Card Counting in Blackjack

I know what you are thinking, card counting is illegal, how it be encouraged? Well I am here to dispel a few myths about card counting including this; it is not illegal at all. Card counting is the one trick that shifts the odds to the player in blackjack. Even the very best strategy ever formulated can’t do this. The best that can do is bring the odds to 0.5% to favor the house. And this is the reason that casinos would like you to believe that it is illegal.

What card counting is and what it is not

table of cards

It is commonly believed that card counting means adding up the value of every single card that comes out of the shoe. Thankfully that is not the case. Card counting is simply assigning a value to each card, for example in the hi-lo technique; 1, 0 or -1. Cards 2 through 6 have a value of 1. 7,8 and 9 have a value of zero and as such do not affect the count. All other cards including ace have a value of -1. To begin, start with 0 and tally up the values of the cards as they come out of the shoe.

Running count vs true count

The total you are working with while counting cards is called the running count which is in fact only accurate in a single deck game. Since there are hardly any tables that offer a single deck the best way to work out the true count is to divide the running count by the amount of decks let in the shoe. Since you already know how many decks are in the shoe a quick glance at the shoe and an educated guess will tell you how many are left.

Card counting methods

There are at least 8 different card counting techniques, many of which were designed to improve accuracy. While this has its benefits it also slows down play dramatically which has made the hi-lo technique the most popular.

Why does card counting give you an advantage

Knowing how to keep count is not going to win you anything. The count is what helps you make decisions. Usually the only decision that is really affected is how much to bet. When the count is high bet big and double more, when the count is low, reduce your bet and give the option to double a miss.

Why doesn’t everyone do it?

Thanks to the movie 21, the very idea of card counting became popularized and I am willing to bet that casinos were inundated with more amateur card counters than has ever been seen before in history. They figured out the hard way that card counting is exceptionally difficult in practice and not normally worth the energy to your average player.

Let’s go back to the movie quickly to see what they did that made it work for them.

  1. They worked in a team. They had each other’s backs and split the duties between them. They also split the profits.
  2. They knew what they were doing. They knew the risks, the telltale signs and how to handle them.
  3. They trained. And trained. And trained.

Red flags

Because this is the number one way that a player can get one up on a casino and actually win and win big, the casino has its staff militantly trained to detect any activity that could be card counting.

  • All dealers know how to count cards. And since this is what they do, keeping a running count is second nature. You can bet that at any given moment the dealer knows what the count is and if he or she sees players accordingly increasing or decreasing their bet in time to the count, no need to guess what their next move will be.
  • Casino staff know how hard it is for players to work alone. They watch for teams, they keep an eye out for spectators at the table and anything that can be construed as a signal.
  • A player betting within a very large range is also a warning sign to casino management. The bigger the gap between bottom and top bet the bigger the advantage for the player.
  • The best and easiest way to detect a card counter is simply by observing their level of concentration. You will know you have been spotted if the dealer has a sudden interest in striking up a conversation with you or distracting you in any other way.

Casino staff have a zero tolerance policy to card counting and they will make an example of anyone they catch at it to deter those who’d like to give it a shot.

Card counting is not only a lot of fun it is also exceptionally profitable. It doesn’t require extreme mental abilities, although it does demand a lot of training, practice and skill.


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