How to Count Cards in Blackjack

count cards blackjack

Counting cards is something that is well-known. While it may sound complicated, in fact, it is something that anyone can do if he or she practices. Counting cards in blackjack means, quite simply, to track how many low and high cards are left in the deck. If you can achieve this, you can work out when the odds are in your favor and raise your wager accordingly, giving you a better chance of winning.

Although some people think counting cards is illegal, it isn’t. That is, as long as you count the cards in your head rather than with an app or a device. However, it is regarded as cheating, so, if you decide to try it at a casino, you should be very careful. Your behavior is likely to be monitored.

While this prevents many people from trying it, it is often worth it. If you get it right, you can scoop a huge cash prize with a single strategic game. So, if you want to have your own chance at winning the jackpot by learning how to count cards in blackjack, read on and find out how it works.

The Basics of Card Counting

cards counting blackjack basicIf you’re going to count cards properly, you’ll have to keep a running total that is based on the value of the cards that have been revealed. All cards are given a -1, 0 or +1 value, with high cards being given -1 value and lower ones a +1 value. This enables you to keep track of the value of all the cards that remain in the dealer’s deck, and dictates when you should place a high wager (i.e. when the remaining cards in the deck have a low value), or when you should either bet with a small amount or avoid betting at all (i.e. when the remaining cards’ value is high). In blackjack, there is an average house edge of 0.5 percent, so if you perfect card counting, you’ll have an advantage of 1 percent over the house.

How to Start

You can begin card counting in blackjack by assigning a value to all the cards in the deck. For these purposes, all cards from 10 to Ace will be -1, all the low cards from 2 to 6 have a value of +1, and all the remaining cards, i.e. 7 to 9, are 0.

When the dealer deals the cards, you make mental notes of the assigned value. So, if, for example, the dealer deals a 10, you will assign it the value of -1. Should the next card then be a 3, you’ll give it the value +1. When the totals are added together, you’ll have a total of 0. You will continue this for each card dealt, always keeping a running total.

More Advanced Strategies

After you have practiced the basics of card counting (and stopped using your fingers to count!), the next step is to employ some more advanced strategies.

The Omega II System

The system, created by Bryce Carlson, is known as a “balanced” system, which makes 0 the base. If you have a positive total, that means the deck has more cards with lower values. But, if you have a negative total, there will be more high cards. It does, however, require a more complex numbering system. In the Omega II system, you give cards numbered 7, 3 or 2 a value of 1. The 9 card is given the value of -1, 10s, face cards are given a value of -2, and Aces and 8s are given a value of 0.

Wong Halves System

Named after its developer, Stanford Wong, the Wong Halves system is an advanced card-counting strategy because it uses fractions rather than whole numbers for some of its values. In this system, cards 6, 4, and 3 are given the value of 1, with 7s and 2s being valued at ½. A 5 is worth 1 ½, an 8 has a value of 0, and 9 a -0.5 value. Aces, 10s, and other face cards have a value of -1. This is also quite a balanced counting system, but some players make the strategy easier by doubling the values so fractions are avoided.

Group Play – A Team Effort

There are many people who find card counting works best if they work in a team. This means that multiple tables or decks can be counted at the same time. Usually, members will devise signals, so they can easily communicate secretly with each other without being detected. Casinos often use several decks to try to counteract card counters, and this makes it difficult for a single person to keep a running total. However, working as a group can beat this system.

Counting Multiple Decks Solo

If you don’t have a team of others, it’s still possible to count multiple decks on your own. The key is to employ the Hi-Lo strategy, then divide your running count by how many decks remain. This will give you a true count on which you can base your advantage. For example, if you have a running total of five and two decks remain, you’ll have divided five by two to get a total of 2.5, which will be your true count.

Choosing A Strategy

strategy card countingThe simplest strategy for a beginner card counter to employ is the Hi-Lo strategy. As you get better at card counting, however, you can progress to one of the alternatives mentioned here. There is no single strategy that is the best. And, since all give roughly the same amount of advantage over the casino, you would do best to just choose the strategy you find works best for you and you’re comfortable with. The key is to practice as much as you can for free at first to perfect your techniques. You can do this online with free demo games so you can learn all the basics of card counting in a risk-free environment. Practising at home when playing with friends is another good way to master the art of card counting.

What to Be Aware of When Counting Cards

Casinos are very aware that card counting goes on, and although they are unable to prosecute players who count cards, they can make things rather unpleasant for anyone who is caught. There are also numerous measures in place to try to prevent card counters from taking advantage of their skills. Real-world casinos usually have surveillance cameras, and dealers are regularly switched if the pit boss thinks the table is hot. Dealers are also often forced to shuffle the cards after the hand has been dealt to make it harder to count the cards.

Counting cards is a very lucrative strategy when you have fully mastered it. However, you need to remember to still respect the house rules and be responsible when you gamble. Nevertheless, if you practice the art of card counting and take care not to get caught, you can often scoop yourself some very impressive wins.

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A Massachusetts native, blogger Angeline Everett grew up in the Allston neighborhood of Boston and earned a degree in casino management from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. After graduating, Angeline moved to Atlantic City where she joined the young team at the Borgata Casino as a compliance representative, while blogging on the side. After a few years in the back office, Angeline moved to the floor to work first at a casual poker dealer and later casual poker floor supervisor. Fascinated with games of chance since she was a child, Angeline currently divides her time between blogging and work on her first book.