Blackjack Card Counting

This section deals with everything to do with blackjack card counting, which is a system whereby players track cards in order to give themselves a statistical advantage over the casino.  Although the subject of counting cards traditionally was limited to a small group of people, over the years numerous books and movies (like the popular 21) have increased awareness of the subject and thus its popularity.  On this page we'll give you an entire overview of how to count cards as well as some interesting facts and information about the topic - contrary to popular belief card counting ISN'T illegal, just don't get caught.

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Some Basic Card Counting Facts

  • The idea of card counting has existed for over 60 years and since its inception has developed quickly as casinos try to deter the counters and counters try to come up with new & innovative tactics
  • The actual process of counting cards is not illegal since it requires only your mind, however casinos obviously don't like it and will most likely ban you from their property if you are caught doing it
  • The steps involved in card counting theory are not that difficult to learn, however applying them in a casino environment with distractions, dealers, pit bosses and security requires a TON of practice
  • Card Counting works because blackjack is a variable game where player decisions have a direct impact on the house advantage and therefore can be manipulated through tracking of previous cards dealt
  • Before you even attempt at learning and utilizing card counting, you should become extremely well versed in both how to play blackjack and how to use basic strategy to optimize your advantage

What is Card Counting & How Does It Work?

In a nutshell, card counting is simply a method of assigning values to the cards dealt from the shoe at a blackjack table and using those values to determine a "count" which is used to determine bet strategies.  For simplicities sake we'll use the High-Lo Count system to explain how to count cards since it's the most widely used system and one of the easier ones to learn.  Generally speaking, when it comes to counting cards the easier the system is to master the less effective it is in reducing the house edge.

In the High-Lo system, every card in the deck is assigned a plus, minus or neutral value which is used throughout play.  Cards 2 through 6 carry a value of +1, cards 7, 8 and 9 carry a value of 0 and cards 10, J, Q, K and Ace carry a value of -1.  The idea is that more low cards coming means that there are bigger ones left in the bet and therefore increases the players chances of winning. Now let's put these system into practice and take a look at how you would use it while sitting and playing blackjack in a casino.

For card counting to be effective, you need to start a the beginning of the shoe to get a good picture of the count throughout the session.  Once you sit down, you're going to have to track every card that comes out and keep tabs on what the count is at all times for this to work correctly.  Say you sit down and play, and the first ten cards dealt are: 2, K, 8, A, 3, 10, 6, 9, 4 and 5.  Using the Hi-Lo system we would get a running count of +2 at this point in the shoe.  Once we have calculated this number of the fly we need to determine what's known as the "true count" to determine how we should bet accordingly.

The "running count" is the base number that we've just calculated on the fly (+2) and is the starting point for determining the true count.  The true count is the running count divided by the number of decks left in the shoe, let's say for simplicities sake that there was 1 deck remaining before the cut card.  In this case, the true count of the table would be +1 and it's very important to always know the true count since this will give you the most accurate picture of the cards lefts on the table to be dealt by the dealer.

True Count = Running Count / Number of Decks Remaining In the Shoe

How To Bet With The True Count

Once you've determined the true count at the table you are playing at, you're probably wondering how you are supposed to determine how much you should bet.  The best method is to start with a base amount and then use the count to determine the multiples from there.  Let's say for this example your base betting amount is $100 per hand (which is quite high but sounds cool for our given example).

  • True Count +1, Zero or Negative: If the true count is +1 or below your going to want to bet under your base amount, this case between $25 to $50 per hand since your odds of winning are not great
  • True Count +2 - +3: If the true count is +2 or +3 you are going to want to make a bet of approx 2 times your base wager, so in this case you would be looking at betting around $200 per hand.
  • True Count +4 or +5: With the true count at +4 or +5 you'll want to bet 3 times your base betting amount for a total wager of $300 per hand since the deck is becoming favourable to the player.
  • True Count +6 or +7: When the true count reaches +6 or +7, you should being betting about 4 times your base wager so in this example around $400 for each hand you are playing at the table.
  • True Count +5 or More: With a true count of +5 or greater, you are going to want to bet 5 or more times your initial wager so $500 or more per hand since this is the absolute ideal betting situation.

Casino Countermeasures Against Card Counters

As you can imagine, casinos are in the business of making money and anything that threatens their house advantage is seen as a huge vulnerability to their bottom line.  Because of this, naturally the casinos despise card counters and while the action of card counting is not illegal, casinos do have the right to ban suspected counters from their premises as you are playing on private property.  Over the years, the methods by which casinos have attempted to thwart card counters have developed rapidly just as counters seek new ways to fool the casino.  Below we've outlined how typical card counters work in casinos and what the casinos do to try and ensure that they can't get away with counting for long.

Counter's Method: Card counters usually work in teams of 3 but it can be much more depending on the scope of the crew.  Two of the team are players, one of them playing at low stakes keeping track of the count and the other waiting for an optimal situation to sit down and start betting big.  The way it works is that the low stakes player will sit at a table, track the true count and when the deck becomes optimal for player (with a very high + true count) they will establish a signal to let the "big" player know to come and sit at the table and start betting large amounts.  The third person in the crew is the spotter and their sole job is to look out for casino security, ensure the operation runs smoothly and sometimes back count (keep track of the count as an observer not actually playing).  With the team all working in conjunction with one another, it's possible to run a very successful counting operation under the radar.  That being said, the casinos have introduced a number of countermeasures to stop card counting including:

  • Surveillance: Using the casinos sophisticated surveillance equipment to watch the players and establish the connection of a card counting team in order to stop them from playing
  • Intervention: Engaging the counter in conversation or distracting them so they lose track of the count in a given shoe and are unable to determine the optimal time for increasing their bets
  • Identification: Marking known card counters and banning them from casinos - most notably the "black book" from Griffin Investigations - if you get on this list, good luck playing in any casino
  • Rule Changes: Changing the rules of the game mid-play, possibly banning splitting, doubling down or the stakes at the table in an effort to thwart the counters ability to maintain an advantage
  • Human Intelligence: Pit bosses and dealers are trained in how to spot card counters and will alert upper management of suspected card counters playing within their casino
  • Flat Betting: Changing the betting limits for a particular player, for example only letting them bet the same amount or drastically decreasing the maximum wager they can place per hand
  • Random Shuffle: If a card counter is suspected, sometimes the casino will shuffle as soon as they start placing bigger wagers to ensure that the count must be restarted and is completely random
  • Artificial Intelligence: Some of the next generation blackjack tables actually use computer systems that read radio frequency chips to determine whether a card counting strategy is being used

As you can see, the casinos are highly invested in stopping card counters from using their systems to win the casinos assets however even with all of these countermeasures there are still a ton of successful card counters around the world.  With a little innovation, a highly skilled team and a bit of luck, it's still very possible to count cards in a casino as long as you take the appropriate measures to count undetected.