How to Count Cards in Blackjack? The Ultimate Guide for 2020

James Matthews
02/06/2020

Can you beat the casino at their own game by counting cards in blackjack? Card counting is actually a lot simpler than it seems in movies, and you don’t have to be a genius to use this strategy at your next blackjack game. Card counting can improve your odds of winning by up to 1%, which is actually significant when playing for many hours.

How do you count cards in blackjack? Find out everything you need to know in our guide.

What is Card Counting?

Card counting is a system a player uses to detect when the advantage swings to their favor in a game of blackjack. It’s a system of tracking which cards have been played and those remaining in the deck. The main principle behind this blackjack strategy is that high-value cards swing favor to the player while low-value cards are more advantageous to the dealer.

How Does Card Counting Work?

When the deck or decks have been shuffled and the game begins, we can assume that there is an even number of high and low cards in the deck. This ratio changes as the game progresses, and card counting helps you to determine which way the tide is swinging. If, for example, the card counter notices more low cards in the first few rounds, that implies that there are more high cards remaining in the deck. The card counter in this scenario can assume that there is a greater statistical chance of getting a blackjack (with 3:2 payout) and can increase their bets accordingly.

If, on the other hand, the player notices that there are more small cards still in the deck, the dealer is less likely to go bust and the favor shifts to the house.

How to Count Cards

You don’t necessarily have to be Rain Man to count cards at blackjack, but you do need practice to master the strategy. Getting the basics of card counting down is actually easier than most people think.

We recommend the “Hi-Lo” strategy because it is the easiest to learn, it’s very effective, and you can use it even when the casino uses more than one deck, which is usually the case. The general idea is to assign a value to every card that is dealt and to keep a tally of the total value throughout the game.

To count cards successfully:

1. Assign Each Card a Value

Each card will have a value as follows:

  • 2,3,4,5,6 – Value is +1
  • 7, 8, 9 – Value is 0
  • 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace – Value is -1

2. Calculate the Running Count

The next step is to keep a running count of the values of the cards dealt. This simply means that you add or subtract the assigned value of each card that is dealt as the game proceeds. Keep in mind that you are calculating every card that comes out of the shoe. For example, if the dealer has J, 8, and 6, the running count for that hand is 0 (-1 + 0 + 1 = 0). Do this for every hand dealt at the table to come up with the running count for each round.

When the running count is positive or increasing, that means that the advantage is beginning to shift to the player. If the running count decreases or goes negative, that means that the odds are in favor of the casino.

3. Calculate the True Count

In the past, you would only need to keep a simple count to successfully figure out the odds. Today, most casinos use multiple decks to discourage card counting, so you need to add an extra step to understand your odds. To do this, divide the running count by the number of decks remaining. So if you have a running count of 9 and there are 5 decks remaining, then the true count here is 1.8 (9 ÷5 = 1.8).

4. Adjust Your Bets

Now that you have the true count, it is easier to estimate when the odds are in your favor, and you can adjust your bets accordingly. Remember to raise your bets as the true count rises and decrease your bets when the true count is neutral (0) or negative.

5. Rinse and Repeat

Start counting again from 0 every time the deck is shuffled. Don’t worry, you will eventually get the hang of it.

Is Card Counting Legal?

Card counting is completely legal and there are no specific laws banning this strategy. That isn’t to say that casinos like it when you count cards. Some casinos may ask you to leave if they suspect card counting as they like to keep the odds in their favor. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about a casino removing you as long as the casino is not infringing on your civil liberties which, as you might have already guessed, don’t include the right to count cards at a casino.

Lastly, you can’t count cards when playing online blackjack since the deck is automatically shuffled after each hand.

James Matthews
James Matthews is a veteran journalist and a professional blackjack player with an extensive repertoire of published works on online gaming. Follow him for reliable information on the New Jersey casino industry.
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