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How card counting in blackjack works

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How card counting in blackjack works

How card counting in blackjack works

Mon Jan 23 2023 00:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Card counting is one of the most popular techniques blackjack players use to gain an advantage over the house edge. Most memorably, it was notoriously used in Las Vegas casinos by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) blackjack team around 1980 to 1990, where the students walked away with millions of dollars.


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You've seen it in movies and various forms of media, but what exactly is card counting? This guide aims to define what this strategy is and, most importantly, how you can apply it in your gameplay to win more prizes and protect your bankroll at the same time. 

What are counting cards in blackjack?

Card counting is a tactic mainly associated with blackjack to gain an advantage over the house edge. It's a strategy that involves tracking cards that have already been dealt live, which helps narrow down the ones still in the deck. 

With this kind of information, counters will know if the upcoming cards will be beneficial to them or the dealer in which they can adjust their strategy accordingly. 

For instance, if a player successfully tracks the cards and knows that the next one will land them a natural pair of cards that exactly adds to 21, they can capitalise on this opportunity and bet larger amounts.

Card counting is proven to improve one's probability of winning. One particular statistic this affects is the house edge which is the built-in advantage that the casino has over the players. When done properly, card counting can reduce the casino's house edge and increase your odds of winning. 

How does blackjack card counting work?

Card counting is predominantly used in blackjack as it provides the most advantage in this casino game. By knowing which cards will appear next from the deck, you can decide which can increase your chances of winning while simultaneously protecting your bankroll.

However, this mindset isn't simple, as it requires the strongest mindset given the immense focus you need to track the cards at play. Additionally, you must do all this while remaining discreet so that the croupier doesn't notice what you're doing since this strategy isn't exactly a hit in casinos. 

Let's take the High & Low (Hi-Lo) card counting strategy, for example. Here, you need to assign a value to each card rank to know whether or not you have to add or subtract your running count or do nothing.

Once you have finished adding and subtracting to your running count, you'll end up with the true count, which pertains to the final number you stop on.

How to apply card counting in blackjack

In blackjack, the dealer gives the players seated at the table two cards. While playing, you can see which cards have already appeared and which haven't, which is where card counting comes in.

By doing some basic math in your head as the cards continue to appear on the blackjack table, you'll have an idea of what cards might turn up next, helping you make a more profitable decision.

You can apply card counting strategies in your blackjack gaming session; just make sure not to get caught by the dealer since you can get banned from the casino. That's why you need to remain discreet even though you're doing math problems in your head.

Another factor that makes this challenging is that some casinos use multiple decks, six to eight to be exact, which makes it harder to track the cards. If you're not skilled enough, you may end up losing count.

Although it's one of the hard skills to master, card counting can help you protect your bankroll.

Blackjack card counting chart

In card counting, you must know the different patterns based on the cards already dealt on the table. Depending on the card value card on the table, you need to add (+1), subtract (-1) or do nothing (0) with your running count.

To practice card counting, here's a chart that will guide you through the patterns of different card-counting strategies in blackjack. You can refer to this table whenever you're going to play online:

Strategy/

card

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10, J, Q, K

Ace

Hi-Lo

+1

+1

+1

+1

+1

0

0

0

-1

-1

K-O

+1

+1

+1

+1

+1

+1

0

0

-1

-1

Hi-Opt I

0

+1

+1

+1

+1

0

0

0

-1

0

Hi-Opt II

+1

+1

+2

+2

+1

+1

0

0

-2

0

Halves

+.5

+1

+1

+1.5

+1

+.5

0

-.5

-1

-1

Omega II

+1

+1

+2

+2

+2

+1

0

-1

-2

0

Red Seven

+1

+1

+1

+1

+1

0/+1

0

0

-1

-1

Zen

+1

+1

+2

+2

+2

+1

0

0

-2

-1

In this chart, the uppermost row is the cards in the deck, while the leftmost column represents the card-counting strategies. Here's the legend for the rest of the numbers found in the table:

  • +1 - add one
  • -1 - subtract 1
  • +2 - add two
  • -2 - subtract 2
  • 0 - do nothing
  • +.5 - add half
  • -.5 - subtract half
  • +1.5 - add one and a half.

Tip: You can use this table and other basic blackjack charts at your disposal to help you make the most profitable decision in the game.


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How to count cards in blackjack

Counting cards can help you decide whether or not you should hitsurrender or double down. Additionally, it can help you decide what your standing limits are. For instance, if you know that the next dealt cards can help you create the best hand, you can opt for doubling down to maximise your winnings.

On the other hand, if the next card will cause you to exceed 21, you can choose to surrender to prevent yourself from going bust.

Here's a more detailed guide on how to count cards successfully:

  1. Mark the card value

Your goal is to end up with a hand value as close to 21 without going over. You must build your hand using various card rankings to achieve this.

That's why one of the first things you need to do before applying a certain card-counting technique is to mark the card values. Going back to the card counting chart above, you need to mark the card value to decide the next step in your running count, i.e. add 1, subtract 1, add 2, and so on.

  1. Tracking the cards

The next step is to start tracking the cards being dealt by the dealer as the game goes on. While watching these values dealt with by the dealer, you can narrow down the remaining cards in the deck with the help of mathematics.

With each card being dealt, start counting in your mind to further have an idea of the cards that will appear.

  1. Placing bet amount

Once you've got an idea of the upcoming cards from the deck, start strategising your next move, specifically your bet amount. If you think the next round will give you a natural, you can place large bets or double down to win even bigger prizes.

On the other hand, if your tracking is right and the next card will cost you the game, you can easily surrender to avoid huge damage to your bankroll.

Blackjack card counting strategy

Card counting consists of multiple advanced systems, each using different patterns. Here are some of the most famous blackjack card-counting strategies that can help you win more games when done correctly:

  1. Omega II

The Omega II is a much more complex card-counting strategy mainly because it uses a multi-level system, which means that some cards are worth adding or subtracting 2 points instead of the usual 1. 

Here are the marks of each card ranking in the Omega II card counting strategy:

  • 2, 3 and 7: +1
  • 4, 5 and 6: +2
  • 9: -1
  • 10, Jack, Queen, King: -2
  • Ace, 8: 0

Lastly, Omega II is considered a balanced system, which means you'll know if you've counted the cards right when you end up at zero when all the cards have been dealt.

  1. Wong Halves

Wong Halves is among blackjack's most complicated card-counting techniques due to the fractional values that make it even harder to stay on track. Here's a quick rundown of the marks of each card ranking in Wong Halves:

  • Ace, 10, Jack, Queen, King: -1
  • 2, 7: +0.5
  • 3, 4, 6: +1
  • 5: +1.5
  • 8: 0
  • 9: -0.5.
  1. Hi-Lo System

Compared to the previous strategies, the Hi-Lo System is suitable for beginners since it's an easy card counting technique. The strategy is based on Edward Thorp's Ten-Count System, where cards 2 to 6 are called +1 while high cards (Ace, Jack, Queen, King) are marked -1. All the remaining cards are considered zero.

The rule here is simple: the higher the positive number, the more likely the deck has several high-value cards left.


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Easiest ways to count cards in Blackjack

Counting cards begin with your starting hand. After looking at your initial cards, you can choose which technique to use to determine which cards will be drawn from the deck next.

Regardless of which counting card system you'll use, it's important to know the three ways to identify the cards in the deck: neutral, high and low

By knowing their categories, you can decide whether to add, subtract, or stay put, depending on your strategy.

High cards

These cards offer the highest values in blackjack, namely, ten, face cards and aces.

Low cards

On the other hand, the low cards feature the smallest value in the deck, such as 2, 3, 4,5, 6 and 7.

Neutral cards

Lastly, the neutral cards are sort of the middle ground when it comes to blackjack. Depending on the technique, these cards will see you refraining from adding or subtracting any amount to your running count. The values included in this category are 7, 8 and 9.

Should you try blackjack card counting systems?

If you have the willpower and the patience to study different card-counting strategies by heart, then you should try card counting to increase your chances of winning a blackjack game. 

Successfully pulling off this strategy can swing the house edge in your favour as you'll get an insight into making more profitable decisions by knowing the cards in the deck.

Do keep in mind that you also have to be discreet in doing this technique, as it's frowned upon by casinos even though no federal law restricts it.

Additionally, you can also try online casino blackjack card counting through Bitcasino's selection of live dealer blackjack titles. With the number of games available here, you have all the time in the world to practice and master card counting.

Frequently asked questions about card counting

What are the odds with card counting in blackjack?

Incorporating this strategy into your gameplay can increase a blackjack's RTP from 98-98.5% to 99-99.5%, which is a real 1-1.5% difference. However, remember that this advantage can only be possible with games that use the ideal number of decks for card counting, which is one or two.

Is counting cards hard in blackjack?

Frankly, counting cards is hard to master, which is especially true if you're playing with six to eight decks. Aside from mentally counting the cards, which takes a lot of brain power, you must also be discreet, and a task like this can be difficult to disguise, especially with an expert croupier around.

With regular practice and discipline, you can improve your odds of winning by counting while remaining undetected at the same time.

How effective is card counting in blackjack?

As previously stated, using a card counting blackjack strategy can give you a 1 to 1.5% advantage. However, its effectiveness will vary per player and their mastery of the skill, as sometimes they could get lost in the sea of cards being dealt per game.

What is the best blackjack card counting strategy?

The answer to this question is Hi-Lo since it's the easiest way to count cards in blackjack.

What casino games can be beaten by card counting besides blackjack?

When it comes to counting cards, blackjack is the game where players can benefit most. But it can also be used in baccarat and poker. In baccarat, you can use card counting to know which hand will have the better hand value.

Meanwhile, card counting in poker is almost considered a necessity since it can guide you into making decisions that will lead to profits. 

Words by: Jericho Paradeza


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How card counting in blackjack works