Blackjack, also called 21, is one of the most popular card games on the planet. It is based on the skill of the player, but also on luck. If you know how to play well, card counting can be a great way to counteract the effects of odds and make a fortune at the casino. Indeed, the odds of winning in blackjack vary with each hand depending on the composition of the shoe.
We can therefore put all the chances on our side by counting the cards. Many people think that card counting is illegal and that it is about cheating in Blackjack: there is nothing illegal about this strategy, as long as you are not using anything other than your brain. It is also not mandatory to have the brain of Dustin Hoffman in the movie “Rain Man”.
Blackjack card counting is very poorly regarded, that’s all. If you are starting to count cards, you absolutely need to be discreet. Anyone can learn card counting with a little practice. Not just Kevin Spacey and his team at MIT in the movie “Las Vegas 21”.
The basis of the game
Card counting is a Blackjack strategy, which involves knowing which cards are yet to come. Before you become an effective card counter, you will need to know every nook and cranny of Blackjack. Of course, you can practice card counting already, but don’t expect to win anything right away, at least not through counting. Before counting cards in Blackjack in a game at the casino or online, you must learn and master the rules of Blackjack.
Choose where to practice your game
If you have in mind to go card counting in a casino, it is better to practice your counting directly in the casino. If you do this quietly at home at your kitchen table, there won’t be all the external factors that need to be considered, for example, hiding your count from everyone.
The basic strategy
Basic strategy is the best way to decrease the casino’s edge and therefore increase yours. This strategy determines when to draw a card and when to stop, to allow the advantage to be reversed to the player. Blackjack has long exhibited a greater than 5% advantage in favor of the casino, that is, the casino often wins.
Over time and strategies, the house advantage has diminished or even reversed in favor of the card counting players. Today and thanks to card counting in particular, it is close to zero.
Considering that all casino games give the house an edge, an edge close to 0 is an exception. What is called “the house edge”, often expressed as a percentage, can vary from game to game, on the one hand rather negligible (less than 1%, as here, Blackjack, in counting cards) to a very large share (about 25%, for certain games where the casino wins very often, for example, Keno, the pure game of luck, the worst game to win). These numbers represent the average amount of all bets that players will lose in the long run.
Then you need a perfect knowledge of the game
Your primary objective is to become so good at Blackjack that you could play perfectly with your eyes closed or almost. You have to play in automatic mode, look like a machine, a real computer that decides the best answer in a fraction of a second. When you no longer need a book, a board, a grid, when you don’t need a second to think, try playing with one eye closed and your hands tied behind your back.
As long as you master the game of blackjack like the back of your hand, you can start making real money. Not before. By counting the cards you will have a 1% advantage. If you bet 100 euros, you win one euro per game. Want to turn that 1% into a fortune? It depends on all the work you have done in preparation.
Then, understand how the concept of counting works
The simplest and most well-known counting system is the one we are developing here, namely the Hi-Lo. The principle consists of assigning values (1, 0, or -1) to each card dealt. The Aces, as well as the “logs” (strong cards, of value 10, therefore the 10, V, D, and R), take the value -1. Cards 7, 8, 9 the value 0, cards 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 each count as 1.
When the first card is dealt, the count is zero. They are added up progressively and the current count is thus obtained. That’s all. Don’t complicate your life just yet, because if you complicate things, your brain will explode shortly. Try to count as fast as possible. A tip:
Understand why counting cards gives you a better chance of winning. The main idea is that strong cards (value 10) increase the chances of having blackjack (consisting of an Ace and a log). Be aware that Blackjack pays you 3: 2 (if the dealer doesn’t have one too). In summary, you bet € 10, if you get Blackjack, you will receive € 15.
Big cards also help you in the sense that they usually lose the dealer who exceeds 21 (it is said to burn or die). On the other hand, low-value cards (between 2 and 6) are not good for you, who want Blackjack or to overtake the dealer, but they are very good for the latter, therefore for the casino, because they allow not to burn.
Using the Hi-Lo system
The Hi-Lo card counting system remains one of the simplest card counting systems.
When the cards are dealt, the player continues to mentally count the cards that are played and thus determines whether or not to bet. The player must keep the total in mind and know at all times whether to bet or not and how much to bet. There are three cases that arise.
1) The total is high, that is to say, that the rate of strong cards that remain to be dealt (10 points and Ace) is high: the game turns to the advantage of the player and he must increase his stake.
2) The total revolves around 0, the shoe is “neutral” that is to say that no one (neither the player nor the croupier) clearly has the advantage over the other.
3) The total is very low and therefore the player really does not have the advantage over the dealer: the cards to come will be weak. It is, therefore, recommended to make minimum bets or even to leave the table.
Learn card values by heart
To know at any time the total of the cards already passed (this total is called the running number -RN) and therefore to know if you have the hand, you must count the values of each menu. Start at zero and add each value.
- Cards between 2 and 6 have the value +1.
- Cards between 7 and 9 have no value.
- Cards equivalent to 10 counts as -1.
- Aces also count as -1.
Know when to bet
Increase your bets when the total is high, ie when the RN exceeds +2. The higher the number, the more you should bet, but keep in mind that if you bet a large amount all at once, you may attract the attention of casino security. Most casinos try to spot counters by looking for irregularities in betting.
In general, it is normal to increase the bets one chip at a time, on each hand. If you are making large variations, pay attention to the vigilance of the casino.
Try it out
Take a deck of cards, remove the jokers. Count the cards. At the end of the game, all cards must be turned over and you must end up with an RN of 0. Test yourself. Your goal is to count the entire game in less than 25 seconds.
Start by timing yourself to see how long it takes to count a full game, ending at 0 of course. It is common at the beginning not to end with 0. Don’t worry, don’t give up. The math is not complicated, but the speed will make you make mistakes.
Take a card from the deck and set it aside, without looking at it. Count your game, without this card. When you have finished counting the game, you should be able to find out the value of the turned-over card. Is not it?
Now turn the cards over two by two
When you have a pair of cards: a jack and a 4, try to think faster than “-1 and +1 = 0.” That pair of cards should mean 0 in the blink of an eye. When you see a low card and a high card, you can assume that they cancel each other out.
By counting like this, the cards will scroll before your eyes. As you practice, you will eventually recognize the different combinations of cards and counting will be almost a natural reflex.
Keep in mind that you are counting cards to find out what is left in the deck. Card counting, of course, requires precision and speed. To become a great card counter, your brain must be independent of you.
He has to work on his own, it’s like riding a bicycle. After a while, it becomes automatic. Counting pairs makes things easier. Counting becomes easier and allows you to focus on something else and be more precise.
The “real account”
It has been a long time since casinos no longer play with a single deck of cards in Blackjack (52 cards). It has now become common for a dealer to have 5 or 6 decks of cards in the hand or in the shoe. This factor must of course be included in the probability calculations. This is the reason why there is a running count, RC (current account), and a true count, TC (true account).
- To find out the TC, we divide the RC by the number of decks remaining in the shoe. If your CR is +4 and there are 4 decks of playing cards left (208 cards), your TC is +1.
- To estimate the number of cards remaining in the shoe, you can either visually assess it, or count the cards used (or decks used) based on the number of tricks played, or you can try to represent the thickness of a deck of cards visually in the dealer’s shoe. It’s a bit tricky, but by practicing several decks of cards you will quickly be able to estimate how many cards are left. Take the time to do these tests in your spare time.
- If you are playing with only one deck of cards (ie 52 cards), calculate the reverse and multiply. Let’s take an example: you have already counted the ¾ of the deck of cards and the CR is +4. Multiply the OR by 4 and divide by 3, to get a little more than 5. Some people don’t do this calculation, but the TC has been proven to be closer to the real thing.
Practice in the midst of noise, passing by to get used to the distractions of the casinos
It is easy to count cards at home, in peace, in its interior comfort, door closed, curtains were drawn, and phone off. But what about when you’re at the casino? There will be a thousand and one distraction at the same time. No matter how simple the math is, distractions will distract you and you will inevitably fall for it. Remember that to be wrong on one point is to be wrong on millions!
Turn on the television, add the radio, let your dogs roam free and your children around you, in order to simulate the nuisance of the casino and you will be in conditions of distractions close to those of the casino. Not to mention the eyes that are watching you constantly and from everywhere. Under these conditions, you must be both efficient and discreet.
Use other means of counting
There are other ways of counting cards at the casino
The Hi-Lo method is not that popular for no reason: it leads to good results and it has the advantage of being simple. That said, there are variations.
- With the KO method, the only difference is that the 7 has a value of +1.
- With the Omega II counting system, cards 4, 5, and 6 have a value of +2. The 10, V, D, and R cards are worth -2 and the Aces are worth 0.
- With the Halves, the 2 and the 7 are worth +0.5. The 5 is +1.5 and the 9 is -0.5.
Learn about the statistics that result from each method
There are thousands of very complex analyzes that attempt to answer the question “Does it work?” To answer it, you have to take several criteria into account.
- Regarding the “betting correlation (BC) -, Wong Halves has the highest level, reaching 0.99. It is used to predict bets.
- Hi-Opt II and Omega II have the highest “playing efficiency” -playing efficiency (PE) -. It is the mathematical measure of whether the counting system reflects a game’s advantage. It is used to determine decisions and deviations (when you are no longer using the basic strategy for example).
- Hi-Opt II has the strongest “insurance ratio” -insurance correlation (IC) -. This is partly thanks to the additional Ace counting that this system has. When the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace, you have the option of taking insurance, i.e. betting half of your initial bet that the dealer has a natural 21. Concretely, you bet that the croupier will make Blackjack.
- As you can see, the Hi-Lo method is not mentioned here. This is because this method is placed in a good position in each category. In summary, the Hi-Opt II system has an additional As counter. Halves is an extremely complex system that slows down the game. The efficiency of the Omega II system does not really match the wagering correlation. Of course, if you are one of the best blackjack players in the world, you probably already know how to do it and you can have fun juggling all of these methods. Otherwise, stick to the Hi-Lo system
One of the most famous counting techniques is “wonging”, after the alias Stanford Wong, it is also called “back-counting”
This is about counting from behind someone. Basically, it consists of watching the blackjack table counting as described above and only joining the table when the count is favorable and you stay away when the count is favorable. You do that kind of thing at big tables, standing behind those who are seated, otherwise, you might have to get up right after you sit down and in the middle of a lot of people, it’s a little more low-key.
- Many casinos no longer allow players to enter the game at any time for this main reason. If you want to try, know that this technique is now well known to casino staff: it is very easy to spot. Those who don’t count cards would follow you with their eyes closed. Normal, right?
- This technique especially allows you to reduce your costs since you bet absolutely nothing until you sit down at the table. And when you bet, it’s usually the same outrageous amount every time.
Hide your strategy
Be the tourist
Card counters have been known to play blackjack for hours and hours, often without even eating or eating at the table. Spread the suspicion of security men by pretending to be a simple tourist who wants to have fun.
Do you want to blend in? Don’t put on your Armani three-piece suit to begin with. If you want to be discreet, it is better not to be fanciful at your town’s casino: leave the Italian buckskin at home and prefer to be, at least at the start of your counter career, a common man.
Make sure your bets are regular
Be careful not to increase your bet after a loss, not to decrease your bet after a win, not to make a “drastic” increase in a bet such as going from 1 chip to 5 chips in one hand, etc. Dealers are used to counting cards and those who count. The casino asks them to shuffle the cards with each drastic increase in bets. This is the reason why you have to increase your stake little by little and apparently unrelated to the game.
It seems a bit of a stretch, but if you’re not careful, a man in a Hugo Boss suit can quickly walk up to you and introduce himself as the manager of the casino, to inform you that you are no longer allowed to gamble.
Blackjack in its casino as well as in all the casinos of the group to which it belongs, hop, there you are, in 2 steps 3 movements, you will be “persona non grata” in all these establishments. And for once, you will not have won anything at all. The reason is obvious, no casino tolerates competent counters. Even though counting is not illegal. The casino has the right to prohibit entry to any player and it can also refuse a particular player.
In order to increase your longevity at the tables and blend in as much as possible with the mass of tourists and gamers, use what is commonly called camouflage. Pretend you care about the other people at your table. Now you will understand why it is so important to practice your counting with the dog, the children, the TV, the radio and everything in between.
If you stay paralyzed, your eyes fixed on the cards, your lips counting, it will be seen from afar. Relax, order a drink, make little comments left and right. Have fun!
- The counters are often absorbed in the game. They stay fixed on their maps when everyone is following a magnificent woman who has just passed. Please raise your head!
- You need to be able to count cards and have a conversation at the same time. Talk to the dealer, ask him how his day went, for example. And if the manager arrives, chat with him too.
Don’t hesitate to tip the dealer
- Most dealers are very good at counting cards and can recognize a counter. A broker who likes you will wait longer before shuffling a deck that is favorable to you and shuffling a rather bad deck.
- Be aware that a dealer can turn out to be a friend or an enemy. It depends! It is forbidden to ask a dealer to influence the game in your favor, but having it in your pocket is always better than against yourself. The same goes for the entire casino team. It doesn’t hurt to get along well with everyone and it can pay off, indirectly.
Know that you are being observed constantly and from all angles
At any time, hundreds of eyes are watching you in the casino: the croupiers, the guards on duty behind you, all the security personnel, the efficient computer systems. Casino operators are easily able to detect and spot suspicious player behavior.
If those eyes know how to spot that a waitress serves a customer every 18.37 minutes, you can imagine that they will probably be able to spot you. We must therefore be irreproachable.
If a casino suspects you of card counting, the security guards are unlikely to come and tell you. They will send someone to play with you and start a conversation with you and thus try to distract you, or they can affect you a particularly fast or dealer shuffle the cards in the middle of the hoof or change the rules of updates. If you are dealing with any of these distractions, withdraw, quietly, but now.
Don’t do anything abruptly
When you get to a table, wait until luck is with you. Why change? When you are seated at a table, take care that your movements, your bets are calm, breathe, think. “Normal” blackjack players don’t spend three months watching the same scene. Everything you do at the table should boil down to blending in with the surroundings.
Don’t go from table to table every time a deck is “hot”. You are sure to quickly attract the wrath of all security if you do this. Bet little while waiting for the deck to get hot. Make people think you are betting more because you are happy to win and not because you know what cards are coming up.
- Start counting at the start of the hoof. That is when the croupier has shuffled his cards and starts a series of 6 decks of cards.
- Be natural. Talk to the dealer normally, make jokes, joke about your wins and losses, and even better, talk about things that have no direct relation to the casino (make it up, if need be). It will look a lot less suspicious than someone who is nervously silent while looking at everyone’s cards and obviously in the middle of mental math.
It is quite possible that the best counters are not these Rainman-type math geniuses, but rather those who know how to count and blend in with the background at the same time.
- Some players also count how many aces fell. This is only useful if you already know how to count cards perfectly.
- Keep in mind that the count varies depending on the number of cards remaining in the shoe. A CR of +6 when there are 2 decks left in the shoe is extremely favorable to the player. Whereas an RC of +10 when there are still 5 decks left is not so favorable.
- If the manager or a member of the security asks you to leave the blackjack table, it is likely that he saw you counting the cards. Do what he says. This is a normal procedure and a legal requirement in casinos around the world. The best thing to do in these cases is to simply say “of course”, take your chips and leave the table. You will cash them the next day.
- Even if luck is with you, allow about six hours of playtime for you to start winning (here’s a little comparison: a coin tossed 10 times can statistically land on tails 7 times in a row). Keep in mind that there is a possibility that you won’t earn anything at all and even lose all of your money.
The card counting system helps you gain the edge in Blackjack. It is nothing more than a strategic way to approach the game. No one can play for you.
- Never walk into a casino with the intention of counting cards without having a solid practice. This is to avoid moving the lips for example and being caught in the act of counting cards. Card counting is by no means prohibited by law, but it is best to avoid retaliation in case you get caught or are banned from the casino for life.
- Don’t gamble unless you don’t worry about losing that money more than that, especially if you are still practicing your game and counting. Blackjack can lose a lot of money, even if your strategy is well established. This article is a great introduction to how to count cards, but it cannot guarantee that you will become a professional card counter. For that, it takes at least years of practice.
- You will attract attention when you count the cards. It is possible that other players do not appreciate the fact that you win, that you count the cards. It can spill over, fester, become a source of threats and violence.