Once you’ve learned how to use a basic strategy chart and you’re able to think logically about the moves you make, it’s time to think a little deeper about the game. Now, before we go any further, we need you to know that blackjack techniques such as card counting aren’t foolproof. More importantly, they’re not for everyone. With regards to card counting in particular, this strategy requires an affinity for mathematics and mental arithmetic.
What’s more, it requires a lot of practice. Indeed, we can show you how to count cards in blackjack but that’s just the start of things. Implementing this tactic successfully requires a lot of skill, precision and timing. In fact, if you try to count cards and don’t do it correctly, you can do more harm than good. So, if you are thinking about blackjack card counting, make sure you’re extremely well versed in its nuances before you try it in a real setting.
What is card counting in blackjack?
In simple terms, blackjack card counting is a way of tracking the dynamics of a deck(s). The main aim is to establish when the undealt cards are in your favour and when they’re not. According to card counting theory, the deck/s are in your favour when they contain more high-value cards. The deck/s favour the house more when there are more low cards still to be dealt.
To ascertain whether the undealt cards are in your favour or not, you literally have to count, hence the term card counting. By assigning certain values to certain cards, you end up with something known as a running count.
Over time, you can divide this count by the approximate number of decks left in the shoe (i.e. undealt) to get a true count. The true count is a score that tells you when things are in your favour and it’s time to increase your bets. Or, it tells you when to scale back your bets because the dynamics favour the house.
How to count cards in blackjack step-by-step
To show you how to count cards in blackjack, we’re going to use the hi-lo system. Although there are various card counting systems out there, hi-lo is one of the most common. Moreover, it provides the simplest introduction to this advanced blackjack strategy.
Step 1: Start with a running count of zero.
Step 2: As the cards are dealt, assign the following values to each card:
· If the card is a two, three, four, five or six, you add a count of one (+1).
· If the card is a 10, Jack, Queen, King or Ace, you add a count of minus one (-1).
· If the card is a seven, eight or nine, you add a count of zero (0).
Step 3: Combine the values you’ve noted to establish a running count. For example, if three hands have been dealt, you’ll have seen seven cards (six player cards and one dealer card). Let’s assume the values were as follows: +1, +1, -1, 0, 0, -1, +1. In this situation, when you combine all of the values, the running count comes to +1.
Step 4: Continue with the running count for a while. When you have a positive count, there will be more high-value cards left in the deck. When you have a negative count, there will be more low-value cards in the deck. A higher count positive count means the decks are richer in high-value cards and vice versa.
Step 5: Divide your running count by the number of decks left in play. You can determine how many decks are left by subtracting the number of cards dealt from the total number in play at the start of a game and dividing that number by 52.
Step 6: Your true count will tell you how much to bet (i.e. increase or decrease your bet size) and how to play your hand. If you’re a beginner, it is possible to use the running count as a guide. However, if you’re going to get the most out of card counting, you need to use the true count in tandem with a strategy chart.
What are the best cards for the player?
The best cards for you as a player are high-value ones. When there are more high-value cards left in the deck, you stand a much better chance of making a strong hand. However, if we flip this equation, the best cards are also low-value ones. Why? Simple: when more low-value cards have been dealt, it means there are more high-value ones left in the deck. So, while high-value cards are best, it’s important to remember that low-value ones are also important.
Is there a strategy to counting cards?
Yes. As you can see from the steps above, card counting allows you to determine when the game dynamics are in your favour. Using this information, you can go beyond basic blackjack strategy and make moves based on the value of your hand, the dealer’s up card and the type of card likely to be dealt next.
Card counting systems
In blackjack, there are different card counting systems. Each one has its own merits and offers a slightly different take on the main premise of tracking the dynamics of the deck. The most popular blackjack card counting systems are:
· Hi-Opt I
· Hi-Opt II
· Omega II
· Red Seven
How do you select the best system?
Like all things in life, choosing the right blackjack card counting system will be a matter of preference. In practice, each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. Moreover, each one will have its own way of determining how to use a count. Therefore, it’s your job to review what’s available and make a choice.
Of course, the first thing you need to do is learn how to count cards in blackjack. The requires a basic appreciation of the mechanics. We’ve given you an overview of the main principles already. Building on these, we can add some additional layers to the process. Once you’ve grasped the following points, you’ll have a better overall feel for card counting and, therefore, be in a better position to choose a specific system that suits.
Running counts vs. true counts
When you’re using an advanced blackjack strategy, the running count is the total you get while cards are in play. As we’ve said, your job is to continually assign values to cards as they’re dealt. This creates a running total or, in technical terms, a running count. You can use this count to determine when the deck is richer in high-value cards (running count is a positive figure) or richer in low-value cards (running count is a negative figure).
To help you determine what the best moves to make are, you need to establish a true count. Each blackjack card counting system will have a different way of determining the true count. For example, the hi-lo system requires you to divide the running count by the number of remaining decks. In contrast, the zen system gets you to divide the running count by the number of quarter-decks remaining.
Once you’ve established a true count, you’ll have a better idea of when to increase/decrease your bets. Additionally, the value you get will give you give extra guidance on when to hit, stand, double and split.
Even if you learn how to count cards in blackjack, it’s very hard to pull off this strategy on your own. Over the years, likeminded players have joined together and formed blackjack teams. As a team, everyone has a specific role in addition to counting the cards. One such role is back counting. Also known as Wonging, this strategy involves one person standing back from a game and counting. Once they find a potentially profitable spot, they signal to other members of the team that the table is hot i.e. worth joining.
Card counting and ranging bet sizes
The real beauty of card counting is that it gives you a chance to vary your bet sizes at the right times. The whole reason for trying to establish when the deck is in your favour and when it’s not is so you can make more when it is and save money when it isn’t.
As a general rule, you should start by betting an amount roughly equal to 1/1,000 of your bankroll. This can change depending on personal preference. However, for the sake of being conservative, it’s a solid starting point. Once you start your count, you can up your bet from this point when the deck swings in your favour.
Again, as a general rule, the maximum increase you should make is four units. There are two reasons for this: preservation and detection. You should only increase your bet by around four units because you can still lose when you count cards. So, by not going wild, you help preserve your stack. Secondly, even though card counting is legal, casinos don’t like it. So, by being somewhat conservative, you won’t attract unwanted attention.
How much of an advantage is counting cards?
Done correctly, card counting can be highly effective. To get the best results, you need to work as a team. However, an individual that’s highly skilled and well-versed in this blackjack technique can, at least, negate the house edge. If you can do this, the game becomes a 50/50 contest which, in the casino world, is a fantastic proposition.
However, if you try to count cards and you make even the smallest mistake, it can have catastrophic effects. Although results can vary, it’s generally accepted that using this advanced blackjack strategy in the wrong way will cause you to perform worse than if you simply used gut instinct. Therefore, if you’re going to count cards, make sure you’re extremely confident.
How do you bet on true count?
The final step to counting cards and adjusting your bet size is to use your true count. Going back to the idea of betting unit, you can then adjust accordingly based on the true count minus one. To put it another way, you subtract one from your true count to determine the number of units to bet.
For example, if your true count was four, you should be three units. Units in this instance is whatever your starting bet was. So, if you were betting 10 coins, three units would 30 coins. That, in a nutshell, is how you use card counting to find the optimal bet size.