Card Counting in Blackjack: A Detailed Study and Analysis

Card counting is the technique you use when you keep track of the number of high and low cards left in the dealers’ deck. If you count cards successfully and you can raise your bet when you know the odds are stacked in your favour. When the advantage shifts in favour of the dealer, the counter will make a smaller bet or no bet at all by not playing. Remember though, card counting is not for learning how to consistently win at blackjack, or how to cheat in blackjack. It is simply a skillset in addition to your normal gameplay, to give you a better idea of what’s in the deck. It’s been mathematically proven that high-value cards (i.e., tens, picture cards, and aces) benefit the player more than the dealer, while the low-value cards (i.e., twos through sixes) are more beneficial to the dealer. The remaining cards which are sevens, eights, and nines are essentially neutral. On average, these cards do not help the player or dealer very much.

card counting

How to count cards?

To card count properly, whether in an online casino which provides online blackjack or Live blackjack or it is in a land-based casino, all that you have to do is to keep a running tally based on the face value of any cards revealed. You can learn how to count cards with these 4 simple steps:

  1. Start by assigning cards a value of either +1 (cards 2-6), 0 (cards 7-9), or -1 (cards 10-Ace).
  2. Keep a running count with each card the dealer pulls a card from the deck, using the values mentioned above.
  3. Providing you keep an accurate count as the cards are dealt, you’ll be able to monitor the running value of the cards left remaining in the deck.
  4. After each round, if the count is negative, increase the size of your bet. This is because there will be more low-value cards remaining in the deck. If the count is positive, lower your bet instead.

So how does this create an advantage over the casino? Well, if you are playing blackjack perfectly, the house edge is around 0.5%. If you play perfectly plus master card counting, you are playing with a 1% advantage over the casino and you can tip the scales of the blackjack odds in your favour even more. So, it does pay to start practising.

Choosing the best Card Counting system

Many card counting systems use the principle of assigning values to the cards as it has proven to be very effective. Players need to bear in mind that complicated and advanced strategies might be more accurate, but harder to be recalled in a casino setting. Failing to do so under any circumstances, will prevent them from making the best choices and will most likely result in losing the hand. The phrase “level of count” is often used to indicate the difficulty a particular variation of the card counting strategy has. It also shows the ratio between the assigned values of the high and low cards.

The Different Card Counting Strategies

Card counting strategies are generally divided into two types 

  • Single-level
  • Multi-level counts. 

The former never increases or decreases the running count by more than a single, predetermined value, while the latter makes bigger distinctions between the card values, thus achieving greater accuracy. Single-level counts would use -1, 0, and +1, while multi-level counts can include +2, -2, +0.5, -0.5, etc. Below, you can see some of the most popular strategies.

Card Counting Strategies

Hi-Lo System

One of the most well-known card counting strategies is the so-called Hi-Lo system (High-Low system). It is considered to be a very reliable method, easy to be comprehended and used which places it among the most famous ones. The reason why it is so effective is that it gives a new value of the cards which can be positive, negative or zero. This way card counting becomes easier and quicker and players can follow the cards successfully. When they start keeping track of them, they should adjust their value according to the system. The strategy offers players the following plan, i.e., the cards with a value from two through six get a plus one, from seven through nine get a zero and the rest of the cards in the deck – minus one.

Red Seven

Red Seven is another level one system which means that it is more simplified and easy to grasp. This method contains the basic card counting principles and players can be sure that they will be able to understand how it works. Its simplicity gives the players a chance to recall it easier when needed and at the same time it provides them with a reliable and accurate plan. The system uses the famous counting method of assigning a specific value to the cards. The number seven, as the name of the system hints, plays a significant role. The reason why is that when players have a red seven it gets plus one and when they have black seven then zero. The plan for the rest of the cards is the same as the one for the Hi-Lo system.

KISS

KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) is a card counting method which has three variations namely KISS I, KISS II and KISS III. The updated versions are better than the previous in terms that each one gives players a higher advantage over the casino. This strategy doesn’t involve difficult mathematical equations and it is quite easy to be understood properly. In comparison to the rest of the methods, it is moderately simplified which makes it suitable for inexperienced players. The reason why is that they don’t have to count half of the card in the deck as they are omitted on purpose from the system. This way counting and keeping track of the cards on the table is much easier.

K-O

K-O (Knock Out) is a card counting strategy which resembles the Hi-Lo one and it is a level one system as well. It uses the method of assigning a particular point value of the cards in the deck which helps players keep track of them more efficiently and easily. The cards according to this system are counted the same way as for the Hi-Lo one. The only card that is assigned with a different value is the number seven as this time it gets plus one instead of zero. This is a strategy that is easy to learn and therefore, beginners can take advantage of the benefits it offers, providing that they manage to apply it correctly.

Omega II

Omega II is a level two card counting system as it is more complicated than the above-mentioned ones. Even though its patterns take more time to be fully understood and memorised, at the end the efforts players put will be worth it. This system has proven to be very accurate and with it, they can increase their chances of winning significantly. It provides them with valuable information which gives them the chance to make wiser decisions regarding the amount they bet.

Hi-Opt I & Hi-Opt II

Hi-Opt (Highly Optimum) is a card counting system which has two variations.

  • Hi-Opt I
  • Hi-Opt II

Both systems use the same foundation and principles, the difference is that Hi-Opt II is the updated version. Both systems are more difficult to be learned than the others which makes them inappropriate for beginners. To manage to comprehend them, players need to be experienced and know the rest of the systems and strategies.

Zen Count

Zen Count is another level two card counting system which was specially developed to help players gain an advantage over the casino by using more simplified assigned point values. However, it is still moderately complicated and therefore, it is not the best option for beginners. The Zen system has some subtleties and this is the reason why it will be best for players to take their time to practice it. The famous method of error and trial is to be avoided when it comes to gambling as it can cause them to lose a significant amount of money.

 Halves

Halves (Wong Halves) is a very complicated card counting system whose level of the count is three. It is suitable for experienced players who have been dealing with other card counting systems before and have solid knowledge and understanding of their main principles. If this method is combined with the basic strategy, it can result in the desired result. The reason why this system is considered to be more complicated is that some of the assigned values of the cards are infractions which makes the counting more difficult.

If you are new to the concept of card counting, it is recommended that you start with a single-level system, like the Hi-Lo strategy. It’s perfect for training until you are good enough to dive into the more complex systems.

Is it illegal to count cards?

It is best to ensure that you are well informed when playing casino games. There are laws which you must consider before practising card counting. There are no laws which consider counting cards to be a criminal act in the UK or US or any other part of the globe for that matter, provided you are doing it in your head and not using a card counting device or mobile app. 

Card Counting Strategies

However, despite the law, it is still regarded as cheating. For example, Nevada state laws prohibit card counting with electronic or mechanical aids such as smartphone apps. You will be arrested if you are caught doing this. Using your arithmetic skills to keep track of cards is not illegal. Although the legal situation for card counting is quite clear, using your head to count cards is still not welcomed at casinos. Card counting is simply using your brain, like a winning chess player. There are a couple of reasons why people think card counting is illegal. First off, TV and movies haven’t done any favours. In “21: The Movie,” Lawrence Fishburne chases card counters into the bowels of the casino, points a gun at them, and handcuffs them. The second reason people think card counting is illegal is that casinos can ask you to stop playing. They may treat you like you are the bad guy, but the winning card counter is just the rare person who has taken the time, energy and resolve to master how to beat the game. 

If you are going to attempt to count cards in a casino, it is strongly advised to be cautious. Casinos will come down heavy on suspected card counters. You may be asked to leave the table or even be banned from the casino forever. You have to be particularly careful as your behaviour will be closely monitored at all times. Even the best card counters occasionally get rumbled. 

While a casino and its operator cannot prosecute or sue you unless you are caught using a tool, they can make the situation very uncomfortable if you are caught. Many law firms in the US have specialized legal staff and defence counsel dealing with Las Vegas casino arrests. Since casino operators are well aware of the practice of card counting, they take steps to discourage players from doing so. If you look up, you will see security cameras installed everywhere. Dealers are also swapped when a table is deemed to be ‘hot’ by a pit manager. Occasionally the pit boss can get the dealer to push a shuffle once the hand being dealt is over. But online blackjack doesn’t have the same problem, but certain software forces random shuffles to counteract this practice. It is important to be responsible and to respect the rules of the house if you decide to walk into a casino.

Why should I do it?

If you do it right then you can strike gold with one simple, strategic game. Blackjack is a casino game phenomenon worldwide because, as well as being fun, you have a decent chance at pocketing whatever you win.

Understanding the variations in Blackjack

There are many variations of blackjack, played in casinos or online blackjack sites, around the world. Nonetheless, most of them are based on one of the two main variants of the game: European or American. While both European and American blackjack is played by the same basic rules, understanding the slight differences can help players apply appropriate card counting strategies when playing. In European blackjack, 2 standard decks of cards are used whereas, in American blackjack, between 6 to 8 standard decks of cards are used. The more decks used in the shoe, the greater the house edge and the more difficult card counting becomes.

Card Counting Strategies

Doubling Down in Blackjack

Doubling down is the chance to double your initial wager if you think your hand will beat the dealer. In European blackjack, players can only double down on hands with a value of 9, 10 or 11 whereas, in American blackjack, players can double down on any total.

Counting Cards in Online Blackjack

Yes, you can count cards playing blackjack online. Although, most online casinos use software that shuffles the cards every time a new hand is dealt, making it a bit tricky. There are some programs you can use which will count the cards for you, but they are generally forbidden to use. The benefits, however, mean you can count cards from your own home, without the risk of being caught by the casino as you can if you try to count cards in a land-based casino. If you decide to play for real money online, beware that some sites employ software that shuffles cards almost every time a new hand is dealt. This makes it increasingly difficult to count cards online.

How to practice Card Counting

Do not think that you can just walk into a casino and start counting cards just by knowing how the concept works. The practise is essential to becoming good at counting, as it will condition your brain to assign point values and keep track of the running and true counts. After sufficient practice, you will make the calculations without even thinking about it. Also, it is really important that you master some basic blackjack strategies before counting cards and after all, you need to win to take advantage of the edge that the system gives you.

Train at Home

If you are willing to give card counting a try, it would be best to start training at home. The easiest first step is to simply take a standard deck of cards, and start dealing while keeping a running count. To improve realism, put some music on, or make sure there is some noise in the background because this is how casinos usually sound. Plus, you need to be able to concentrate on keeping the count. You have to make sure you practice your poker face. If you are to be a card counter, you must learn how to cover that fact. Otherwise, you might have some trouble at real casinos.

Practice card counting online at Live Dealer Blackjack games

RNG blackjack games are great for practising your basic strategy, but will not do you much good when it comes to counting cards. All cards are shuffled after each round at such games, making it impossible for players to keep a running count. This is where the live dealer games come in as they are identical to playing at a real casino, so you can apply your card counting talents on them. There are many other benefits to live dealer blackjack, besides being able to count cards without having to keep a straight poker face the entire time. Since the dealer cannot see you, you can take notes and do whatever you can to make the process easier for you. On top of that, live games offer a genuine casino atmosphere, along with the convenience of online gaming. They are the perfect place to practice card counting and win some money with it.

 To sum up

You shouldn’t join a land-based blackjack table to count cards until you have practices and feel confident counting cards online. Another great way to practice is by using free online blackjack games. The free games will help you perfect your skills without risking losing real money. You don’t need to know how to count cards to know how to play blackjack and win something. Card counting is not a sure-fire way to guarantee a win. Nevertheless, it will positively help you when playing 21.