How To Count Cards in Blackjack - Your Complete Guide

Card counting is a strategy used in blackjack to increase one’s chances of winning. It is the final piece of the puzzle regarding playing blackjack strategically. With some practice, you can gain an advantage over the casino, know when to increase your bet, and even predict the next card that will be drawn.

Counting cards doesn’t require you to be a math genius. All you need is the ability to add or subtract by 1 or 2 fast and maintain a running total in your head. With these skills, you can easily get started.

Our blackjack card counting guide covers everything you need to know, including the easiest systems to use, when to raise your bets, and where to use your tactics.

What is Card Counting in Blackjack?

Card counting is holding track of the cards left in the deck. While it’s a demanding skill to master, many players have become adept at it through practice. By knowing which cards remain, players can improve their decision-making on whether to hit, stand, split, or surrender.

When there are a lot of high cards left in the deck (cards 9 through Ace), the player is at an advantage because the odds of getting a natural blackjack are higher, and the dealer is more likely to bust. Conversely, when there are a lot of low cards left (cards 2 through 7), the dealer is at an advantage.

This signals to the player that they should be careful with their bets and play more conservatively. In essence, card counting allows the player to use statistics and real-time data to get an edge over the dealer. Card counting works exceptionally well with basic blackjack strategy that can be used when playing at the best online blackjack casino sites.

If you want to see a dramatized representation of how blackjack card counting works, you should watch the movie “21” with the now-infamous Kevin Spacey.

Blackjack

How Does Card Counting in Blackjack Work?

Many people believe that card counting is about remembering which cards have already been dealt from the shoe. However, this is not entirely true. You don’t need to keep an excellent record of how many 3s and 4s were in the previous hands. Instead, you simply need to have an idea of what value the remaining deck holds. This way, you can adjust your play style and the size of your bets accordingly.

Blackjack is already one of the games with the best odds in the casino, but it allows for additional strategies. Since players have to make a decision every hand, they can actually influence the outcome. In addition to using blackjack basic strategy, you can also use card counting at our recommended blackjack live casinos online to gain an edge over the online casino.

Fun fact: when card counters work as part of a team, it’s estimated that the advantage gained over the casino rises to between 2 and 4%. In blackjack, the player is likelier to win when more cards are worth 10 or 11 points left in the deck. So, by counting cards, you can keep better track of the ratio between low and high cards remaining.

How to Count Cards for Beginners in 4 Steps

In the blackjack game, card counting is one of the best online blackjack strategies to win that entails maintaining a continuous record of the face value of disclosed cards. This can be done whether you are playing online or in a real casino. Below, we’ll show you exactly how to card count in 4 simple steps:

  1. Give cards a score of +1 (for cards 2-6), 0 (for cards 7-9), or -1 (for cards 10-Ace).
  2. Using the above values, keep a running count for each card pulled from the deck by the dealer.
  3. Monitor the running value of the remaining cards in the deck by keeping an accurate count as the cards are dealt.
  4. Adjust the size of your bet after each round, depending on the count. If the count is negative, you should increase your bet since there will be more low-value cards left in the deck. Conversely, if the count is positive, you should lower your bet instead.

By mastering card counting, you can gain an advantage over the casino when playing blackjack. When played perfectly, the house edge in blackjack is around 0.5%. With enough practice and mastery of card counting, it is possible to play blackjack perfectly and gain an advantage of 1% over the casino. This makes the game even more enticing to those who are willing to put in the effort to improve their skills.

Even though the majority of online casinos implement software that shuffles the cards with every new hand dealt, card counting can still prove effective in online blackjack. However, it can be tricky, and some online casinos forbid the use of card counting programs.

If you choose to partake in online gambling with actual currency, it’s important to note that certain websites incorporate software that shuffles cards nearly every time a new hand is dealt. As a result, it can become nearly impossible to keep track of cards and earn profits.

Basic Card Counting Strategy For Beginners

If you are new to card counting, the Hi-Lo strategy is a great starting point. It is a simple technique that is both easy to understand and to put into practice. The strategy assigns a specific value of -1 to high cards (10 – Ace, including face cards) and a +1 value to low cards (2 – 6 in any suit). The remaining cards with the values 7, 8, and 9 have no point value. This strategy is straightforward to follow.

As the dealer deals a card, you note its assigned value in your head. For instance, a ten is counted as -1, and a three is counted as +1. Your cumulative total adds up to 0.

The idea is to keep doing this for every new card dealt without breaking your sum until the deck is reshuffled. The total is referred to as the ‘running count.’ That’s all there is to it. Keeping it simple makes the calculations less difficult and prevents your mind from overworking.

Advanced Card Counting Strategies

Blackjack players use various card counting systems to gain an advantage over the house. Typically, these methods require adjustments in the values of the cards or modifications to the calculation of the running or true count as you move from one system to another.

Once you have mastered the basic Hi-Lo card counting technique, you are ready to move on from counting cards on your fingers. There are several more complex techniques to choose from if you want to progress further.

Wong Halves

The Wong Halves system is named after its creator, Stanford Wong, and is considered an advanced strategy due to the assigned values, some of which are fractions.

When using the Wong Halves system, certain cards have specific values. Cards with the numbers 3, 4, and 6 have a value of 1, while cards with the numbers 1, 2, and 7 have a value of 0.5. The number 5 has a value of 1.5, whereas the number 8 has a value of 0. Cards with the numbers 9, 10, Ace, and face cards have a value of -0.5 or -1.

This system is known as ‘balanced,’ which means that when the deck is dealt entirely, your count should be 0. If you prefer to avoid using fractions, you can double all the values to simplify the strategy.

Omega II

The Omega II technique is a card counting system that uses a ‘balanced’ approach with 0 as the base. Bryce Carlson created this method and published a book about it in 1992. It is more complex than the classic +1,0 and -1 values.

In the Omega II system, the cards are assigned values. Specifically, cards 2, 3, and 7 have a value of 1, while cards 4, 5, and 6 have a value of 2. Cards with a value of 9 have a value of -1, while cards with a value of 10 and all face cards have a value of -2. Cards with a value of 8 and Ace have a value of 0.

A positive count indicates that there are more low cards in the deck being dealt, while a negative count suggests that there are more high cards remaining in the deck.

Multiple Decks

To combat card counting, many casinos use multiple decks in blackjack. The aim is to increase the difficulty for individuals who count cards to maintain a tally of their total. However, if you find yourself playing against a dealer using multiple decks, there is still a way to use the Hi-Lo strategy.

All you have to do is divide the running count by the remaining decks to get the “true count.” The true count, rather than the running count, determines your advantage when multiple decks are involved.

To determine the true count value, it is vital to keep an accurate running total. For instance, if your running total is 5 and two decks are remaining, your true count will be 2.5 (since 5 divided by 2 is 2.5).

Group Play

A strategy known as Group Play is used by specific card counters. By working together, multiple decks on different tables can be counted at the same time while also avoiding detection by communicating with signals. This allows the team to inform each other when it’s appropriate to join a hand and whether to place high bets or not.

Why You Should Or Shouldn't Card Count?

Although there are no federal or state laws that consider counting cards a criminal act, it is still considered cheating. Counting cards in your head without using a device or mobile app is not illegal, but it is a practice that casinos frown upon.

If you do decide to count cards in a casino, it is important to be cautious, as you may be asked to leave the table or even be banned from the casino altogether. Your behavior will be closely monitored, and even the best card counters occasionally get caught.

However, counting cards in blackjack can significantly increase your chances of winning big. Blackjack is a popular casino game worldwide that offers a decent chance of winning. When you know what you’re doing, you can flip the odds in your favor and potentially pocket huge wins.

Quick Card Counting Tips To Help You Win

Becoming a professional card counter requires hard work and dedication. However, the following tips will help you improve your skills and achieve your goals faster.

Firstly, it is essential to learn how to play blackjack online and master the basic strategy of blackjack. You should also start with a simple counting system and practice it extensively before playing with real money. Here are some tips that will assist you in becoming a pro in no time:

Master basic strategy

Most professional card counters rely on basic strategy. It is an essential requirement for anyone aspiring to become a successful card counter. However, an experienced counter should only ignore it in specific scenarios when the true count is high.

Practice online

You can practice counting cards using a blackjack card counting simulator. Avoid playing in “free play” or “demo mode” as the deck reshuffles after each round. There are simulators designed explicitly for card counting.

Start small

Starting small and gradually increasing your bet size per round is advisable. It is challenging to become accustomed to blackjack card counting in practice, so save your budget until you develop a better sense of the true count.

Manage your bets to avoid suspicion

Avoiding suspicion is a skill separate from card counting that many pros have mastered. A basic way of doing this is to “fake” that you’re a regular player following basic playing patterns by increasing your bet size after a win and decreasing it after a loss.

Choose the right blackjack variant

Always strive to find and play the best blackjack version with the highest RTP and most favorable player rules. If you decide to play real money on a single-deck blackjack table, be aware that there may be some player rules that work against you. The single deck reduces a significant chunk of the house edge, so casinos compensate by adjusting different rules.

The History of Counting Cards

Many card counting histories attribute the invention of card counting to Ed Thorp, which is fair. He did invent the “modern” method of counting cards. However, Thorp himself mentioned in his book “Beat the Dealer” several gamblers who were beating the casinos with various crude card counting methods. These gamblers were system players, but it is unclear how successful they were, as Thorp did not provide much detail. Nevertheless, Ed Thorp’s book is the first and most significant example of a mathematically proven card counting strategy to beat the house, and it is still in print today. Almost all advantage blackjack players recommend owning and reading a copy of it.

In the early 1960s, John Scarne was considered the leading gambling authority globally. He had addressed blackjack strategy in his book “Scarne’s Guide to Casino Gambling,” but Thorp criticized some of the advice as mathematically incorrect. Thorp and Scarne had a bit of a rivalry, but both contributed significantly to the literature on advantage gambling.

Vegas casinos were terrified of Thorp’s methods and made some changes to blackjack rules throughout the city. They eliminated the option of splitting aces, which was a significant blow to players. They also only allowed players to double down on a total of 11. Some well-publicized challenges between Thorp, Scarne, and the casinos generated news, but no one ever accepted anyone’s challenges for various reasons.

Casinos began implementing countermeasures to prevent card counters from gaining an edge throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The most common countermeasure then was to increase the number of decks in play. Games with 2 and 4 decks were considered harsh, but now 6 and 8 deck shoes are more or less the standard.

Another development that would matter to the advantage of the blackjack community was the rise of the Griffin Agency. They were a private investigations company that put together a book of mug shots of known gambling cheats. They eventually included known card counters in these books, called The Griffin Book. They once made a fortune selling their services to casinos, but the company has become defunct.

During these few decades, various teams have engaged in this type of advantage play, too. One of the most well-known groups is the MIT Blackjack Team, which is not a single team. In fact, it is several, and there have been several incarnations through the years. Counting cards has even been the subject of court cases.

In New Jersey, the courts have ruled that since counting cards is not illegal, the casinos have no right to bar players suspected of counting. Atlantic City responded by increasing their countermeasures. You will not find anything less than an 8 deck game there, and most games use a continuous shuffling machine, which makes counting impossible.

FAQ

Is counting cards in blackjack illegal?

No. Counting cards is not against the law, as long as you’re not using a device to help you cheat in a physical casino. A pit boss cannot monitor online play, so card counting remains a strategic skill above all else.

What is the best card counting strategy in blackjack?

Wong Halves is the most accurate but complex card counting method in blackjack. It requires quick thinking and instantaneous calculation of six card categories at the table.

How long does it take to become proficient in card counting?

Learning how to count cards requires varying amounts of time, depending on the individual. Generally, it takes more than a day to become a professional. To determine how long it will take, you should consider your proficiency in arithmetic.

Can you count cards in other casino games?

Yes, it is possible to apply card counting strategy to control the outcome of Baccarat. However, it requires a high skill level to implement this strategy effectively. Another lesser-known game that can be played with card counting is 3-card brag, as the deck is shuffled only during specific game scenarios.

How do casinos detect that you're counting cards?

It’s easy to spot a card counter based on their behavior. They tend to be focused on winning and avoid chatting during hands. They may also make unexpected moves, such as splitting tens. Skilled card counters can often win consistently over time, which can draw the attention of casino staff.

Ahmad Al-Azizi
Ahmad Al-Azizi

Greetings, fellow casino enthusiasts! I'm Ahmad Alazizy, a seasoned casino expert deeply passionate about all things related to the thrilling world of gambling. From the time I first stepped into a casino, I knew that my journey would involve delving into the intricacies of games, strategies, and the vibrant casino atmosphere. My mission is to share with you the most effective tips and insights, ranging from understanding the intricacies of various casino games to making informed and successful bets.