How To Count Cards In Blackjack

Card counting has been around for decades and isn’t exactly a well-kept secret. Casinos know about it and many players do to. It’s likely that you’ve seen card counting on various movies such as Rain Man or The Hangover and may be wondering how it works. We’ve put together this card counting guide for blackjack to show you just that and how it’s possible to turn the odds in your favour to make a profit in the long term.

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How Card Counting Works

Card counting in blackjack is relatively simple with the majority of players being able to get to grasps with it. When card counting, it’s important that you follow the strategy which is mathematically sound when done correctly to ensure that you have the edge over the dealer.

Optimal card counting strategy can be broken down into 4 steps.

  1. Each card which is dealt is assigned a value of either +1, 0 or -1
  2. The sum of these values determine the ‘Running Count’
  3. The ‘Running Count’ along with the number of decks remaining in the shoe determine the ‘True Count’
  4. You can then alter your stakes accordingly based on the True Count

Let’s take a look at each of these steps in more detail.

Assigning Values To Cards

There are a few variations of blackjack card counting methods. The one we will be focussing on is the Hi-Lo strategy.

For every card which is dealt, you assign a value of +1, 0 or -1 based on the value of that card as shown below.

  • 2 – 6 = +1
  • 7-9 = 0
  • 10 – Ace = -1

This applies to every card which is dealt from the shoe and not just the cards which you are dealt.

The Running Count

The Running Count is basically just the total of the values you have assigned to each card which has been dealt.

Let’s take a look at an example. There are 3 players at the table and the cards dealt are:

  • Player 1: Ace, 7
  • Player 2: 2, 8
  • Player 3: Jack, 4
  • Dealer: 6, 9

We now need to assign values to each of the cards to determine the Running Count.

  • Player 1: -1 + 0 = -1
  • Player 2: +1 + 0 = +1
  • Player 3: -1 + 4 = 0
  • Dealer: 1 + 0 = 1

Therefore the Running Count is -1 + 1 + 0 + 1 = 1

You keep adding to the running count whenever a card is dealt whether it be a playing hitting, the dealer turning their card or the next round starting. You only reset the Running Count when a new shoe is introduced or the decks are shuffled.

So, what does the value of the Running Count Mean?

The greater the value of the Running Count, the more advantage you, the player, has. If the Running Count is a negative number, the dealer has the advantage.

The True Count

The majority of casinos use multiple decks of cards in their shoes. This makes it slightly more difficult to count cards but only because an extra step is required.

Generally, the more high cards which remain in the shoe, the greater the count and bigger advantage the player has. It is not only the number of high cards in the shoe which give the advantage but more so the ratio of high cards to low cards which remain.

In order to determine the True Count, you simply need to divide the Running Count by the number of decks which remain in the shoe.

True Count = Running Count / Number of remaining decks

For example, if the Running Count is +8 and there are 2 decks remaining, the True Count would be +4.

Keeping track of how many decks are left in the shoe whilst also assigning values to each card and keeping the Running Count can be tough at first. However, it does get a lot easier with time and don’t worry if you aren’t exact with your remaining decks calculations.

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Altering Your Stakes Based On The True Count

As mentioned, when the True Count is positive, you have the edge and when the True Count is negative, the casino has the edge. Therefore, you should increase your stakes when the count is positive and bet low stakes when the count is negative.

  • True Count = Positive = Bet High
  • True Count = Negative = Bet Low

The amount you should increase and decrease your bets by is a topic for another article as some professional card counters have very strict and precise betting strategies to obtain maximum value. However, using the exact strategies of others is a red flag as casinos are aware of these strategies and betting patterns. Therefore, it is often advised to deviate away from these betting patterns slightly to look like a more natural player.

Even though you have the edge when the True Count is positive, it doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed to win the hand. This is why it is essential that you have good bankroll management so that you don’t bust out before the value can average out.

Can You Count Cards Online?

First of all, forget about computer simulated blackjack. The cards dealt in these games do not follow the same rules as live blackjack as cards are not withdrawn from the shoe after each round.

What we want to look at is live blackjack.

Many online casinos now allow players to play blackjack against real dealers on a real blackjack table. So, counting cards should work with online blackjack, correct?

Not always.

There are a few factors to take into consideration which can have a big impact on whether or not card counting is a profitable method to use when playing online blackjack.

Blackjack Variations & Rules

Online casinos often have numerous variations of blackjack where the rules differ. Some may pay out lower than 3:2 on blackjack, some don’t let players double after splitting and there are several other rules which you need to look out for. All of these rules have an impact on whether or not counting cards is profitable and most will have some sort of negative effect.

Finding a blackjack table online which has the same or close rules to a casino blackjack table is essential.

Shoe Changes & Deck Shuffling

If an online casino shuffles the deck relatively early, the card counter will not have adequate time to get an accurate True Count and for it to be effective. Generally, live blackjack dealers at online casinos shuffle the shoe at around the halfway point which has a huge impact on card counting effectiveness.

Online Blackjack Card Counting Conclusion

It is possible to count cards at online blackjack tables. However, many have tried and the EV (Estimated Value) per hour is far less than when counting cards in a real casino due to the difference in the rules and the regular shuffling of the decks. Many believe counting cards online just isn’t worth the time and an adequate return isn’t possible based on the time spent at the tables.

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