How to Count Cards at the Blackjack Table

As a highly popular casino game, blackjack is played by thousands of people but few of them are proficient in card counting. Even fewer manage to make a decent, sustainable profit from applying this technique when playing at the blackjack table. Successful card counters, on the other hand, are skilled at not only keeping track of the cards that have been dealt but also at properly structuring their bets in order to take a maximum advantage while remaining anonymous.

Once beginner players know the basic strategy for blackjack, they can start learning how to count cards. Contrary to popular belief, card counting is not a skill only exceptional individuals could master and it does not require players to memorize all cards in the deck. This is a technique that could be learned by most people and it allows them to identify the moment when the odds shift in their favor.

First Steps into Card Counting

Before blackjack players learn how to count cards like pros, they should obtain a good understanding of the game. Knowing the rules and the basic strategy is a must since even the best card counters would fail spectacularly if they do not build their playing tactics on mathematically proven moves and concepts. As an introduction into card counting, we have presented several fundamental ideas every blackjack player should focus on – what is card counting, how to determine the betting spread, and how is the Kelly criterion applicable to blackjack.

Fundamental Concept
Bankroll and Betting Spread
The Kelly Criterion

Basics of Card Counting

As we have mentioned above, card counters do not memorize all cards that have been dealt so they can calculate exactly which cards are left in the dealer shoe. This is simply impossible in a fast-paced game such as blackjack, especially if 6 or 8 decks are in use. Instead, card counters estimate roughly the ratio of high to low cards in the shoe without knowing the exact cards that will be dealt next. The process of card counting can be broken down into four basic steps:

Assigning Values to Cards
Keeping a Running Count
Calculating the True Count
Adjusting Bet Size
Spotters
The Big Player
Avoiding Detection

Additional Factors to Consider

Certain card counting systems such as the Hi-Lo are very simple to learn but in order to apply them quickly and with ease in real-money games, players should practice. They could start with a single deck of cards in order to learn the basics but those who want to try the system on the casino floor would have to be well-prepared. This means being able to follow the system for a long time in multi-deck games, having the proper bankroll, and being able to spread your bets as the true count rises and falls.

Of course, card counters should always look for tables with favorable rules so they can gain as much advantage as possible. But how much is that? This varies significantly from one card counting system to another but in most cases, skilled counters can gain up to 2.5% advantage over the house. In most cases, counters can reach player advantage of around 1% or 1.5%. Before sitting at the blackjack table, they should take several more things into account, namely the importance of deck penetration, the variance in each game, and the theoretical Risk of Ruin and Expected Profit.

Deck Penetration
Variance
Expected Profit and Risk of Ruin

Advantages and Disadvantages of Card Counting

Advantages of Card Counting
Disadvantages of Card Counting

Card counting is the only method for gaining mathematical advantage over the house.

It is difficult to count cards in a real-life situation.

Skilled card counters can make huge profits from blackjack.

Card counting does not work for virtual blackjack in online casinos.

There are many simple systems for counting cards that are easy to learn and implement.

Not all card counters manage to make a living from blackjack.

The different methods are readily available online, in various blackjack books, and guides.

The most efficient counting systems are also the most complex and difficult ones.

Card counting could be applied to all blackjack variations.

Card counting is strictly forbidden in casinos, although it is perfectly legal in most jurisdictions.

Card counting allows deviation from basic strategy when necessary.

Card counters must remain inconspicuous and pretend to be amateurs.

Card counting could be practiced solo or in teams.

Casinos take a wide range of measures to detect card counters. Even suspicion could mean lifelong ban from the casino.