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Blackjack Card Counting for Dummies

blackjack card counting

One of the main reasons why blackjack is such a popular casino game is that it is the only one that is beatable. Yes – you can mathematically beat the casino and be sure you’ll win money long-term.

The way to do this is by card counting.

This is done by keeping track of the cards that have been played so that you can estimate the odds of getting certain cards in future deals.

By making intelligent decisions based on this information, you can increase your chances of winning money from the casino.

While it may sound complicated, card counting is actually a fairly simple process that anyone can learn with a little practice.

In this tutorial, I will teach you how to count cards in blackjack using a simple strategy, and give you some tips on how to use this information to your advantage.

What is Card Counting?

Blackjack card counting is a technique used by players to gain an advantage over the casino by keeping track of the cards that have been dealt. By doing this, players can predict when certain cards will be dealt and adjust their betting accordingly.

Card counting is not illegal, but casinos don’t like you doing it because it means you win and they lose! If you are caught, the casino may (at their discretion) ask you to leave or ban you from playing there altogether.

For this reason, it is better to avoid being too obvious when following your card counting strategy.

How Does Card Counting Work?

Card counting works by assigning a value to each card in the deck. The value of the cards is based on how likely they are to be dealt.

Cards that are more likely to be dealt are given a lower value, while cards that are less likely to be dealt are given a higher value.

As the cards are dealt, the player keeps track of the count. When the count is high, it means that there are more high-value cards left in the deck.

A high count is beneficial to the player, because the dealer is more likely to go bust, given that they must hit on all hands up to and including 16. A high count also means that are more likely to be dealt a blackjack (a hand with an ace and a 10-value card).

When the count is low, it means that there are more low-value cards left in the deck. This gives the casino an advantage because the player is more likely to bust (go over 21).

How to Count Cards (The Hi-Lo System)

There are many different systems for counting cards, but they all work in essentially the same way.

To count cards, you will need to assign a value to each card in the deck. The most common system is called the Hi-Lo system. In this system, the following values are assigned to the cards:

  • 2-6: +1
  • 7-9: 0
  • 10-A: -1

Once the cards are shuffled and the decks are cut, you will start the count from zero. As the cards are dealt, you will keep track of the count by adding or subtracting the values of the cards.

The Running Count

For example, if the first card dealt is a 5, you would add 1 to the count. If the next card is a 9, you would do nothing because the value of the 9 is 0.

If the next card is a 10, you would subtract 1 from the count because the value of the 10 is -1. You would continue to add and subtract values as the cards are dealt until all of the cards have been dealt.

Once all of the cards have been dealt, you will have what is known as the running count.

The True Count

In single-deck blackjack games, the running count will tell you whether or not the deck is favorable for the player or the dealer. However, most casinos now use multiple decks in an attempt to stop card counters.

It doesn’t though! All you need to do is add one extra step.

You need to divide the running count by the number of decks remaining to get what is known as the true count.

The logic behind this is that the fewer cards that remain, the more significant a high count is because it means there is a higher proportion of high-value cards left in relation to the total number of cards remaining.

If the true count is positive, it means that there are more high-value cards left in the shoe. This means you are more likely to be dealt a blackjack, send the dealer bust, or get a good total when you double down.

The higher the true count, the more advantageous it is for you as a player.

If the count is negative, it means more low-value cards are left in the deck. This is good for the house because the dealer is more likely to make a hand without going bust. Likewise, the player is less likely to benefit from a double down.

Card Counting with Basic Strategy

You should use the HiLo strategy in conjunction with the blackjack basic strategy for the best results.

Especially when the count is low or neutral, basic strategy can help you to make your chips last longer while you wait for the opportunity to increase your bet when the count is true count is high.

You may deviate away from basic strategy when you have a high true count, because at this point you know for a fact that you have a high chance that the next card dealt will be a Ten or Ace.

In these circumstances, it is not unusual for players to double down far more often, and even split 9s and 10s against a weaker dealer upcard.

Card Counting Betting Strategy

Once you have a true count, you can use it to adjust your betting. If the count is positive, you should bet more because you have an advantage. If the count is negative, you should bet less because the dealer has an advantage.

The size of your bets should be based on the count. The higher the count, the more you should bet. But of course, you must stay within the table limits.

Also, remember that while you do have the mathematical advantage, it does not mean you are guaranteed to win. So don’t blow all your chips on one hand, and still make sure you have a bankroll that can handle a few losses if they occur.

How to Avoid Being Caught Counting Cards

While card counting is legal, casinos do not like players who count cards. This is because it gives the player an advantage over the house.

If a casino suspects that you are counting cards, they may ask you to leave or they may bar you from playing blackjack altogether.

For this reason, it is important to be discreet when you are counting cards.

  • Do not make any sudden moves or large bets that will attract attention. Increase or decrease your stakes gradually.
  • Avoid any physical indicators (for example, don’t mutter to yourself or use your fingers when trying to keep the count).
  • Never tell any other players that you’re counting!

Basically, staying under the radar is a matter of common sense. If you’re counting cards at a low-stakes table then the casino is unlikely to care.

But if you start to win a larger amount you might come under a bit more scrutiny, so just do whatever you can to keep a low profile.

Should I Learn to Count Cards?

Card counting can give you a slight edge over the casino, but it is not a guaranteed way to win money.

As you can see, the rules are fairly easy to follow and remember, so you won’t need to write anything down. But you do need to concentrate on the cards being dealt, even when it isn’t your turn to play. You also need a good memory and the ability to do simple math in your head.

That isn’t for everyone though – especially if you’ve had a few drinks. You may find it tricky at first – I certainly did. But it is something you can pick up with a little practice.

It is also important to remember that card counting is not illegal and you won’t be taken to a back room or relieved of your winnings – that only happens in the movies.

However, a casino can ask you to leave or even ban you at their discretion. So if you’re enjoying a night out with friends, or at a location you want to come back to, you need to take extra care.

Counting cards doesn’t work with blackjack apps online because, in these games played against the computer, the decks are reshuffled after every hand, which nullifies this technique.

However, if you’re looking for a challenge and want to try and beat the odds in a real-world casino, learning to count cards is a fun way to do it. Just be sure to use basic strategy as well, and don’t get too cocky!

Last Updated on September 29, 2022

David Graham
Posted in Strategy

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