How To Count Cards In Blackjack

Morten
23 January 2023
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The practice of counting cards in blackjack has a long history, dating back to the 1950s when a group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) discovered a method for gaining an advantage over the casinos at the game.

These students concluded that by keeping a record of the proportion of high cards to low cards that had already been played, they could predict which cards were more likely to be dealt next. This knowledge enabled them to make more informed choices about when to hit, stand, or double down during blackjack game.

This technique has widely been accepted and embraced by many blackjack players. It’s seen as a way to increase their chances of winning, and over the years, various methods for counting cards have been developed.

These systems involve assigning a value to each card in the deck and keeping a running count as the cards are played. For example, in the Hi-Lo Count, low cards (2-6) are assigned a value of +1, while high cards (10-Ace) are assigned a value of -1. As the cards are played, the player keeps a running total of the count, which indicates whether the remaining deck is favourable to the player or the dealer.

What is Card Counting?

Card counting is a technique employed by some blackjack players in an attempt to increase their chances of winning against the casino. The idea behind it is that by keeping track of the cards that have already been played, a player can estimate the likelihood of certain cards being dealt in the future and alter their betting and playing decisions accordingly.

This card-counting technique allows skilled players to bet more money when the odds are in their favour. This can be achieved by maintaining a mental count of the cards in the deck, as a deck rich in high cards is more likely to produce blackjacks, which pay out at 3 to 2 odds. Conversely, a deck rich in low cards is more likely to produce busts, which are advantageous for the dealer.

Card counting allows the player to gauge the proportions of high cards versus low cards and make informed guesses about the probability of specific cards being dealt. Using this information to their advantage, skilled players can increase their chances of winning and potentially turning a profit.

Casinos are always on the lookout for players counting cards, as it gives the player an advantage over the house and can potentially reduce the casino’s profits. So what do the casinos do?

How Casinos Detect Card Counting

While it is not illegal to count cards, most casinos have developed various methods to detect and deter card counters, and they may even ban players who are caught.

Casinos use multiple techniques to detect card counters. These include using specialised software to monitor players’ betting patterns and behaviour, tracking cards that have been played, using facial recognition technology to identify known card counters, and employing trained staff to watch for suspicious activity. For example, a player who is consistently increasing his bets when the count is favourable and decreasing his bets when the count is unfavourable may be flagged as a potential card counter.

It is worth noting that despite the efforts that casinos have developed to detect card counters, it is not always a success. This is because card counting as a strategy requires a high level of concentration and discretion, and skilled players may be able to mask their behaviour and avoid detection.

However, while it may be possible to count cards without being caught, the risks of being banned from the casino and potentially being blacklisted from other casinos make it a risky strategy for most players. If you wouldn’t mind the risks, at least make sure that you perfect the techniques for counting cards.

Methods of Counting Cards

While there are various methods of counting cards, here are some popular ones:

Hi-Lo Count

The Hi-Lo count is a relatively simple and widely used card-counting system. It involves assigning a value of +1 to low cards (2 through 6) and -1 to high cards (10 through Ace).

The idea behind this system is that as more low cards are played, the deck becomes more favourable to the player, and as more high cards are played, the deck becomes more favourable to the dealer.

In order to use the Hi-Lo count, a player simply keeps a running count of the cards as they are played. Then, he adjusts his bets and playing decisions based on the count.

KO Count

The KO (Knock Out) count is another simple card-counting system that involves assigning a value of +1 to 2s through 7s, and a value of -1 to 10s through Aces. All other cards are given a value of 0.

To use the KO count, a player keeps a running count of the cards as they are played and adjusts their bets and playing decisions based on the count.

Ace/Five Count

The Ace/Five count is a straightforward card-counting system that keeps track of the number of Aces and 5s played. The idea behind this system is that as more Aces and 5s are played, the deck becomes more favourable to the player, and as fewer Aces and 5s are played, the deck becomes more favourable to the dealer.

To use the Ace/Five count, a player keeps track of the number of Aces and 5s played and adjusts his bets and playing decisions accordingly.

Zen Count

The Zen count is a more advanced card-counting system that involves assigning a value of +1 to 2s and 3s, +2 to 4s and 5s, and +3 to 6s. High cards (10 through Ace) are assigned a value of -1. The idea behind this system is that by assigning higher values to low cards and lower values to high cards, a player can better represent the true count (i.e., the count adjusted for the number of decks in play).

To use the Zen count, a player must keep a running count of the cards as they are played and divide the count by the number of decks remaining to get the true count.

Wong Halves

The Wong Halves system is a more complex card-counting system that involves assigning different values to each card based on its position on the deck. For example, a 2 of clubs might be assigned a value of +1, while a 2 of spades might be assigned a value of +2.

The idea behind this system is that by assigning different values to each card, a player can get a more accurate representation of the true count and make more informed betting and playing decisions. To use the Wong Halves system, a player must keep track of the cards that have been played and adjust their bets and playing decisions based on the values assigned to each card.

Of these methods, the easiest one for you may depend on your natural aptitude for maths and strategy and the amount of time and effort you are willing to put into learning and practising. Since card counting is generally not considered legal in casinos, you may always want to check the rules before using it in real gambling.

Becoming a Card Counter

Do you really want to become a card counter? Becoming a card counter in blackjack is a decision that requires careful consideration, as it involves both the potential for financial gain and the risk of being banned from casinos.

Counting cards is not a task you can accomplish overnight, as it requires significant practice and dedication. Players must be able to do it without drawing attention to themselves. This can be challenging, as casinos are always on the lookout for card counters and may use various tactics to detect and deter them.

If you decide it’s worth it and want to learn how to count cards, you can practise it yourself. Here are a few steps you can follow:

Step 1

Familiarise yourself with the basic principles of card counting. Before you start practising, it’s important to understand them. You can do this through self-study, taking a course, or working with a mentor. A player must choose a method he feels comfortable with and can use effectively.

This involves learning about different card-counting systems (such as Hi-Lo, Zen, or Wong Halves), understanding how to assign values to the cards, and keeping track of the count as the cards are played.

Step 2

Once a player has a solid understanding of card-counting principles and has chosen a method he’s comfortable with, the next step is to practice. You can do this by using training software or learn to play blackjack in a controlled environment, such as with a group of friends. It is important for a player to get a feel for card-counting mechanics and develop the necessary skills.

It is often advisable to start with a single deck of cards. Working with a single deck allows you to focus on the individual cards and their values rather than trying to keep track of multiple decks simultaneously, which can be more challenging.

Additionally, focusing on a single deck of cards can make learning how to count cards less overwhelming and more manageable. You can easily find a deck of cards at a local store or online. Once you feel comfortable counting cards with a single deck, you can gradually increase the difficulty by adding more decks to your practice sessions. This will help you build up your skills.

Step 3

Shuffle the deck and deal yourself a hand. Once you have a single deck of cards, shuffle it thoroughly and deal yourself a hand of blackjack. As you play the hand, try to keep track of the cards that have been played and adjust your betting and playing decisions based on the count.

Step 4

One other way to enhance your card-counting abilities is to practice with more than one deck. This can help you get more comfortable with the process, and better prepare you for a real casino setting, where multiple decks are often used.

By increasing the number of decks you use during practice, you can challenge yourself and further develop your skills. You will be better equipped to succeed in a real casino as you become more proficient at counting cards with multiple decks. You would have gained valuable experience and improved your ability to keep track of multiple decks.

Additionally, practising with multiple decks can help you better anticipate the likelihood of certain cards being played, which can be important in making informed betting decisions.

Step 5

Another way to enhance your card-counting abilities is to use a card-counting trainer. These trainers, which are often available online, provide a simulated environment in which you can practice and improve your skills. Many of these trainers allow you to customise the number of decks and the rules of the game, allowing you to tailor your practice to your specific needs.

Additionally, they often provide feedback on your performance, helping you to identify areas for improvement and track your progress over time. By using a card-counting trainer, you can gain valuable experience and improve your skills in a controlled, convenient setting.

How Long before I Master Card Counting?

The amount of time it takes to learn how to count cards can vary greatly. It depends on several factors, including your natural aptitude for maths and strategy, the amount of time you are willing to devote to practice and the complexity of the card-counting system you use.

Learning how to count cards effectively can take a few weeks to several months. Some people may be able to pick up the basic principles of card counting relatively quickly, while others may struggle and need more time to master the technique.

To learn card counting, you will need to familiarise yourself with the basic principles of card counting, such as the values assigned to different cards and how to keep track of the count as the cards are played. You will also need to practice counting cards in different scenarios and with different numbers of decks to build up your skills and confidence.

One way to speed up the learning process is to use a card-counting trainer, which can help you practise and improve your skills in a controlled environment. There are a number of online card-counting trainers available, many of which allow you to set the number of decks and the rules of the game. They also provide feedback on your performance.

Ultimately, the amount of time it takes to learn card counting will depend on your circumstances and how much effort you are willing to put into practising and improving your skills.

While counting cards can effectively increase a player’s chances of winning, it is important to note that it is not a foolproof strategy. Casinos have taken measures to prevent card counting, such as using multiple decks and shuffling more frequently.

Yes, counting cards is not illegal, but it is considered unethical by many casinos and can result in a player being banned from playing.

Professional Blackjack Players and Card Counting

Some professional blackjack players do use card counting as part of their strategy. However, it is important to note that card counting is just one aspect of a professional blackjack player’s arsenal, and there are other ways to win at blackjack.

Professional blackjack players also use other strategies. These include the basic strategy, a set of rules that tells the player the optimal way to play each hand based on the cards they have been dealt, and betting strategies, which involve adjusting the size of the bet based on the count of the deck.

Counting cards can be challenging to master, as it requires much concentration and mental arithmetic. Players must be able to keep track of the ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck and make quick calculations to determine the deck count at any given time.

It also requires a strong memory, as players must keep track of the cards that have been played to calculate the count accurately.

Take Home

It is essential to carefully consider whether card counting is the right strategy for you giving the risks and challenges associated with it. If you are a skilled blackjack player with strong mental arithmetic and memory skills and are comfortable with the risk of being banned from casinos in the UK, card counting may be a viable strategy for you.

However, suppose you are not confident in your ability to master the strategy or are not comfortable with the risks involved. In that case, it may be best to consider other strategies or simply play blackjack for enjoyment rather than profit.

Despite these challenges, the practice of counting cards has persisted and remains a popular topic among Blackjack enthusiasts. Whether you are a beginner looking to learn the basics or an experienced player looking to refine your technique, understanding the principles of counting cards can help you make more informed decisions at the table.

Author Morten

After being a recreational gambler for over 10 years, my professional gambling career started at LeoVegas in January 2019. I am now Head of SEO & Content at Casinogrounds, responsible for what you read on UKCasino.com, Casinogrounds.com, and Casinoscores.com.