You don’t need to be genius or a mathematics prodigy to learn how to count cards in blackjack. However, counting cards requires discipline, practice, and most of all, your own system.

Read on to learn the basics of card counting, including why the player likes it when there are more high cards remaining in the shoe.

Counting Cards in blackjack is one of the most famous ways gamblers have tried to beat the house throughout history. Blackjack players understand that card counting has become tougher and tougher because casinos now use multi-deck shufflers to deal the cards. However, implementing a simple counting system can help you shift the odds in your favour when playing blackjack.

Of all the casino games, blackjack typically has the lowest house edge. This means that, over time, the casino will win more than it loses, but not as much as it does from slot machines or roulette. However, to maintain a low house edge, gamblers must play 21 with perfect strategy. Any slip ups will quickly tip the balance even further towards the casino.

Counting cards relies on the player utilising perfect blackjack strategy. Then, the “count” can be used to make advantageous betting decisions at the table. When the count is in the player’s favour, you can bet big. In these instances, with a favourable count, the edge is in the player’s favour. Over enough hands, this makes counting cards profitable for the gambler.

In Blackjack, Which Cards are Better for the Player and Why?

Counting cards is premised on one basic idea: the more aces and faces that remain in the shoe, the more advantageous the situation for the player. When there are a lot of high cards still to come, the player is more likely to make blackjack (21). Receiving an ace and a face (or ten) to start a hand of blackjack not only is a winner, but it pays more.

Truly successful card counting requires finding a table with good player odds. The old standard blackjack pays 3:2 tables are usually good enough. If you want to try your hand at counting, avoid 6:5 blackjack tables or other odds. The difference in payouts will affect whether you or the house has the edge, even when counting cards.

Landing a blackjack at a 3:2 table will quickly boost your chips, because even if the dealer gets a 20, you still win the hand and the extra payout. Therefore, card counters pay attention to how many aces, kings, queens, jacks, and tens are left in the shoe. When this count hits a certain level, they know to up their starting bet because they have a greater chance of hitting blackjack.

Basics of Counting Cards at a Blackjack Table

The first step towards a card counting system is to assign each card a count-value. This is different from the face value of the card, for instance most card counters assign the same value to twos, threes, fours, and fives.

To keep the counting as easy as possible, basic hi-lo counting systems stick to a one, zero, one system. In these systems, the following cards receive the corresponding value:

  • Twos through sixes: +1
  • Seven through nine: 0
  • Tens, face cards, and aces: -1

Remember, you need to keep the count on your own, without any aides, in your own head. The more complicated the maths, the more difficult card counting becomes. Though you do not need to be a maths whiz to break down the odds, there’s a reason it was a team of MIT students who featured in the movie 21.

Every time a card is dealt at the table, a card counter needs to add it to a running total. The more cards that are dealt, the more information the player has about what remains in the shoe. However, casinos in the past decades have modernised their setups to discourage card counters. Instead of single or two deck blackjack shoes, casinos now regularly use eight deck shoes.

The more decks, the less chances at a significant advantage for a player. Additionally, more decks mean more pressure to keep the running count until a true count can be established.

How to Know When to Bet Big

Card counters are not paying attention to exactly how many high cards are left in the shoe. Rather, they need to know the concentration of high cards remaining. When the percentage of high cards left is large enough, the counter knows to lay out more chips on a hand.

To try and thwart multiple-deck casino shoes, a card counter takes their running count and turns it into a true count. If you are playing blackjack with a single deck, a running count of +5 may be enough to alter your betting strategy. But if you have a running count of +5 on an 8-deck shuffler, the odds barely budge.

So, card counters need to know both the running count and the remaining decks in the shoe. Then, simply dividing the running count by the number of decks left gives them a true count. When the true count is high enough, the player can bet big and hopefully break the bank.

How to Not Get Caught Counting Cards

While card counting is not illegal, casinos still will kick out and ban players they believe are counting. Because card counting relies on playing a large number of hands to be profitable, avoiding detection is paramount. And if you need to think out loud or count on your fingers, you won’t make it in the world of card counting.

Instead, you need to focus on a betting strategy that is not completely obvious. A card counter wants to bet big when a lot of high cards are still to come and bet small when all the face cards have already been dealt. But simply making minimum bets until the count becomes advantageous and then placing a maximum wager is a great way to quickly get caught.

Instead, experienced card counters have strategies for mixing their bets to avoid detection when they do need to place the maximum bets. You will want to practice your running count before you hit the casino floor. Online blackjack games are a great way to learn how to assign value and watch for advantageous counts. While counting cards doesn’t work at online casinos because of random number generators, the experience is invaluable.

Ensure you read our expert reviews of the best online casinos for blackjack, including those with the highest casino bonuses for new players.

Maddison Dwyer

Senior Writer

Maddison studied journalism at the University of Queensland. However, she decided against going into mainstream media in her final year when she saw her first live poker tournament. From that moment on, she wanted to find out more about casinos, card games and the world of gambling.
As a result, Maddison is our resident table game expert. From blackjack to roulette, craps to baccarat, Maddison knows all the rules and strategies to be successful at the table. When she’s not researching and writing, Maddison can be found kitesurfing or snorkelling along the gorgeous coast of Queensland.

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