Can you play blackjack without counting cards?
Counting cards in the casino world has taken on an almost mythical quality. Having been popularised in the Oscar-winning movie Rain Man, casino goers across the world treat it as some deeply esoteric strategy that requires savant level numerical skills. The fact of the matter is, however, somewhat more prosaic, and players might be surprised to find that counting cards is a relatively easy strategy and commonly used in both online and brick and mortar casinos. In this article, we will give an overview of what exactly card counting is, how it’s used in blackjack, and whether it is the guarantee of betting success that many believe it to be.
What is card counting?Card counting is a strategy often used in card games where the player attempts to determine whether the next hand to be dealt is likely to give an advantage to the player or the dealer in a game. It is particularly popular in card games like blackjack where the house edge is almost zero, which is unusual compared to most casino games, and can give players up to a 1% edge in a game.
How is it done?
Basic card counting can be broken down into a few essential steps:
- Assign value: The player assigns a numerical value to every card
- Running count: The player then keeps a mental or written running count based on the values of the cards as they are dealt
- True count: Use the above information to calculate the count in the deck, also known as the true count
- Adjust bets: With this total in mind, the player then changes their bets as the true count rises
The general strategy for card counting in blackjack uses a hi to low (Hi-Lo) strategy. This entails giving high cards a specific value (such as -1), whilst low cards are given a corresponding value (+1). When these are added up, they provide a total running count. This allows players to figure out what their chances are of hitting 21. Armed with this information, the player can then decide to adjust in terms of how much they want to bet. If the running count is positive (i.e. +2 or above), this indicates a good opportunity to increase your bet.
Benefits of counting cardsThere are a number of potential benefits to counting cards in blackjack:
- It can turn a game of pure chance into something strategic with a set, repeatable strategy.
- If done correctly, it can reduce the house edge to almost zero. This doesn’t sound like much, but all casino games favour the house, so this is actually quite good!
- The strategy is highly adaptable and allows you to adjust your betting strategy as the game progresses.
Is it legal?
Due to the influence of media depictions with somewhat unrealistic and inaccurate displays of card counting, the strategy has gained a bad reputation over the years. Indeed, card counting is a legitimate strategy that can be finely honed and simply puts to use readily available information in a game to use in a strategic, quantifiable way. As such, card counting is more akin to a set of tools that can be used by anyone rather than a guarantee of success or some sort of secret hack. Having said that, the practice is still frowned upon by many casinos around the world simply because it reduces the house edge.
Why to avoid counting cardsHaving read the above overview of card counting, you might feel enticed, if not compelled to learn this practice. With that in mind, there are a number of reasons why you might want to avoid it.
- It’s very complex once you get beyond the introductory stage and can be quite hard to learn properly
- It doesn’t always work as planned and not every game will be a suitable environment to try it out in
- It’s hard to count cards in a casino environment, and the house will take steps to minimise the possibility that you can actually do it
- The potential profit you can make is quite low compared to the amount of trial and error it takes to implement the strategy successfully
- If a casino catches on to your strategy, they might ask you to leave or switch table
Blackjack success without counting cards?
Although by this stage you might be under the impression that given how powerful counting cards is as a strategy in blackjack, there is no point in playing without doing; you would be sorely mistaken! Indeed, counting cards isn’t the only way to increase your chances of blackjack success and represents only one amongst many strategies.
With that said, here are two popular alternative strategies for counting cards:
- Hold Carding: This entails identifying what the dealer's hole card is and adjusting your strategy based on this. A ‘hole card’ is the dealer's face down card and once you figure out what it is likely to be, this information can give you an incredible competitive edge.
- Front Loading: This involves the player attempting to identify what the next card will be and adjusting their strategy accordingly. Front loading occurs when the dealer inadvertently exposes the hole card while pulling it out of the deck.
Card counting strategies in blackjack are complex and very difficult to master. Even when you execute the plan perfectly, the amount of time you must put into a particular table and the often drastic swings in your bankroll can make it an exercise in futility! Luckily, card counting isn’t the only way to win in blackjack and as such ‘hold carding’ and ‘front loading’ present alternative strategies you can easily implement. If this article has given you the itch to get playing, click the link and get practising at Bitcasino today!
Words: Sean McNulty