Introductory Guide to Card Counting
Card counting is easily the best known but least understood gambling strategy. You can thank popular films like Rain Man, 21, and The Last Casino for making blackjack card counting a household name. Although it’s fairly easy to learn how to count cards, you’ll quickly discover that this strategy has limitations. While card counting can reduce or eliminate the house edge it isn’t fool proof. Perhaps of greater concern, casinos do their best to deter players from counting cards. Still it’s worth taking the time to understand how card counting works whether you plan on using it or not. Keep reading as we spell out everything you need to know.
The Roots of Card Counting
Card counting first gained international attention in 1962 when a mathematician by the name of Edward O. Thorp released the book Beat the Dealer. Even though this book is beyond out of date, it popularized the whole idea of card counting. As players started putting this primitive system into action, casinos devised methods to curb card counting, including changing the way cards are dealt and shuffled. At the same time, gamblers have devised new card counting strategies. In many ways, the cat and mouse blackjack game continues to this day.
Contrary to popular belief, card counting doesn’t require a photographic memory. Instead, it utilises a simple formula that helps you gauge the ratio of low and high cards remaining in the deck. With this valuable information at your disposal, you can adjust your bets accordingly.
Getting Started with Card Counting
Before you can even begin to think about counting cards, you need to do two things. First, you must fully understand the rules of blackjack. If you haven’t learnt the basics yet, card counting will be beyond your level of comprehension. Second, you’ll want to master blackjack strategy. This is easier than it sounds since all you have to do is refer to a chart that will tell you whether to hit, stand, double down, or split in every situation. When you play according to optimal blackjack strategy, you’ll be able to keep the house edge to a minimum even before you think about counting cards. Fortunately, we’ve created a separate blackjack strategy and game guide that covers both of these topics.
Although there are many different ways to count cards, this guide will teach you how to use the hi-lo card counting system, which is by far the most common. You’ll also see how easy it is to learn.
Assigning Values to the Cards
The first step in card counting is to assign values to every card.
- Cards between 2 and 6 are assigned a value of 1.
- 7, 8, and 9 are worth 0.
- 10, jack, queen, king, and ace are valued at -1.
If you’re wondering why seemingly coveted high cards are assigned a negative value and low cards are given a positive value, the answer is fairly simple. The running count, which we will discuss next, reveals the quality of the unseen cards in the deck. The cards you count are no longer in the deck, which means every time you see an ace or face card the deck becomes less favourable and your advantage as a player is reduced.
Keeping a Running Count
As the croupier deals cards, you’ll need to start keeping score. You’ll want to keep tabs on not only the cards you and the dealer receive, but also the cards of other players at your table. You might find that it takes you some time to get up to speed, but many of the cards will cancel each other out. For example, if you land a 6 and ace then the value is 0. If the dealer ends up with a king, eight, and 5, the value would be 0. If your tablemate lands a king, 6, 4, the total would be 1. The running count is nothing more than the running count of all the cards you see.
Calculating the True Count
Have you ever wondered why casinos use multiple decks of cards? You can thank card counters for that. Casinos are in the business of making money and the last thing they want is for card counters to eat into their profits. Fortunately, card counters aren’t down for the count. There’s a simple method you can use to overcome the barriers casinos have put up to derail card counting. Just calculate the true count by dividing the running count by the number of decks remaining.
For example, if your running count is -6 and there are 3 decks remaining, the true count would be -2. As the true count rises, your advantage as a player rises as well. Likewise, negative true counts put you at a relative disadvantage.
Placing Your Bets
Once you know the true count, all you have to do is raise your bets as the number rises and reduce your bets as it falls. Think of it this way. The true count reveals the relative house edge. At zero, the house has its standard advantage. When the number is negative, the house has a larger edge. When the house edge is positive, you have the advantage.
Unlike most betting systems that are advertised online, card counting can give you a statistical edge when playing blackjack.
How To Count Cards
1 Make sure you play blackjack using the optimal strategy.
2 Assign a value to each card you see.
3 Maintain a running count of the totals.
4 Divide the running count by the number of decks remaining to get the true count.
5 Raise your bets as the true count rises and lower your bets as it falls.
Card Counting Tips
- Card counting is perfectly legal but casinos will do their best to stop you from using this strategy.
- Always act natural and try to be as inconspicuous as possible when counting cards.
- It’s important to master the rules of blackjack as well as optimal strategy before attempting to count cards.
- Even though card counting can reduce or eliminate the house edge it isn’t fool proof.
- You will need to place some bets even when the casino has the advantage, otherwise you run the risk of exposing yourself as a card counter.
- It’s impossible to count cards when you play blackjack on the internet.
Frequently Asked Questions About Blackjack Card Counting
How does card counting work?
Card counting is a blackjack strategy used by players to reduce the house edge. As the name suggests, players count or keep a running total of all the high and low cards that have been dealt. Although there a few different card counting systems, players generally assign a positive, negative, or zero value to every card seen and use this running total to gauge the relative house advantage. When armed with this information, you can adjust your bets accordingly.
How is it illegal to count cards?
Despite what you have heard, card counting is not illegal in the United Kingdom, USA, and many other countries. At the same time, casinos don’t appreciate it when players use this game strategy. Casinos may try to ban players who count cards conspicuously.
How do I count cards?
To count cards, you’ll need to assign a value to each card and maintain a running total as cards are dealt. When you have this information, you’ll be able to calculate the true count by dividing this figure by the number of decks remaining. You’ll want to raise your bet as the true count rises and reduce it as the true count decreases. It’s also a good idea to modify your behavior so the casino doesn’t spot you counting cards.
Can I count cards at an online casino?
While you can try counting cards at an online casino, you probably won’t have much success. Most internet gambling sites shuffle the deck after each hand. When playing live dealer games, you’ll find that the decks are shuffled frequently. When you can’t count deep enough into the shoe, your efforts will be a waste of time.