As long as blackjack has been part of the gambling world, players have constantly sought more ways to shift the odds in their favour. Of course, losing is part of the gambling experience, but boosting the player’s edge never hurts. And one way punters have tried to increase the player advantage is by using a card counting system.
Card counting is a kind of playing strategy that involves counting the number of cards left in the dealer’s shoe. While some casinos have banned card counting and introduced rules to thwart card counters, some players argue that learning how to count cards is still a useful skill to have.
This article will get to the bottom of this highly-talked-about technique and give you the full lowdown on count cards in blackjack.
CASINO CARD COUNTING
In blackjack games, the player’s advantage can generally be improved using the basic strategy; however, it is argued that skilled card counters can reduce the house edge even further.
To give a brief explanation, card counting, as we mentioned, is a method that involves counting the remaining cards in a deck in a blackjack game. By doing this, players can potentially predict whether the next card dealt is among the high-value cards or low-value cards.
WHERE DID CASINO COUNTING CARDS COME FROM?
The acclaimed card counting system was developed by the original card counter himself, Edward O. Thorp, who, today, is referred to as the ‘grandfather of card counting’.
Thorp published a book titled ‘Beat the Dealer’ in 1962, touching on several systems and techniques designed to enhance blackjack play. And although Thorp made multiple revelations, he also enabled most casinos to introduce countermeasures against his techniques. Today, Thorp’s card counting system is replaced by a point system developed by other players.
WHAT ARE THE CASINO CARDS COUNTED FOR?
The idea behind a card counting system is to guide players in identifying when the odds are mostly in their favour. And, when the opportunity arises, card counters must increase their bet size to maximise their win potential.
It is important to note that knowing the difference between high and low cards is crucial. Card values play a huge role in blackjack games in general, so it would be good to brush up on this before you play.
WHAT IS CARD COUNTING IN BLACKJACK?
Blackjack card counting is not a method that requires any memorisation. Instead, card counters assign a point value to all the cards dealt and track the card values to determine the ‘running count’.
We’d like to highlight that learning how to count cards may be extra profitable, especially in conjunction with the basic strategy. That said, losing is always a guarantee, as the house edge will always be present.
WHAT IS BLACKJACK RUNNING COUNT AND WHAT IS IT FOR?
The running count is used to analyse whether there are more low cards or high cards in the deck. Of course, high cards are much more beneficial than low cards as they increase the probability of earning a natural blackjack, splitting hands, or improving winnings when doubling down. They may also identify whether it is worth taking an Insurance bet.
HOW TO COUNT CARDS IN BLACKJACK
If you want to improve your card counting skills, here are a few steps to follow:
- Pick and assign a value for each card dealt.
- Track dealt and undealt cards and remember their values for the running count.
- Calculate the total value of the cards to determine the true count.
- Adjust your betting unit according to the true count: Once you’ve calculated an accurate running count, you can adjust your minimum bet and place larger bets depending on the value of the true or running count. Positive counts (+2) imply increasing your bet, and negative counts (-2) imply decreasing it for better bankroll management.
While this may seem straightforward, there are a few other things you should know besides the running total.
WHEN SHOULD I START COUNTING CARDS?
To effectively assign points to each card in the deck, you must begin counting cards at the beginning of the shoe. Otherwise, you won’t be able to get an accurate estimate of the running count, which will, in turn, affect your true count. In this case, you won’t be able to determine when you hold the advantage, which may lead to significant losses.
COUNTING CARDS WITH ONE DECK
Counting cards successfully depends on the number of decks in the shoe. In single-deck blackjack, players may use the Hi-Lo system (for example) to assess their advantage with the running count. In this case, the true count is not required, so the more the running count increases, the greater the advantage.
Bear in mind that online casinos may introduce additional rules and restrictions to single-deck games, including limited re-splits or allowing the dealer to hit a soft 17, among others. The house’s advantage increases this way.
COUNTING CARDS WITH MULTIPLE DECKS
In games with multiple decks, such as a six-deck game, a card counter may still use the Hi-Lo system. However, in this case, the player must calculate the true count with the running count to help ensure all varying bets are still in their favour and analyse how many high-value cards are left in the shoe.
The true count can be calculated by dividing the running count by the number of decks left in the game, rounded to the nearest half deck:
True count = running countnumber of decks remaining
Here’s an example to paint the picture a little better:
Suppose you’re in a game with six decks, with a running count of +8, and you see that there is one deck remaining in the shoe:
True count = 81 = 8
Because this number is high, it is safe to assume that you hold a lot of advantage. The fewer cards left in the shoe, the more accurate your true count will be.
EFFECTIVE BLACKJACK CARD COUNTING SYSTEMS
Card counting systems help you successfully determine the ratio of high cards and low cards. Selecting a method that best complements your abilities and knowledge is vital.
And, speaking of the Hi-Lo count system, let’s take a look at this method in more detail, along with other systems that may catch your eye!
HI-LO COUNT SYSTEM
This is the most commonly-used system in blackjack. To put it simply, this card counting technique requires a starting running count of zero. Then, players must assign values to each card, either +1, 0, or -1. This will determine the number of high-value and low-value cards in the deck:
- Low (+1): These cards include cards from two to six and require adding one point to the running count. The higher the count, the more higher-valued cards remain.
- Neutral (0): These include cards from seven to nine and add no points to the running count.
- High (-1): These include cards from 10 to ace and require subtracting one point from the running count. The lower the count, the more lower-valued cards remain.
HI-OPT II COUNT SYSTEM
Similar to the Hi-Lo strategy, the Hi-Opt II system also requires building a running count, as well as a true count. A true count is considered to be a more accurate estimate.
This method includes an additional +2 and -2 point scores, making this technique a level above the simpler Hi-Lo strategy:
- Point +1: Includes the cards two and three.
- Point +2: Includes the cards four and five.
- Point -1: Includes the cards six and seven.
- No Point: Includes the cards eight, nine and ace.
- Point -2: Includes the cards 10 through king.
Players can then use the running count to develop the true count.
OMEGA II COUNT SYSTEM
The Omega II system features a multi-level scoring system, similar to the Hi-Opt II system. However, it differs slightly in that:
- Point +1: Features cards two, three, and seven.
- Point +2: Features cards four, five and six.
- No Point: For cards ace and eight.
- Point -1: For nine cards.
- Point -2: For cards 10 through king.
Here, players must keep a side count of aces.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF CARD COUNTING IN BLACKJACK
There are many benefits of using a card counting method, but there are also just as many pitfalls. Let’s go through them:
- Players can potentially beat the house edge.
- The advantage gained can be held over the long-term.
- Does not require strong mathematical skills.
- Allows players to adapt to the number of decks remaining in the shoe.
- Most casinos ban card counters as this method is considered cheating, along with shuffle tracking and edge sorting.
- Requires a high level of concentration.
- Casinos introduced continuous shuffling machines and casino surveillance to battle card counting.
- The dealer shuffles the cards randomly.
TRUTH AND MYTHS ABOUT CARD COUNTING IN BLACKJACK
Aside from knowing the pros and cons, there are also some truths and myths you should be aware of before sprucing up your card counting techniques:
Card counting requires being mathematically skilled.
This is false. With systems like the Hi-Lo method, all you’d need to do is keep a score in your head.
If you’ve lost a few times in a row, a win is likely to happen.
This is also false. Blackjack is a game of chance, so even if you’re counting and using a strategy, each hand is independent of one another — there is never a guarantee that you’d win.
Counting cards is considered cheating.
This is mostly true. Many casinos, online or otherwise, consider counting cheating as it gives players too much of an advantage. In fact, card counting is banned in many gambling venues across the world.
Card counters win a lot of the time.
False. While this method may seem like a winning strategy, due to the house edge, it can never guarantee that you’d win every time.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE IN PLAYING BLACKJACK ONLINE AND LIVE BLACKJACK?
Online blackjack opened a door to a whole new world of creativity, but what exactly is the difference between playing live or simply online?
Well, to put it simply, its the gameplay experience. Live blackjack tables recreate an authentic casino look-and-feel by introducing live dealers and streaming in HD from an actual studio. Online tables do no feature a dealer at all and instead use computer algorithms to deal cards.
CONCLUSION — CARD COUNTING IS MATHEMATICS, NOT CHEATING
No that we’ve busted a few myths and delved deep into the mystery behind card counting, you’re probably wondering what’s next. Well, the only thing left to do is to put your knowledge to the test!
Card counting is a technique that has been around for decades, and although it was wildly popular back in the day it’s important to remember that it may not be as easily applicable, nowadays. Some venues have introduced countermeasures and banned card counting altogether, so ensure that you read the game rules carefully. You can always fire up the basic strategy to try and beat the dealer’s cards, anyway.
✅ IS BLACKJACK CARD COUNTING LEGAL?
Nowadays, card counting is banned from many casinos and gambling venues because it is often mathematically proven to work. Players can try to avoid detection as it is not inherently illegal, but they may risk being thrown out of the casino. The basic blackjack strategy can easily help players make more money.
✅ IS THERE A BLACKJACK CARD COUNTING PROGRAMME OR APP?
There are a few applications that may help you count cards, just be careful when using them as they may be prohibited.
✅ IS BLACKJACK CARD COUNTING HARD TO LEARN?
Card counting is not a difficult technique to learn, especially when using the Hi-Lo strategy. But, it can be difficult to master. Card counting can get a little complex as you advance, as other methods may require you to calculate the true count on top of the running count. Maximum concentration is often required, so if you get distracted, you may mess up your calculations!
✅ DOES CARD COUNTING WORK FOR OTHER CARD GAMES AS WELL?
This method is renowned for being used at blackjack tables, but players have wondered whether it can be used for other card games as well.
With respect to poker, it won’t work. But, you can use this technique to help you count the number of ‘outs’, or unseen cards, remaining in the deck. This way, you can use probability calculations to work out the chances of the cards you need to be drawn.
With respect to baccarat, it is possible since the cards are not shuffled at the end of every hand and drawn from a shoe as they are in blackjack. So, previous hand results can influence the odds of future hands. This is, of course, until the deck is reshuffled. That said, Thorp believed that card counting in offers very little benefit.