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So how does a card counter keep track of the cards in blackjack? Wondering how to count cards? While there are many different systems and variations of card counting. Counting cards is usually as simple as adding and subtracting the number 1. Subtract one when a high card is dealt and add one when a low card is dealt. The greater the count, the more high cards in the shoe, and the more high cards in the deck, the greater the counting edge for the player.

counting cards

By also keeping track of the number of decks remaining in the shoe, you can get the true Count, which will give you an even better idea of how stacked the deck is.

We need to explain what card counters don’t do. They don’t memorize all the cards in the shoe. That’s impossible for anyone (except Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man and he’s a fictional character). Card counters don’t make seemingly crazy plays like hitting on 19 to get that 2. They don’t know exactly what the next card will be. They have a general idea of what cards should be coming up and with that information they can gain the edge – the counting edge! So if you are wondering “is card counting dead? It is not.

How to Count Cards? We cover the following counting systems:

If you are planning on counting cards at the casinos, you may want to read the article about the methods used by casinos to prevent card counting! Also, since you are interested in counting cards grab some coffee and read about Edge Sorting, Hole Carding, Shuffle Tracking, Wonging in Blackjack, Camouflage Betting, Team Play, Betting Spread, & Risk Of Ruin. You can check out our post about Don Schlesinger as it also contains further links to card counting strategies.

History of Card Counting

Back in the 1950’s, the first basic strategy system and simple card counting systems were devised. The systems didn’t get much attention until the 1960’s, when a mathematics professor by the name of Dr. Edward O. Thorp published a book titled Beat the Dealer. Thorp’s book showed the public that it was possible for a smart player to actually have an advantage over the casino at blackjack. The book included a simple counting system to keep track of the ratio of high to lows cards in a deck.

One of most popular card counting systems is the “hi-lo system”. This relatively simple system allows a player to track the cards, and change his betting patterns to take advantage of counts that were in his favor.

Blackjack is different from most casino games, in that the past play can affect future play. In roulette, the present spin is in no way affected by the previous spins. In blackjack, the cards you are dealt are a function of the cards that were already dealt. If a lot of low cards have already been dealt from the show, the deck now has an unusually high number of high cards left, and this is to the player’s advantage for a couple of reasons.

Dealers have to continue to hit until they reach 17 or higher and if there are a lot of high cards, then they are more likely to bust, and if they bust, you win.

With a lot of face cards there will be more pat hands (17-21) dealt. With a hand totaling 9,10, or 11, the dealer can’t double down on a face card rich deck, but you can. Since blackjacks pay out 1.5 to 1 to the player and just 1 to 1 for the dealer, the player has more to gain if there are a lot of high cards and blackjacks are more likely. Players can stand for some hands when they know that there are a lot of high cards in the deck.

Card Counting FAQs

  1. What is card counting?
    • Card counting is a strategy used in blackjack where players track the ratio of high to low-value cards left in the deck to determine their betting and playing decisions.
  2. Is card counting illegal?
    • No, card counting is not illegal. It’s a skill-based method to play the game. However, casinos may ask suspected card counters to leave or bar them from playing blackjack.
  3. How does card counting work?
    • As cards are dealt, players assign a value to each card (e.g., +1, -1, 0) based on a specific system. By keeping a running “count,” players can gauge the composition of the remaining cards in the deck.
  4. What are some popular card counting systems?
    • The Hi-Lo system, KO (Knockout), and Hi-Opt II are examples of popular card counting systems. They vary in complexity and accuracy.
  5. Can you count cards in online blackjack?
    • It’s challenging to count cards in online blackjack, especially since most online casinos use software that shuffles the deck after every hand. However, some live dealer games might offer opportunities, but this is rare.
  6. Why do casinos dislike card counters?
    • Card counting can shift the game’s advantage from the casino to the player. While the edge gained by card counters is usually small, casinos stand to lose money over time if card counters play regularly.
  7. How do casinos detect card counting?
    • Casinos look for players who vary their bets dramatically, especially in correlation with the count. Surveillance, pit bosses, and dealer observations are common methods used to identify potential counters.
  8. Is card counting a guaranteed way to make money?
    • No, card counting only provides a statistical advantage. Players can still experience losses. Successful card counting requires skill, a suitable bankroll, discipline, and the ability to avoid detection.
  9. Do you need to be a math genius to count cards?
    • No, while basic math skills are essential, card counting mainly requires concentration and practice. Most systems involve simple addition and subtraction.
  10. How can I practice card counting?

Card counting, while intriguing and potentially profitable, requires dedication, discretion, and consistent practice. It’s essential to approach the strategy with both knowledge and caution, especially in a casino environment.

Further reading:

4 Response Comments

  • Jerry ManderJanuary 24, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    Hi, I’ve read over and tried most of the counts you have listed and would like to consider one more (as a casual player, just looking to not walk away in the negative). From what I gather, OPP or Speed Count, may be the easiest of them all to simply give me at least an even game. I’ve not yet read an explanation that clicks with me though. As I understand I count 2-6 as a +1 and then subtract the current number of hands dealt. I’m having trouble grasping where the tipping point is though. From what I’m reading elsewhere you would start increasing your bets as the count goes over +12….but it seems that by the end of the shoe you would have really HIGH counts??? Lets say you got up to a +40…Sorry, just having a hard time wrapping my head around it.

  • countingedgeJanuary 26, 2017 at 5:29 am

    Hey, Jerry! Thanks for being a Counting Edge reader and for asking a great question. It seems that all card counters are on a perpetual quest for that perfect method that works for them. We certainly hope you find yours!

    Our enthusiasm about the OPP card counting method is a little mild, to be honest. Trust us when we say you aren’t the first person that has had trouble wrapping their head around it. Even though it proclaims itself to be an easy method, those claims can be deceiving. To begin, many explanations of this count have you beginning the count at +6 when a new shoe is begun. It is a lot easier to determine the tipping point when a negative number is bad and a positive number is good. Next, you not only have to assign point vaues to the cards as they are dealt, you also have to count the total number of hands that are played. We just can’t see it being that much more effective than a simpler count which starts at 0 and just adds a point value to low and high cards. Like the KISS method, for example. In a live blackjack game when the action is fast and furious, having to count each hand in addition to the cards can be overwhelming.

    Now, with that being said, have you thought about using this method in an online casino that uses live dealers? You might be able to get a game where there aren’t too many other players at the table. This seems like a good way to give the count a test to see if it might work for you. At the very least you can practice doing all the counting that this system requires. If you decide to give it a try, let us know how it works out. Good luck at the tables!

  • Kostas DediAugust 13, 2018 at 1:33 am

    Hello there I want to ask some more questions…If I follow omega 2 or hi low or any system is it worth to just play the favourable count rounds and not even sit at negative?Are there any default numbers or should I figure this out alone with experience from playing

  • countingedgeSeptember 4, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    Hey, Kostas. Thanks for the question. Believe us, making profits from playing blackjack would be much easier if a player could only jump in when there is a positive count. Sitting out negative rounds would be awesome, but it’s almost impossible to do this in live blackjack unless you are working as a team. If you sit at a table and only make a bet when the count is high, pretty soon the casino will mark you as a counter. At that point it is game over. The best you can do is to keep your bets at the minimum while the count is negative, and if the count stays low you should look for another table. It is possible for you to get a count from a new shoe in many cases before you enter the game, but some casinos forbid mid-shoe entry. This is especially the case in double-deck or single-deck blackjack games. As far as a default count goes, you are correct in stating that experience is the best teacher. It all depends on your goals and what you are striving to make. For some people, jumping in when the count is +3 or better is adequate. For others, that number may be +8. Just remember that waiting on a higher number means you’ll have fewer opportunities in a session to make a big bet. On the other hand, the profits you make from those bigger bets will tend to be larger. Hope this makes sense. Good luck at the tables!


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