5 Things to Know About Card Counting

It is reasonable to assume that an advanced Blackjack player (such as those who have been inducted into the game’s hall of fame) would be considered an ‘advantage player’. This means the player goes beyond simply knowing and using best practices, known as Blackjack’s basic strategy, to use techniques such as card counting.

Turning the Tables on House Edge

Counting cards not only can lessen the house edge, but actually can be used to obtain an outright edge or ‘advantage’ over the house. In other words, with perfect basic strategy, a player’s disadvantage can be reduced by half to about 0.5% — yet an advantage player can reach positive percentages against a dealer and the casino. If you think you are ready to graduate as a Blackjack player, to the advanced rank of consistent winners, then it means you are not satisfied with either:

  • playing just with your luck (so that the house always has the advantage), or
  • just memorising the chart of basic strategy (to know by learned reflex how to handle each hand).

What Is Card Counting?

If you’re ready to be a calculated winner, it means that you will have to keep track of the cards that have been played already during a session. One way to do this is by assigning them points and keeping a running tally in the mind, in order to get some sense of the odds of certain cards yet to be dealt. That’s card counting, in a nutshell.

The following are five essential concepts about card counting that you should know, whether or not you intend to learn and employ one of the formal systems that exist, which with names like:

  • Halves
  • Hi­Lo
  • Zen Count …

5 Steps Toward Card Counting

1. Which Cards Are Counted?

For the player the most crucial cards are Aces and 10s, statistically. The basic reason is that having more of these high value cards increases the chances that a player will be dealt a natural blackjack of 21 (for which the payout is 3:2).

For the dealer, the most advantageous cards are low value, from 3­6, since dealers generally are bound by the rules to keep hitting a hand until its value is higher than 16 or a soft 17 (that is, containing an Ace).

Since 10s in the deck are hazards to the dealer, who can go bust with them more easily, it makes sense for players to have a sense of how many 10 cards are yet to be dealt.

2. Must a Winner Count Cards?

This is more precisely a question of how one wants to win — and the assumptive answer is that it is more satisfying to win from using good strategy, having skill, demonstrating patience and composure, than to win by just being lucky or using memorised best strategy charts.

Each smart player will form one’s own unique formula of winning techniques, which could even include observations of the dealer’s habits and psychology. Many players may want to stick to the mental challenge of applying basic strategy regardless of the heat of the moment and bets.

3. Other Strategies to Use

Of all the advantage methods available card counting (also called card reading) may be considered the most sincere form of advanced skill. There are over 7 forms of card counting systems. Just choosing the system one learns to use could be considered act of strategy.

Besides those, other blackjack techniques include:

  • hole carding: trying to identify a dealer’s down­turned card
  • shuffle tracking: tracking cards through shuffles
  • edge sorting: analyzing the unique condition of cards for irregularities

4. Is Card Counting Legal?

The formal, legal answer could vary from place to place. But, for example, in the State of New Jersey, home of Atlantic City’s casinos, the official gambling authority has decided that players cannot be banned by casinos if they count cards. There are no US Federal laws prohibiting this strategy.

On the other hand, casinos hate card counting players! In the heyday of Vegas, floor managers took suspected card counters into the back room for a little knuckle breaking.

If they don’t go that far, the house could do many other things to thwart advantage players, including:

  • surveilling players and keeping records of card counters
  • studying players’ betting records for evidence
  • harassing players (distracting them during a hand)
  • shuffling the cards more often
  • employing lightning fast dealers
  • varying shuffling with machines or manually

5. Do Dealers Count Cards?

Naturally, who better to count cards than a dealer, who is a professional player and is trained to suss out opponents who use card­counting techniques?

It may seem reasonable that your dealer is either better at counting than you, or definitely is doing so — however, most agree that dealers are less likely to do this than players.

The main reason is that a dealer’s brain is already taxed by dealing and managing payments, making it extremely difficult to count cards as well. There are other reasons, including a lack of motivation for a dealer to do it (being a mere employee, after all).

Card Counting Online

Online live dealer Blackjack is both a safer setting to use card counting, but alas, a more difficult scenario since you are fairly removed from the actual table. However, if you want to get good at it before trying it at actual casinos (at your risk!) then Web based tables are a good place to start.