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Mar 23, 2023

How to win at blackjack - card counting

author Peter Sommer

Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games around the world. Winning at blackjack in most games requires both luck and skill. Card counting is a technique that can increase the player's advantage by keeping track of the cards that have been dealt with and adjusting the betting strategy accordingly.

In this article, we will discuss the basics of blackjack, what card counting is, how to count cards, the legalities of card counting, advanced card counting strategies, practice tips, and bankroll management. Understanding and utilizing card counting strategies can significantly increase the chances of winning at blackjack. Let's dive into the world of card counting and explore how it can give players an edge at the blackjack table.

The Basics of Blackjack game

To understand the concept of card counting, it's important to first know how to play blackjack and rules of blackack. Blackjack is a card game played with one or more decks of standard playing cards. The goal of the game is to beat the dealer by having a hand that is closer to 21 than the dealer's hand, without going over 21.

Each card has a value, with numbered cards worth their face value, face cards worth 10, and an Ace worth either 1 or 11. At the beginning of each round, players place their bets, and the dealer deals two cards to each player and one card to themselves. One of the dealer's cards dealt is face up, while the other is face down.

Players can then choose to "hit" and receive another card to improve their hand or "stand" and keep their current hand. Players can continue to hit until they decide to stand or go over 21, which results in an automatic loss.

Once all players have finished their turns, the dealer reveals their face-down card and hits until they reach a total of 17 or higher. If the dealer goes over 21, all remaining players win.

Basic strategy in blackjack involves making decisions based on the player's hand, the dealer's up card, and the number of decks being used. For example, if the player's hand is a hard 12-16 and the dealer's up card is 2-6, the player should stand. However, if the dealer's up card is 7-Ace, the player should hit.

By utilizing basic blackjack strategy well, players can reduce the house edge and increase their chances of winning at blackjack. In the next section, we will discuss how card counting can further increase a player's advantage at the blackjack table.

What is Card Counting?

Card counting is a technique used in blackjack to gain an advantage over the casino by keeping track of the ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck or shoe. The basic premise of card counting is that when there are more high cards left in the deck, the player has a higher chance of being dealt a winning hand.

There are several different card counting systems, but they all work by assigning different point values to each card and keeping a running count of the total point value of the cards that have been dealt. When the count is high, the player knows that there are more high cards left in the deck and can increase their bets accordingly. Conversely, when the count is low, the player knows that there are more low cards left in the deck and can decrease their bets or choose not to play.

What is the Running count

In card counting, the running count is a count of the cards that have been dealt so far in a game of blackjack. The running count is calculated by assigning a point value to each card that is dealt and adding or subtracting that value from the running count based on the card's rank.

For example, in the Hi-Lo count system, cards 2 through 6 are assigned a value of +1, cards 7 through 9 are assigned a value of 0, and cards 10 through Ace are assigned a value of -1. When a card is dealt, the player adds or subtracts its point value from the running count.

For instance, if the first three cards dealt are 4, 9, and 10, the running count would be +0 (the 4 is worth +1, the 9 is worth 0, and the 10 is worth -1, so the total is 0). As more cards are dealt, the running count will continue to change based on the point values assigned to each card.

The running count is used to determine the true count, which takes into account the number of decks that are still in play. The true count is calculated by dividing the running count by the number of decks remaining in the shoe. The true count is a more accurate representation of the deck's composition and is used to make more precise betting decisions.

One of the most popular and well-known card counting systems is the Hi-Lo system. In the Hi-Lo system, each card is assigned a point value of +1, -1, or 0. Cards 2-6 are assigned a value of +1, cards 7-9 are assigned a value of 0, and cards 10-Ace are assigned a value of -1. The player keeps a running count of the total point value of all the cards that have been dealt, and the higher the count, the more favorable the deck is for the player.

Another popular card counting system is the KO system, or Knockout system. In the KO system, cards 2-7 are assigned a point value of +1, cards 8-9 are assigned a value of 0, and cards 10-Ace are assigned a value of -1. Unlike the Hi-Lo system, the KO card counter system uses an unbalanced count, which means that the player does not start with a count of 0 at the beginning of each deck or shoe.

Counting cards systems compared

Here is a table summarizing the point values assigned to each card in the Hi-Lo and KO systems:

Card Value Hi-Lo System KO System
2 +1 +1
3 +1 +1
4 +1 +1
5 +1 +1
6 +1 +1
7 0 +1
8 0 0
9 0 0
10 -1 -1
Jack -1 -1
Queen -1 -1
King -1 -1
Ace -1 -1

While these two systems are just a few examples of the many card counting systems that exist, they provide a good starting point for players interested in learning how to count cards in blackjack.

Other common card counting systems

Red 7 Count

This system is similar to the Hi-Lo Count but assigns a value of +1 to red 7s and -1 to black 7s. This system is often used in multi-deck games where the dealer stands on a soft 17.

Zen Count

The Zen Count is a balanced system that assigns different values to different cards. It assigns a value of +2 to 10s, -2 to 9s, +1 to Aces, 0 to 8s, and -1 to all other cards. This system is often used in multi-deck games with favorable rules for players.

Omega II Count

This is an advanced card counting system that assigns different values to different cards. It assigns a value of +2 to 2s and Aces, +1 to 3s, 4s, and 5s, -2 to 9s, -1 to 7s and 8s, and 0 to all other cards. This system is often used in multi-deck games with favorable rules for players.

Wong Halves Count

This is a complex card counting system that assigns fractions to different cards. It assigns a value of +1 to 3s, 4s, and 6s, +0.5 to 2s and 7s, -0.5 to 9s, and -1 to 10s and Aces. This system is often used by experienced players in multi-deck games.

How to Count Cards in Blackjack

Counting cards involves keeping track of the cards that have been dealt in order to gain an advantage over the casino. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to count cards in blackjack:

  1. Assign Point Values to Cards: Assign point values to each card in the deck based on its rank. A common point system is the Hi-Lo system, which assigns the following point values:

  • Cards 2-6: +1 point

  • Cards 7-9: 0 points

  • Cards 10-Ace: -1 point

  1. Keep a Running Count: As each card is dealt, add or subtract the corresponding point value from the running count. The running count reflects the overall point value of the cards that have been dealt so far.

  2. Determine the True Count: The true count is the running count divided by the number of decks that have not yet been dealt. This gives a more accurate measure of the advantage or disadvantage of the remaining cards.

  3. Adjust Your Bet Size: Increase your bet size as the true count becomes more positive, indicating a higher concentration of high cards in the remaining deck. Decrease your bet size as the true count becomes more negative, indicating a higher concentration of low cards.

It's important to note that maintaining proper bet sizing based on the count is crucial for success in card counting. Betting too aggressively when the count is high can result in significant losses if the count suddenly drops. On the other hand, betting too conservatively when the count is low can limit potential profits. A common approach is to use a betting spread, where the bet size is varied based on the true count. Here's an example betting spread for a six-deck game:

  • True Count of +1 or lower: Minimum bet

  • True Count of +2: Bet 2-3 times the minimum bet

  • True Count of +3: Bet 4-5 times the minimum bet

  • True Count of +4 or higher: Bet 6-8 times the minimum bet

By following these steps and using proper bet sizing, card counting can give players a significant advantage over the casino in the game of blackjack.

How card counting can improve a player's edge

In blackjack, the dealer uses a single deck blackjack, or multiple decks of cards to deal out hands. As cards are dealt, the composition of the deck changes. When the deck has a higher concentration of high cards (ten, jack, queen, king, and ace), the player has a higher probability of getting a blackjack and the dealer has a higher probability of busting. When the deck has a higher concentration of low cards (two, three, four, five, and six), the opposite is true.

Card counting is a way of keeping track of the balance between high value cards and low cards in the deck. The player assigns a value to each card (usually +1, -1, or 0) and keeps a running count of the total value of the cards that have been dealt. When the running count is positive, the deck has a higher concentration of high cards, and when the running count is negative, the deck has a higher concentration of low cards.

As the deck composition changes, the player can adjust their strategy accordingly. When the deck has a higher concentration of high cards, the player can increase their bet and deviate from basic strategy by standing on lower totals or doubling down on more hands. When the deck has a higher concentration of low cards, the player can decrease their bet and deviate from basic strategy by hitting on higher totals.

By using card counting, a skilled player can gain an edge over the casino. The exact edge depends on the specific rules of the game and the skill level of the player, but it can range from a few tenths of a percent to over 1%. This edge may seem small, but it can add up over time, especially when combined with proper bankroll management and a disciplined approach to playing blackjack.

Is counting cards in casinos legal?

Card counting is not illegal, but it is frowned upon by casinos as it gives players an edge in the game. However, it is important to note that while it is not illegal, casinos have the right to ban players they suspect of card counting from their premises. If caught, players could be escorted out of the casino or even be banned from entering it in the future.

To avoid detection while card counting, it is important to maintain a low profile and not draw too much attention to yourself. Some tips for staying under the radar while counting cards include varying your bets based on the count, avoiding electronic devices, and keeping track of the minimum bet at each table. It is also important to remain calm and composed while playing and not to celebrate wins too loudly or excessively. By doing so, you can increase your chances of not being detected while counting cards and winning at blackjack.

Advanced Card Counting Strategies

Once you have mastered basic card counting techniques, you may want to explore more advanced betting strategies to further improve your chances of winning at blackjack. Two such techniques are shuffle tracking and ace sequencing.

Shuffle tracking involves keeping track of clusters of cards through the shuffling process, in order to anticipate when favorable cards are likely to be dealt. This technique requires a high level of skill and observation, as well as the ability to track cards while they are being shuffled.

Ace Sequencing

Sequencing in blackjack refers to keeping track of the order in which the cards are dealt so that you can make more informed decisions about your next move. Here are some tips to help you improve your sequencing skills:

  1. Start with basic strategy: Before you can effectively sequence in blackjack, you need to understand and use basic strategy. This means memorizing the best plays for each possible hand based on the dealer's upcard.

  2. Practice with a deck of cards: To improve your sequencing skills, practice with a deck of cards at home. Deal cards to yourself and try to keep track of the order in which they were dealt.

  3. Pay attention to the cards: When you're playing at a casino, pay close attention to the cards that are dealt. Try to remember the cards that have been played and use that information to make more informed decisions about your next move.

  4. Use a mental count: You don't need to memorize every card that has been played. Instead, use a mental count to keep track of the general balance of high and low cards that are left in the deck. This can help you make more informed decisions about your next move.

  5. Avoid distractions: To effectively sequence in blackjack, you need to stay focused on the game. Avoid distractions like talking to other players or watching TV while you're playing.

Remember that sequencing in blackjack is not foolproof and does not guarantee a win. It is simply a technique that can help you make more informed decisions about your next move.

Shuffle tracking

Shuffle tracking is an advanced blackjack technique that involves keeping track of clumps or groups of cards through the shuffle process. Here are some tips to help you improve your shuffle tracking skills:

  1. Understand how shuffles work: To effectively track shuffles, you need to understand how the shuffling process works. Different casinos and dealers use different shuffling techniques, so it's important to pay attention and adapt to each situation.

  2. Look for opportunities: Shuffle tracking is most effective in games where the dealer uses a hand shuffle rather than a machine shuffle. Look for opportunities to play in games where hand shuffling is used.

  3. Pay attention to the discard tray: The cards that are discarded during play can be a good indicator of how the deck is being shuffled. If you see clumps of cards in the discard tray, it's possible that those cards will end up being clumped together after the shuffle.

  4. Focus on the end of the shuffle: The end of the shuffle is the most important part for shuffle tracking. Pay close attention to how the dealer shuffles the cards and try to keep track of the location of the clumps or groups of cards that you're tracking.

  5. Practice: Shuffle tracking is a complex technique that takes a lot of practice to master. Start by practicing with a deck of cards at home and work your way up to playing in a live casino environment.

Remember that shuffle tracking is an advanced technique that is not foolproof and can be difficult to use effectively. Additionally, shuffle tracking can be seen as a form of cheating by casinos and may result in being banned from playing blackjack if caught.

It is important advantage players to understand the pros and cons of each technique, and to use them selectively and in combination with other strategies, based on the specific circumstances of the game. With practice and experience, advanced card counting techniques can be a powerful tool in the skilled player's arsenal.

How to practice card counting

As with any skill, practice is essential for becoming proficient at card counting. Fortunately skilled card counters, there are many resources available to help you hone your skills.

One effective way to practice card counting is to use online tools and apps, or you can even play blackjack online for fun as practice. There are several free and paid options available that simulate a blackjack game and allow you to practice counting cards. These tools can help you improve your speed and accuracy in assigning point card values and keeping a running count.

Practical tips on how to practice card counting

Start with the basics: If you're new to card counting, start with a simple system like the Hi-Lo count. Practice counting through a single deck of cards until you can keep an accurate count without making mistakes.

  1. Use a trainer app: There are several card counting trainer apps available that can help you practice your skills. These apps simulate a casino environment and allow you to practice counting in real-time.

  2. Practice in a distraction-free environment: Card counting requires concentration and focus. Practice in a quiet, distraction-free environment to help you stay focused and avoid mistakes.

  3. Practice with different decks and rules: To improve your card counting skills, practice with different decks and rule variations. This will help you adjust to different casino environments and improve your ability to make accurate counts.

  4. Practice with a partner: Practicing with a partner can help you stay motivated and accountable. You can also practice different scenarios and help each other improve your card counting skills.

  5. Don't rely solely on card counting: Remember that card counting is just one part of playing blackjack. You still need to use basic strategy and make smart decisions based on the dealer's upcard.

  6. Don't get discouraged: Card counting takes time and practice to master. Don't get discouraged if you make mistakes or have trouble keeping an accurate count at first. Keep practicing and you'll improve over time.

Finally, it's important to remember that card counting is not foolproof and there is always a risk of losing money. It's important to practice good bankroll management and never bet more than you can afford to lose. With enough practice and discipline, however, card counting can be a valuable tool for increasing your chances of winning at blackjack.

The Importance of Bankroll Management for card counters

Bankroll management is an essential part of being a successful blackjack player, regardless of whether or not you are counting cards. Without proper bankroll management, even the most skilled players can quickly find themselves out of the game. The key to managing your bankroll effectively in blackjack strategies is to determine a proper bankroll based on your skill level and risk tolerance, and to stick to that bankroll throughout your play.

The first step in bankroll management is to determine a proper bankroll size based on your skill level and the stakes you plan to play. As a general rule, your bankroll should be at least 50 times the minimum bet at the table. For example, if you plan to play at a table with a minimum bet of $10, your bankroll should be at least $500. However, for card counters, the recommended bankroll size is often much larger, as the swings in bankroll can be quite large.

It's also important to keep track of your bankroll throughout your play. Set a win and loss limit for each session and stick to it. For example, if your win limit is $200, stop playing once you have won that amount. Similarly, if your loss limit is $100, stop playing once you have lost that amount. This will help you avoid losing more money than you can afford and will prevent you from chasing your losses.

Finally, always remember to be honest with yourself about your skill level and risk tolerance. If you are just starting out, it's best to start with smaller stakes and build up your bankroll gradually. Similarly, if you are risk-averse, it's best to avoid high-stakes blackjack games and focus on lower-risk opportunities. By managing your bankroll effectively, you can enjoy the game of blackjack without risking more than you can afford to lose.

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