Blackjack is the most popular of all the casino games. It’s not really surprising, as it’s one of the easiest to learn, it’s fantastic fun to play, and it has the lowest house edge of all the games in the casino.
If you’ve been playing blackjack for a while, and you’ve mastered basic strategy, then you are probably looking to get to the next level with your blackjack skills and learning some card counting strategies to turbocharge your game.
If you want to get started, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to teach you the basics and dispel some of the common myths about card counting.
You might have seen movies such as Rain Man and 21, in which mathematical geniuses memorize cards and use their amazing skills to come away with thousands of dollars. Well, don’t be concerned because card counting is much simpler than you might think though we can’t guarantee that you’ll come away with a huge bankroll!
You don’t need to be an MIT professor or an autistic genius to succeed at counting cards! In fact, all you need to know is simple addition and subtraction, no memorizing or complicated mathematics. If you can add one and subtract one, you are ready to get started!
What is Blackjack Card Counting?
Blackjack card counting is a method used by players that gives them a future insight into when to increase or decrease their bets at the most advantageous time. It’s a proven fact that cards, such as tens, face cards and aces will be of more value to the player. The lower value cards (from 2’s to 6’s) will be of more advantage to the dealer, and the rest of the cards are somewhere in the middle.
So, with this information in hand, using a card counting system, a blackjack player will have a good idea of how best to bet. For instance, if many of the picture cards, tens and aces have been played, the player will know that they are at less of an advantage. In this situation, the blackjack player would play lower or minimum wagers. Vica versa, if the lower value cards had already been played, then the player would raise their bets.
Blackjack Card Counting System for Beginners
If you’ve never played blackjack before, then you need to understand the rules and learn some basic strategy before you start learning how to count cards. This is for intermediate players who want a basic introduction to a solid card counting strategy to try out.
The simplest and one of the best systems for counting cards is called Hi-Lo or High-Low; both terms are used for this method.
This system was devised in 1963 by Harvey Dubner, an engineer and mathematician, and was hailed as a practical strategy to card count in blackjack.
There are a lot of card counting systems available to master, but high-low is a reliable and relatively simple method. The card counter just needs to keep count of three groups of cards that have three ‘tags’ attributed to them: positive, negative and zero.
High cards – 10s, Jacks, Queens, Kings and Aces are given a negative value of -1. So every time one of the high cards is played, the card counter will deduct one from the running count.
Low cards – 2,3,4,5 and 6 are given a positive value of +1. In this instance, when low cards are played, the card counter will add one to the running count.
Negative cards – These are the remaining cards – 7,8 and 9 – and have a value of 0, so they can just be forgotten and don’t need to be added to the running count, which makes things easier.
Running count – You’ll use the running count to keep a tally of all the cards that have appeared so far. If 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, jack and king were dealt, the running count would be zero. 7 and 9 count as 0, while 2, 4, 6 would be +3, and 10, Jack, and the king would be -3, resulting in 0.
True count – It’s very rare to find a blackjack game with a single 52 card deck; usually, there will be six decks in a shoe at a casino. This is when true count comes into play. To find your true count, you divide your running count by the number of decks left in the shoe. For instance, if your running count is 8, and there are four decks remaining in the shoe, the true count would be +2.
You’ll always bet based on the true count, never the running count; if the true count is positive, you’ll increase your bet size, and when it’s negative, you’ll minimize your bet size.
Every time the dealer reshuffles the cards, the count goes back to zero.
Practice makes perfect
So the mechanics of using the high low strategy are reasonably straightforward, but before you go to a casino and bet using this method, you will need a lot of practice. Experienced card counters say that you should be able to count a deck of cards in 30 seconds or less.
So it’s all about repetition; grab yourself a standard pack of 52 cards and get practicing! Once you can count the deck in 30 seconds, try it with some distractions; turn the TV on loud and get a friend to distract you. Stress test some games with a friend playing the part of the dealer and making conversation while you play.
We can assure you that when you are at the casino, and there’s all the noise and excitement, the amount of realistic practice you have put in before the big day will pay dividends.
Counting cards as a team
You’ve probably seen this in a movie, and it looks cool and easy, but it’s not as simple as it looks, and casinos have got increasingly more sophisticated at recognizing teams of card counters. With a counting team, spotters will sit at a casino table and keep a tally of the cards if they are advantageous; they secretly signal to another of the card counters to join the game who will bet the maximum amount.
Is It Illegal To Count Cards in Blackjack?
Gambling and casino laws will differ between different countries, but card counting isn’t illegal in Canada. Players are not prohibited from counting cards at any Canadian casino. Of course, if a casino doesn’t want you playing at their tables or suspects that you might be up to something, they can ask you to leave. It is illegal to use a device for card counting in a casino, and this will get you into trouble.
If you are planning to card count at a land-based casino, you need to keep inconspicuous; if the casino does think you look suspicious, they are likely to ask you to move on to another table or even leave the casino. If this does happen, you should just do as they say and go. It’s not like the bad old days, where you might have got a beating as well, but they can ban you from the casino if you act up.
Counting cards in blackjack does add a lot of excitement to the game, but it isn’t for everyone; it does require some acting skills and a fair degree of concentration.
Tips and Tricks
- Try to look as much as an unskilled player as possible, show a bit more emotion than you usually would when you win or lose, break a few minor etiquette rules to look like a novice. You don’t want to look super focused either; look like you’re out to have fun [which you should be doing anyway], rather than staring at the cards!
- Try to keep the dealer on your side and make sure that you tip them well.
- Keep your blackjack session to around 45 minutes or move on to a different table.
- Don’t suddenly start doubling your wager or placing large bets; try to make them look natural.
- You’ll want to appear as normal as possible and not give the dealer or any of the casino personnel any reason to think you might be counting cards.
Counting Cards in Blackjack Doesn't Guarantee you win
There are no guarantees for blackjack players to win every time; no playing strategy, card counting or otherwise is foolproof. Card counting gives you another strategy in your toolbox to reduce the odds slightly against the casino, but it doesn’t mean a surefire win. Experienced blackjack players will take every advantage they can, including learning basic strategy and card counting, but they don’t expect to win every time.
Can You Count Cards When Playing Blackjack Online?
If you are playing against a virtual blackjack table at an online casino, then card counting won’t work in this situation. The computer software programs that run these games allow for minimal deck penetration before reshuffling the cards. So you can rule out the RNG [random number generator] virtual blackjack games online as a chance to try out your card counter skills.
There are live dealer blackjack games where you might stand a slim chance if you are lucky. Live dealer casinos offer real-time games with a croupier dealing and shuffling real cards. Of course, the casinos aren’t stupid, so they realize that it’s much easier for a player to manipulate card counting online at home than it is at a brick and mortar casino, so deck penetration is again an important factor.
In the best-case scenario, deck penetration will be 50%, and even in this case, it is not going to be very profitable to use card counting. It could be good practice before visiting a land-based casino to hone your card counting skills with the possibility of earning a little extra cash.
It already has a great house edge compared to other casino games, but when counting cards, blackjack gives even more advantage to the player when combined with basic strategy. If you are a serious blackjack player and want to put the odds a little bit more in your favour, then give card counting a try at the next visit to the casino. But ensure that you don’t make it too obvious and aim to look as natural as possible! Make sure you get a lot of practice beforehand and can count a deck of cards in 30 seconds or less ideally with distractions.