Blackjack Card Counting

Players are known to get creative in their quest to beat the odds and win in the game of blackjack. Who wouldn’t take the extra mile in preparations if it will result in instant wins and a life-changing jackpot, right? Today, players rely on some tested and creative strategies to beat the odds and become successful when it comes to playing blackjack.

And one popular approach used by experienced players is card counting. Primarily used in the game of blackjack, card counting is a strategy to mathematically estimate if the next hand will favour the player or the casino dealer. Players who use the strategy are called card counters, and their main job is to count and keep a running tally of the low and high-value cards that are seen by players to reduce the house edge.

Through the process of card counting, players can minimise their losses if the count is unfavourable, or take advantage of the situation if they think that the count is in their favour. The movie ‘21’ that starred Kevin Spacey is one great example of card counting in action.

Breaking Down the Top Card Counting Myths

Today, card counting is one of the most popular strategies used by blackjack players. There are some resources online that help and guide players when it comes to counting the cards and executing the plays. However, there are still prevailing myths about the strategy.

And because of these misconceptions about the strategy, many players tend to affect the play of many players. As an informed player who wants to maximize his results, you should know all these myths and discover what’s true about them.

Myth 1: It’s illegal to count cards

Card counting is basically a mental activity. Thus card counting is never illegal.

Myth 2: You should have a sharp mind and memory to count cards

Yes, you need to keep track of the cards that have been dealt with in the game. But it does not mean that you need to memorise all of them to keep track of the trends. What card counters do is to assign a tag to certain cards, like a -1 or +1, and they will simply add or subtract as certain cards are dealt with to the players. In short, card counting requires an understanding of basic arithmetic and some record-keeping skills as well.

Myth 2: You should be highly skilled and knowledgeable in Mathematics

If you watched ‘21’, you will be forgiven for saying that card counting is only reserved for the number crunchers, like the ones who study at the MIT. While there’s an element of math in card counting, it doesn’t mean that you should be an expert in the subject. As long as you are functionally literate, then card counting can also work for you.

Myth 3: You need to have a large bankroll if you want to take card counting seriously

Card counters can work for all types of players with different bankrolls and budget. If you have a minimal bankroll, you simply bet appropriately. What’s important is that you can manage your bankroll so that you can play for a longer period.

Myth 4: You will need to study card counting for a long period for it to work

Yes, understanding card counting takes some time and commitment before you can finally realize its benefits, but it will not take a lifetime. There are some new systems now available that is easy to use and master which can only take a few hours to master.

Myth 5: Casino supervisors and managers will kick you out if you are caught counting cards

There was a time when casinos were strict on card counters, and they were even rounded up. This kind of move is understandable because casino operators would like to protect their business interests. But today, this kind of move from the casinos is no longer feared thanks primarily to smart players who solicited the help of expert lawyers.

With these recent setbacks, casinos are now careful when it comes to treating players who are perceived to be using card counting as a strategy. In extreme cases, casinos may ask the player to leave the table or even leave the casino.

This is a risk that every player should take when they want to practice card counting. Casino operators are still running a business, and they want to protect their interests.

Myth 6: If you count cards, you will end up the winner every time

In popular culture, card counters are painted as highly successful individuals who wins every time. These are just in movies and books, and it’s almost impossible to replicate this in real life. What is true is that card counters will hold a minimal edge over the casino, but it does not mean that the casino that they will win every time.

Myth 7: Card counting is difficult if the casinos will use six or eight decks of cards

The number of decks used will not have an impact on the card counting strategy. As long as the player is equipped with the skills and he can track the plus and minus values, then it’s easier for him to count the cards.

Why should you pay attention to card counting as a strategy? Well, if you are serious about the game, then you should strongly consider this strategy.

As a form of review, you need to remember a few points about card counting:

  • There are some myths and misconceptions about card counting, and it’s best that you are aware of these
  • Card counting is a tested strategy and one that’s allowed in any gaming environment
  • ‘Card counting can work for all types of players with different bankrolls, and it can also work for players who have a functional knowledge of math
  • While card counting gives players an edge, it doesn’t mean that players will win every time they play

Some casinos may frown over card counters so it’s one risk that players should be willing to take

What is the Effect in Removing a Card?

One way to understand card counting is to use a fishbowl with marbles as an example. Say you have a fishbowl with 100 black balls and 100 black balls. Now, you can configure the amount of bet that you want, and you will randomly pick a ball from the fish ball.

Let’s say that you set your wager and you are ready to pick the first card. So you close your eyes and put your hand inside the bowl and pick one. What are the odds that you will get a black ball? Of course, you have a 50-50 per cent chance of getting a black one since the fishbowl has the same number of white and black balls.

Say you picked a black ball on your first try, and you want to test it for the second time. You place a bet again hoping that you can grow your winnings. If you make that pick, what do you think are the odds of getting another black ball? So you say that you have a 50-50 odds knowing that there’s an equal number of white and black balls?

If you think that you have the same odds of picking the black ball, then you are wrong. Remember that on the first pick, you already got a black ball, thus reducing its number to 99 compared to 100 to white balls.

In short, in your second pick, there’s a slightly better (although very negligible) chance of getting a white compared to black. Now, this is the same theory that governs the game of blackjack.

Removing Cards in the Game of Blackjack

Suppose you participate in a game of single-deck blackjack with two more players, and during the first round, all four Aces have been played on the table. What do you think is your chance of getting a blackjack in the second round? How much are you willing to bet?

Since all four Aces have been picked up in the first round, then your chance of earning a blackjack in the second round is equal to 0. And if you are a smart player, then you will only bet the minimum amount in the second round. Now, if there are no Aces picked and played during the first round, then it’s logical that you bet a bigger amount in the second round.

What this means is that the odds that you will face in blackjack are not similar in every round. The odds will change depending on the cards that are drawn and played in the previous rounds. To summarise, you need to pay attention to the following things that are related to card counting:

  • Blackjack as a card game is a dependent-trial process card game.
  • The removal of low-value cards, from 2 to 6, can have a positive impact on the player’s expectations.
  • The removal of high-value cards, like 10s and the Aces will have a negative impact on the player’s expectations.
  • The removal of some cards will have a greater effect on one’s expectations than the removal of others.

For the card counting strategy to be effective, it’s important that it will reflect the various strengths of the cards as they are drawn away from the deck.

Card Counting as Used in Blackjack

As mentioned, the removal of certain cards from the deck will have an impact on the player’s expectations. For example, cards from 2 through to 6 will have a positive effect, and the face cards will have a negative effect on the players’ expectations.

As a player, it’s important that you know why the removal of small cards will be favourable, and why large cards were taken from the deck is considered unfavourable. By keeping in mind the basic strategies in blackjack and the house rules set by the casino, you can establish the following conclusions:

  • Blackjack payoffs will benefit the players. If the deck still features a few high-value cards, then there’s a big chance that you can collect a blackjack which is advantageous on your part. Even if the player and the dealer has the same chance of hitting the jackpot, the player still has the edge since his blackjack is paid with a bonus pay off of 3 to 2 while the dealer’s blackjack is only paid even odds, say 1-1.
  • When you decide to double down, you are hoping for a large card. If you double down on a hard 9 through 11 using the basic strategy, you hope that you will get a large card. Also, a double down often happens if the up-card of the dealer is weak. This means that the dealer has a higher chance of busting with his weak up-card, and larger cards are remaining in the deck.
  • Splitting is recommended if the deck still features some large cards. Splitting is most favourable to the player if the deck still contains some large cards like 10s and Aces. This is true if you are planning to split Aces, 7s, 8s, and 9s.
  • Playing the insurance bet can be beneficial for the player. Using the standard strategies, the insurance is not a recommended bet, and this should not be made. But if you know the composition of the remaining cards, then this type of bet can work in your favour. A bet on the insurance is extra beneficial if you think that the deck still contains 10s.
  • Casino rules say that the dealer will hit on 16 or less and stand on 17 to 21. If the deck still features large cards, the dealer has a higher chance of busting when drawing hand values from 12 to 16.

These are just some of the reasons why the presence of small cards will benefit the dealer, and larger cards will benefit the players.

How Card Counting Works

To understand card counting, it’s important that you also know its core principle. After the shuffling of the cards, you can expect that the deck of cards will have an equal number of large and small cards. As soon as the play starts, the composition of the deck will change.

Now, if you can track the removal of small and large cards, you will have an idea as to what dominates the deck. If the deck is filled with large cards, the player who uses card counting will have the edge, and he can bet more.

If the deck is dominated by small cards, the card counter is at a disadvantage, and he needs to bet small. In short, card counting has been designed to help players see if they have the edge in a certain round when playing blackjack.

There are some systems available today, but the first one requires the use of tags for each card. One popular system is called the Hi-Lo, and it assigns the following:

  • A tag of a value of +1 is assigned to every 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 ranked small cards. This indicates that the removal of each card from the deck will have a positive influence on the players’ expectations.
  • Using this principle, the large or high-value cards like the 10s and Aces are given a value of -1 since the removal of these cards will not help the player.
  • Since the removal of 7s to 9s will have a lesser effect on expectation compared to other cards, the value assigned to these cards is 0.

After assigning different values to cards, the counters will then add the values to come up with an arithmetic sum or known in the casino circles as the running count. The running count in the first round will be carried over to the next round while taking note of the status of the count at the end of each round. What does it mean if after the first round the running count is positive?

To get a positive number, it only means that the small cards have been played more than the large cards. This only means that the undealt cards will feature more large cards compared to small cards.

Here’s a summary of the most important points as discussed:

  • If the running count is positive, it means that the deck of unused cards is still dominated by large cards, giving you the advantage.
  • If the running count is negative, it means that the deck of unused cards are dominated by small cards which will put players at a disadvantage.
  • If the running count is 0, it only means that the deck has an equal number of small and large

Through the use of card counting technique, card counters will have an idea as to the ratio of small cards to large ones on the next round.

Counters do not necessarily memorise all the cards that are dealt in the game. What they do instead is to add a value of +1 or a -1 to reflect its effect on the player’s expectations. With the running count in mind, card counters and experienced players can vary their bets on their next hand. Here are examples of how players will configure their bets based on the running total:

  • If the running count is positive, players will increase their bet size.
  • They will decrease their bets on the next hand if the running count is negative.

If you pay attention to the strategy, you will discover that the card counters will lose more hands in the process, but they will win more than they lose in the long haul. The reason for this is that they usually have more bet on the hands when they win compared to the money they bet when losing.

Although the dealer will also have the same chance of getting the big cards from the deck, the advantage of players is that they can do a lot of things on the table, like to split or double down, and they are also paid 3 to 2 on a blackjack. All these things will help the player get the advantage when playing blackjack.

Card Counting Systems You Should Know

Some card counting systems are available online, and each type comes with varying complexities. One of the most popular version is the Hi-Lo which allows players to assign a value for the cards, a +1 for small cards and a -1 for large cards.

Now, the use of this approach to card counting has its limitations because it fails to capture the changes in value accurately. For example, the removal of small cards from 2 to 6 will have different effects on the deck.

For example, the removal of the 5 will have a great effect of removal than the 2. This is the reason why some card counting systems available today attempt to become more precise when it comes to assigning values.

For other players, what they will do is to assign a value of +2 to reflect that the card has a greater effect of removal and a +1 to the other small card with a smaller effect. You will also find card counting systems that assign a value of +3 or -3.

All these will work for the experienced players who want to master the art of card counting. But for beginners like you, it’s best to start with the Level 1 or the Hi-Lo system because it’s simple.

In summary, you should be able to pay attention to the salient features of the card counting systems. Here are some important features and points regarding this strategy:

  • In card counting, a player will arithmetically assign tags or values to the cards based on their effect of card removal.
  • The removal of small cards from the deck is beneficial for the player, so these cards are given positive values.
  • The removal of large cards from the deck will be disadvantageous to the players, so these cards are given negative values.
  • Players will mentally add the values after each round to come up with a running total after each round.
  • The running count for the first round will be carried over to the next round.
  • When the running count is already positive, this is an indication that he has the edge and he may increase his bet for the next round.
  • When the running total is negative, this will be seen as an unfavourable situation for the player. Thus he will bet small on the next round.
  • A positive count is helpful for the players because they will get a higher chance of earning blackjacks, and they will be more successful if they decide to split or double down.
  • A popular version of the card counting system is the Hi-Lo system that requires the assignment of +1 or -1 to cards that are dealt on the table.
  • The Level 2 of the card counting system assigns a value of +2 and -2.
  • Level 3 of the card counting system assigns a value of +3 and -3, and this is considered to be more complex and reserved for the experienced players.

Basics of the Hi-Lo Card Counting System

It was Harvey Dubner who first discussed the Hi-Lo system extensively in 1963. While there were other systems in place including the one popularised by Dr Edward Thorp, the system introduced by Dubner was less complicated and easier to understand. Thanks to its simplicity, the Hi-Lo system has been used by more blackjack players for a long period and it’s still popular until this day.

Tags used in Hi-Lo

As mentioned, you will need to assign the values +1, -1 or 0 to the cards as they are dealt with in the table. The low cards will be assigned the value of +1, and the high cards like 10s will be given -1. The neutral value of 0 is given to 7 to 9.

If you want to master the art of this card counting, then you should know how to recognize the value of each card easily. You need to practice a lot so that it will be easier for you to assign values as it comes out of the deck.

As a form of practice, you can take a deck of shuffled cards and take it one at a time, assigning a value every step of the way. As each card is dealt, you should be able to assign a value to it. Keep doing this process until it becomes natural for you to assign values.

Once you have mastered the art of assigning values, the next step that you should do is to come up with a running total.

Suppose that the cards dealt are the following: 2, 6, 8, 3, A and J. Using the basics of card counting, you should have assigned the following tags: +1, +1, 0, +1, -1 and -1.

Using this series, the running total should be: +1, +2, +2, +3, +2 and +1. This means that at the end of this round, the running count is at +1.

Of course, in an actual game, you the series will be longer. But when it comes to the process of card counting, you can start by counting a few cards at a time until such point that you are comfortable with the process.

The idea here is to practice before you attempt to use the strategy at the table. When you practice the art of card counting, you should be able to focus on accuracy and speed. Your accuracy and speed can help you master not just the art of counting, but it will give you the right information on the table when you need it the most.

Another type of drill that you should be familiar with is the ‘card cancellation drill’. To do this, you need to take a deck of cards and turn over two cards at the same time. If the first card is low (+1) and the second card is high (-1), it only means that they will only cancel each other out, thus leaving no impact on your running count. This means that if you can cancel each other out, counting will become much easier for you.

What if on the next pair you get values of -2 and +4? Or perhaps a +2 and -4? What will be the running total for each pair? If you have the first scenario, the cancellation will result in a value of +2 and the second one will result in a -2.

These examples may seem difficult and complicated, but when you practice this a lot, then you can easily cancel some cards thus allowing you to make a running total in a fast and easier way.

Here’s How to Use Card Counting in a Single Deck and Double Deck Games

So how do you apply card counting when playing the game of blackjack? For this guide, we will be focusing on the single deck game. Varying your bets in this game is easy, but the challenge for players is finding a beatable single-deck game. There are two reasons why these tables are often unbeatable:

  • Most of these tables will only offer 6-5 for the blackjack.
  • Players are often given up to three rounds before the dealer will shuffle the deck once again.

As much as possible, you should try to skip the tables that pay 6-5. There are still some casinos that offer 3-2 for blackjack, and the challenge is simply finding where you can play.

The next problem that you should also consider is the amount of reshuffle involved. In most casinos, the dealer follows Rule 6. In the Rule of 6, a reshuffle will be ordered if the number of players and number of rounds equal to six.

  • If the table features four players, using the Rule of 6, the dealer will shuffle the cards after two rounds. If there are five players, it only means that the dealer will immediately shuffle the cards after one round. The point here is that in most single-deck games, you will not be able to play many rounds because the dealer is instructed to shuffle the deck after some time.
  • There are some casinos that also use a variation of this rule, the Rule of 7 and the Rule of 5. The Rule of 7 is a bit better as it gives you more chances of playing some rounds, while the Rule of 5 is the worst.

Suppose you have found a ‘beatable table’, and you are assured to play at least three rounds before a shuffle can be ordered. How will you plan out your bets?

Let’s use this example with the following running count: +1 or lower, +2, +3 and +4 or more. The units are 1, 2, 3 and 4.

This example above illustrates a 1-4 betting spread where the minimum bet that you can make is 1 unit for the running count of +1 or lower, and as your count increases, you will increase the bet by 1 unit.

Now, the more positive the running count, the better your advantage, thus you will need to bet more. You can also configure this bet if you want to wager more, using a betting spread of $10 to $40, or even $100 to $400.

You should be careful when placing your bets. Pushing your bet from $10 to $40 from one hand to the next when $25 has been lost before is not a good move and one that is not practised by many experienced players.

In practice, experienced players will only increase their bets after winning the hand. Even though the running count is now at +4, sometimes it’s best to be cautious when increasing the bets so that you will play under the radar and the casino will not be questioning or observing you. The most important thing here is to bet more when you have the advantage and bet less if you don’t enjoy the advantage.

What you can do in double-deck games

If you are playing in a double-deck game, we suggest that you go for the 1-6 betting spread. This is a slightly larger spread because the casino will feature a slight edge and compensate for that, players also need to spread their bets.

Again, you should be cautious when playing the strategy in the double-deck games. You don’t need to make big jumps regarding bets so that you will not attract the attention of the dealer or casino supervisors who are wary against card counters.

After covering the basic rules of betting in single and double-deck games, you need to pay attention to the following salient points:

  • Players need to choose the tables where they want to play, especially the ones that offer a 3-2 payoff for a blackjack.
  • You need to vary your bets based on the running count.
  • The running count should be varied in single and double-deck games.
  • You need to bet more if the running count increases and reduce the bet if it decreases.
  • You can use a 1-4 betting spread if you are playing in single-deck games.
  • In the double-deck games, you need to use a 1-6 betting spread.
  • It’s best to bet cautiously and avoid making large jumps in bets to avoid being observed or questioned by the casino supervisors.

A Few Words About True Count

For experienced players who want to be precise in their card counting and their bets, what they do is to calculate for the true count. Here’s a general formula that you can use to compute for the True Count:

Running count / remaining cards on the deck = True Count

If you have a running count of +6 and there are3 more cards on the deck, then the TC is +2. So how will you know the remaining card on the deck? You don’t need to check the deck held by the dealer physically. What you need to do is to check out the discard tray which is often placed to the right of the dealer. You can simply take a look at the tray to estimate the remaining cards on the deck.

Once you have an estimate of the true count, you can now use this to configure your bet, or if you need to move away from your playing strategy. After completing the bet and played the hand, you need to go back to the running count which should be updated at all times.

Remember, you only need to make the conversion to TC in a matter of seconds before the start of the round to determine the exact bet. There will be times when the TC will have decimal points. If this is the case, simply round it off.

Takeaway Points
  • Card counting is one of the top strategies used by experienced players today.
  • Although there are some resources about card counting, still there are some myths surrounding the strategy.
  • Blackjack is a dependent-trial process game.
  • The removal of certain cards from the deck will have a positive or negative effect on the player’s
  • In card counting, a tag of +1 is assigned to low-value cards, and -1 for large value cards. Cards from 7 to 9 will get a tag 0.