back-and-forth (or "chop") games; also known as exchange win games, where you win a hand and the dealer wins a hand. Experience has shown us that exchange-win games are quite prevalent in today's non-random casino shuffles; although you will not encounter them as much with random shuffles. Comparison play using the Boris Software bears this out. There are more frequent and longer win/lose streaks with "random", shuffles than with non-random approaches. Hold on - Popik covered his tracks earlier in the book, in the previous (setup) chapter - or has he? Ironically, this setup information actually CONTRADICTS the validity of his betting method.

It is clear that this strategy looks for W-W-L or W-W-L-L sequences. In his setup material, Popik "proves" to us that Wins/Losses happen more often in PAIRS than they alternate back and forth. This may be the case with tossing coins, however comparing this to the play of Blackjack hands is not only incorrect, but disingenuous. This method proves once again, that if the house has a consistent advantage (and they do against Basic Strategy players), no betting system (in and of itself) will consistently overcome that advantage over the long-haul. How many of these betting systems must we endure, before we get that message?

Chapter 14 (Advanced Betting Pogressions) opens with good advice such as never raising "your starting bets or ratios [(spread)] in an attempt to recoup losses". Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there. David has conservative players raising their unitsize and/or betting spread after being ahead by a mere 15% to 20% of your buy-in; although agressive players should wait until they've won 20% to 25% of their buyin. Huh? Either way, the above advice is a setup for disaster. Because this betting method is STATISTICALLY UNSOUND, players will often find themselves blown out of the game after first encountering a short winning streak.

Because the Popik method is not based on tracking the cards played, but some mythical (and therefore statistically meaningless) win-lose theory, you are quietly being admonished to put your bankroll at greater risk after a short win. If you are going to use this method at all, I recommend not making a change in your unitsize or spread until you have won TWICE what is suggested by the book. Despite the qualifications on how to protect yourself in this chapter, giveback is quite likely and VERY possible.

To summarize this chapter we are promised that "the proper bets, combined with good basic strategy, form a winning combination". In my opinion "proper bets" are not consistently possible with this method, and, in today's game, Basic Strategy (as found in virtually all Blackjack books, including this one) is HARDLY the best way to play the hands in the 8-deck game - it wasn't when this book was written in 1984, and it is not today.

My Final thoughts about this method

As you can tell, I am considerably non-plussed with this "miracle method". I can't help but consider that Popik either has a hidden agenda in writing this book (lure us in with false promises, confuse and yet tease us with poor method descriptions, encouraging us to become more determined to "learn this system, no matter WHAT it costs", then hand us an ultimately losing system) or else David is incredibly naive. You tell me.

It is for this reason I rate the system so poorly. Even at $9.95, the price is outrageous. Then again, it is considerably less expensive than most Blackjack systems reviewed in this section. Be careful, however. It could be the most expensive "bargain" you will ever buy into.

Allow me to make one last point. While I severely question the efficacy of this system, I am nevertheless intrigueud by it. In the near future, I intend to "wire" this method into Boris' Blackjack Simulation Software. It will be interesting to see what the actual numbers REALLY are. At that time, I shall write an addendum to this review.


As it turns out, it was much easier to program the Popik betting progression into the Boris Software than I had imagined. I could spend considerable time/effort boring you with a myriad of statistical charts and such. However, there is no point in doing so. Instead, I will give you the bottom line: The Popik Progression Strategy in and of itself is a losing strategy.

After running several hundred thousand rounds of simulation, Boris reports this betting strategy alone yields a Betting Performance of -0.18%. Against "random" cards, the loss rate is not so severe (about -0.12%). Unfortunately, losing is still losing, no matter how little. As an interesting aside, ironically, when I couple the Popik Progression method with Boris' Basic Strategy II method, ironically, Popik's Progression method performace noticeably improves, to about 0.36%.

Admittedly the above figures mean that Popik's method results essentially in a break- even situation. However, for all the effort that is required to remember WHERE in the progression we are, we are no better oof than had we just flat-bet. In today's multi-deck games, because we know that Basic Strategy is a losing approach, adding a worthless betting strategy doesn't change anything. Again, when the house has a consisten advantage, no betting system alone will overcome that advantage; whether coupled with Basic Strategy or not.

All the hoopla on the cover about discovering an approach never before considered is a lot of baloney. While you may win a few units/dollars over the short haul, over all, this system is a waste of time. Add to that the price of the book, and you come out even further behind.

Back to the Reviews Page ----- Back to the Home Page

If you have questions or comments about the above reviews, e-mail me at: