There are various card counting systems available, with popular ones like Hi-Lo, Omega II, and Wong Halves as options. These methods each have different rules for assigning point values to the cards and calculating a running count. Mastering these strategies requires practice, patience, and dedication. It is important to remember that card counting is more of an art than a science, as dealers and casinos continually adapt their techniques to counteract advantage players.

Before diving into card counting, players should have a strong grasp of blackjack's basic strategy and the ability to maintain focus and concentration over extended periods. With practice and perseverance, learning to count cards can significantly improve one's chances of winning at blackjack, turning casual casino-goers into formidable opponents at the table.

how to count cards blackjack

Guide to Counting Cards in 4 Steps

Step 1: Designate a Numerical Value to Each Card

In order to begin counting cards in blackjack, you need to assign a numerical value to every card in the deck. These values will help you determine the running count as the game progresses. The basic blackjack card counting strategy relies on a simple math-based system. Assign the card values as follows:

  • High cards (10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace) = -1
  • Low cards (2 to 6) = +1
  • Zero value cards (7, 8, 9) = 0

Step 2: Maintain a Continuous Count

Once you've designated a numerical value to each card, the next step is to maintain a continuous running count as the cards are being dealt. Start at 0 and add or subtract the card values as they appear on the table. For example, if you see a 10, Jack, and 2 on the table, your running count would be -1 (-1 for the 10, -1 for the Jack, and +1 for the 2). Keep updating the running count as cards are dealt and removed from play.

Step 3: Derive the "True Count" Based on Decks Remaining

After establishing the running count, it's crucial to compute the "True Count." The True Count is the running count divided by the number of decks that are left to be dealt during the game. The True Count gives you a clearer picture of the remaining high and low cards in the deck, taking into account the full deck of cards in play.

For example, if your running count is +6 and there are 3 decks remaining, your True Count would be +2 (6 ÷ 3 = 2). By using the True Count, you gain a more accurate and balanced perspective on the card distribution, thus increasing your chances of making better bets.

Step 4: Adjust Your Bets in Response to the True Count's Fluctuations

The final step in card counting involves adjusting your bets according to the fluctuations in the True Count. When the True Count is high, meaning there are more high cards remaining in the deck, you should increase your bets, as it increases your chances of receiving favorable hands. Conversely, when the True Count is low or negative, meaning there are more low cards left, decrease your bets to minimize potential losses.

Becoming proficient in card counting takes time and practice, but mastering this math-based strategy can greatly increase your chances of success in blackjack.

Follow the steps in this video

In the following video, Colin Jones of Blackjack Apprenticeship breaks down the art of card counting into four straightforward steps:

Bonus Tip

When attempting to gain an advantage in blackjack, understanding the true count can significantly improve the chances of success. The true count reveals a player's advantage at any point during a multiple deck blackjack game. To determine the true count, divide the running count by the number of undealt decks.

In a standard six-deck blackjack game, each increment in the true count shifts the house edge by half a percent in the player's favor. For example, a true count of 1 essentially nullifies the house edge, making the game evenly matched. A true count of 2 provides the player with a slight advantage—an edge of approximately half a percent. As the true count increases further, so does the player's advantage. A true count of 3, for instance, results in a player advantage of about 1%.

These figures can fluctuate, depending on specific game rules and the number of cards dealt before the deck is shuffled. By leveraging the true count concept, players can confidently assess their position and make informed decisions in blackjack.

How Come Card Counting Work?

Card counting is a technique used by skilled blackjack players to gain an advantage in the game. It works by keeping track of the ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck, allowing players to make informed decisions when placing bets.

The basic principle behind card counting is that high cards, such as 10s and face cards, are beneficial to the player, while low cards, especially 2 through 6, are advantageous to the dealer. When the ratio of high cards to low cards is higher than usual, players can make more significant bets, increasing their chances of winning big. Conversely, if there are more low cards remaining in the deck, players should bet conservatively or even leave the table.

One popular card counting strategy is the Hi-Lo method. In this method, each card is assigned a value as follows:

  • High cards (10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace): -1
  • Low cards (2 to 6): +1
  • The remaining cards (7 to 9): 0

As the game progresses, players keep a running tally of the assigned values of cards that have been dealt. This running count helps players determine if the remaining deck is favorable or unfavorable.

It's important to note that card counting is a long-term strategy, and it requires consistent play and focus in order to maintain an edge. Additionally, card counting is not cheating, but it is discouraged by casinos, who may take measures to prevent it, such as using multiple decks or shuffling the deck frequently.

A Brief History of Card Counting

Card counting in blackjack has been a popular technique among gamblers for decades. It has its roots in the mid-20th century, with some of the earliest recorded accounts dating back to the 1950s. One notable milestone in the early history of card counting is the publication of the book Playing Blackjack to Win in 1957. This book was the first to offer strategy adjustments based on exposed cards, laying the groundwork for future innovation in the field of card counting.

The true rise of card counting, however, came with the arrival of Edward O. Thorp's groundbreaking book Beat the Dealer in 1962. Thorp's book popularized card counting techniques and provided an in-depth mathematical analysis of blackjack strategy. This book took the gambling world by storm and inspired many players to learn card counting methods. In the years that followed, card counting became more sophisticated, with numerous techniques developed and refined by professional gamblers.

The casino industry quickly took notice of the increasing prevalence of card counting, and in response, implemented measures such as increased deck penetration, more frequent shuffling, and the use of multiple decks to diminish the effectiveness of card counting techniques. Despite these efforts, card counting persisted as a viable strategy employed by skilled blackjack players. Over time, many famous card counters emerged, including members of the renowned MIT Blackjack Team, who found great success in the late 20th century.

Today, card counting is still a topic of considerable interest in the gambling community. While casinos continue to evolve their countermeasures against card counters, skilled players adapt and refine their techniques in response. As long as the game of blackjack exists, the history of card counting will undoubtedly continue to evolve, with dedicated players always on the lookout for ways to gain an edge over the house.

Is Pursuing Card Counting Right for Me?

Before deciding to pursue card counting in blackjack, it is essential to consider several factors to determine if it is the right choice for you. Card counting requires dedication, practice, and a solid understanding of the game's strategies and rules.

Firstly, card counting demands an excellent memory and attention to detail. Players need to assign values to each card and keep track of the running count during gameplay. The most common card counting system is the Hi-Lo system, where high cards (10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace) count as -1, low cards (2 to 6) count as +1, and the remaining cards (7 to 9) hold a value of 0. As each card is dealt, card counters must mentally keep track of this running count and adjust their bets accordingly.

Secondly, consider the amount of time and effort required to master card counting. It takes significant practice to become proficient, and even then, success is not guaranteed. Card counting requires constant concentration and the ability to make quick decisions while playing.

Moreover, card counting is not a guarantee for winning every hand. It merely provides an edge over the house through informed betting decisions. A card counter can still experience losing streaks and should be prepared for inevitable fluctuations in their bankroll. It is essential to have a sufficient bankroll to withstand these ups and downs.

Lastly, one should bear in mind the attitudes of casinos towards card counting. While card counting itself is not illegal, casinos have the right to deny service to suspected card counters. Discretion is paramount when practicing card counting in a casino setting, as detection may lead to banning from the establishment.