Card Counting in Blackjack: Beginner’s Guide

Card counting in blackjack is an effective technique that can help you boost your winning odds and flip the edge in your favor. While counting cards in blackjack is officially banned at land-based casinos, you can still use this method when playing blackjack online or with live dealers. Ready to try? Let’s find out how to count cards in blackjack! It’s easier than you think!

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About the blackjack card game

Before we delve into the intricacies of blackjack card counting, it might be a good idea to make a quick overview of blackjack. Blackjack is an iconic card game which has been popular across continents for centuries. Along with slot machines, game online roulette and poker, blackjack is among the top popular games among casino aficionados.

Blackjack is played with a finite set of cards. The number of decks used varies depending on the blackjack variation you’re playing. However, most of the time, the blackjack card game is played with 1 to 8 standard 52-card decks. The game usually has two to seven players. Each card has its card value in blackjack. For example, all face cards are counted as 10 points, while the Ace has the shifting value of 1 or 11. The thing that makes the blackjack card game unique is the optimal strategy that can take down the house edge to well under 1%. Also, blackjack is known for card counters, and this is what we’re going to talk about in this guide.

Card counting in blackjack

Now that you’ve refreshed your memory about the blackjack card game, let’s get to the core of this guide and learn how to count cards in blackjack. So, what is so magical about card counting in blackjack and how exactly can it help the player succeed?

card counting in blackjack

When using card counting, you’re keeping a metal log of the cards that have come out of the shoe. Knowing what cards have already been played, you can easily identify what cards are still to come, thus adjusting your bets accordingly. With this simple yet highly effective technique, you have all chances to bring down the house and start making small profits on blackjack. You don’t need to be a math genius in order to master this fabulous technique that will help you win big at blackjack.

Mastering card counting in blackjack is a breeze. Against a very common misconception, counting cards in blackjack has nothing to do with memorizing cards. So, if you have a poor memory, you can relax! It won’t keep you from using this smart approach! Without further ado, let’s zoom in on the fundamental rules of counting cards in blackjack.

Let’s examine the Hi-Lo blackjack card counting system. The strategy is called this way because it helps the player to find out which card (a low card or high card) is likely to be dealt next.

  • Basically, the only thing you need to memorize is the card values in blackjack. Every card is assigned a specific value. Cards 2 through 6 are worth +1 point each. Cards 7 through 9 are worth 0 points each. Finally, cards 10 through Ace are counted as -1 point each.
  • The essence of card counting is to keep track of the cards dealt by the dealer during the game. You need to keep count of the dealer’s and each player’s hands. If, for example, the dealer deals a 6, you need to add 1 to the hand’s total value. If the next card is a Jack, you need to subtract 1 from the hand’s value. If the dealer deals an 8, the hand value remains the same. Then you need to add up the values of all hands and get the running count. If the running count is positive (e.g., +1), this means that more high cards are waiting to be dealt. If the running count is negative, there are more low cards remaining in the shoe than high ones.
  • Now you need to determine the true count. Don’t be scared, it’s a piece of cake! To calculate the true count, you need to divide the running count by the number of decks that remain to be dealt. Here is a quick example. Suppose, your running count is +12 and there are 4 decks remaining in the shoe. By dividing +12 by 4, we get the true count of +3.
  • You need to keep track of the running count and true count in order to spot the moment when the edge shifts in your favor. If you’ve noticed that the true count is growing, it’s a sure signal for raising your bet. If, however, the true count remains negative, this means better winning chances for the dealer. In this case, you should go easy with your bets or pass on betting at all.

Limitations to card counting in blackjack

Like any method, blackjack card counting has its weak sides that you as a gambler should know about.

blackjack counting cards

  • Quite understandably, brick-and-mortar casinos don’t like card counters. Back in the 20th century, ever since land-based casinos noticed that blackjack players were counting cards, they started to control blackjack tables. Nowadays, security guards are so well-trained at spotting card counters that they can identify one instantly. The player will get a warning, and if they continue to count cards, they’ll be politely asked to leave the facility. So if you’re gambling at offline casinos from time to time, you should better refrain from using this method - unless you want to get thrown out of the casino. By the way, counting cards in blackjack is not prohibited by law. As long as you’re not using any smart device to help you, it’s fine to count cards or use any other mental technique! Still, casinos introduce their own rules and classify card counting as inappropriate behavior.
  • Keep in mind that card counting only works in the long run. Yes, sadly this is so. This method only starts to show its worth after you’ve played thousands upon thousands of hands. When applying card counting in the short run, you risk losing a lot of money and blowing up a hole in your gambling budget. The thing with card counting is that it works perfectly well in theory. It’s a mathematically proven way to flip the casino edge in the player’s favor. Yet, in practise, it’s close to impossible to leverage the card counting method because you can’t possibly sit and play blackjack for days and days on end.

Clever tips for card counters

Before wrapping up, allow us to give you a couple of insights into card counting in blackjack.

  • Card counting per se won’t take you far. To achieve good results at blackjack, you need to combine the card counting technique with a good blackjack strategy. Without a clever strategy at hand, you won’t be able to make any use of the information obtained from card counting. The running count and the true count would be just numbers, and you wouldn’t be able to act on them. On top of that, you need to know the basics of bankroll management because it’s the fundamental skill when it comes to the blackjack card game.
  • Card counting in blackjack takes a lot of focus and precision. Blackjack is a pretty sophisticated game per se, and card counting only makes it more challenging. In addition to actually playing your hand (or hands), you also have to make constant calculations in your head, keeping track of the running count and the true count. All this adds up to a tricky gambling experience that requires your full concentration and motivation to succeed. So think twice before you decide to apply card counting in blackjack. If you feel like this is too much and you’re not enjoying the process, you should better drop this idea. If the whole experience playing blackjack feels too overwhelming and stressful, it might be a sign that you gravitate towards more light-paced casino games where you don’t have to exert your mind. Try online slot machines or roulette instead, and you might like these luck-based games way better!
  • Since land-based casinos don’t welcome card counters, the only way to train our card counting skills is online blackjack and live blackjack. Some players even use special card counting software although it’s forbidden. As for the live blackjack card game, you can only hope to lock in a tiny profit using the card counting method. If you manage to make a couple of dollars of profits in an hour, consider that your card counting experiment has succeeded. Sadly, you'll never be able to make a big buck using this method.