Card Counting: How to Count Cards in Blackjack

Having honed my skills over many years at the Blackjack tables, one strategy I’ve found particularly beneficial is card counting.

While it might seem complex and somewhat notorious thanks to its depiction in Hollywood, card counting is all about understanding the game at a deeper level. In this expansive Online Casino Suite guide on how to count cards in blackjack, I aim to elucidate the concept of counting cards in Blackjack, unveiling its key elements, strategies, and statistics.

By the end, even beginners should be well-versed in the art of card counting.

Blackjack Card Counting: Delving into the Basics

Card counting is not about remembering each card that’s been dealt.

Instead, it’s a systematic approach to understanding the ratio of high to low cards remaining in the deck. This ratio then aids you in adjusting your betting decisions.

Video: Blackjack Expert Explains How Card Counting Works | WIRED

While card counting is legal, it’s not favored by casinos, and a high level of discretion is advised. The process requires keen memory, rapid mental arithmetic, and intense focus. It’s like being a mental athlete, continually exercising your mind while keeping cool under pressure.

One of the key elements to successfully count cards in blackjack is understanding and mastering basic strategy.

To learn this you can start by reading about basic strategy and studying our blackjack basic strategy chart.

Essential Elements in Card Counting

The crux of card counting lies in differentiating between high and low cards, and categorizing them accordingly.

Cards like 10s, Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Aces are considered ‘high’ because they increase the likelihood of a Blackjack. On the other hand, ‘low’ cards, 2-6, decrease these chances. Cards 7-9 are often considered ‘neutral’ as they don’t significantly sway the game one way or another.

Card Values in the Hi-Lo Counting System

The Hi Lo card counting system assigns values to different card ranks, which aids in calculating the Running Count during a game.

Card RankValue
10, J, Q, K, A-1

Two key concepts in card counting are the ‘Running Count’ and the ‘True Count’. The Running Count is the cumulative total of the values of all cards dealt so far. The True Count, however, takes the Running Count and adjusts it based on the number of decks remaining in the game.

Key Factors of Card Counting in Blackjack

High Cards10s, Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Aces are desirable as they increase the chances of Blackjack.
Low CardsCards 2-6 are considered low and less favorable. They decrease the chances of reaching 21.
Neutral CardsCards 7-9 don’t affect the gameplay significantly and are thus neutral.
Running CountThis is the sum of the values of all cards dealt.
True CountThe running count divided by the approximate number of decks left.

The Hi-Lo Counting Strategy

Among numerous card counting strategies, the Hi-Lo system is the most popular due to its simplicity and efficiency. Here’s how it works:

  1. Every card from 2-6 (low cards) is given a +1 value.
  2. Cards 7-9 are assigned a value of 0.
  3. Cards 10-Ace (high cards) get a -1 value.
Hi-Lo Card Counting Strategy
Learn the hi lo card counting strategy: how to count cards in blackjack.

Let’s delve deeper into how to use this strategy.

Keep a running count as cards are dealt. If the count is positive after the first round, it means that low cards have predominantly been dealt, leaving a surplus of high cards. This information is valuable as it allows you to adjust your betting strategy accordingly, increasing your wager when the odds are in your favor.

Hi-Lo Card Counting Strategy in Detail

Card RankValue

In a live game, as each card is dealt, you adjust your running count based on the card’s value. For instance, if a 3 is dealt, you add one to your count. If a Queen is dealt next, you subtract one. So, your running count stays the same.

The beauty of this system is that it helps you understand the composition of the remaining cards in the deck. A positive count signifies a deck rich in high cards, which is favorable to the player. Conversely, a negative count suggests a surplus of low cards, favoring the dealer.

Counting Cards in Practice

By now, you have an understanding of the card counting basics and the Hi-Lo strategy. Let’s discuss how to apply it practically. Remember, practice makes perfect!

Remember, the ultimate goal of counting cards in blackjack is to identify when the odds favor the player, thus allowing you to place larger bets and capitalize on the situation.

Mastering Card Counting

Learning the basics of card counting and the Hi-Lo strategy is only the beginning. The next step is the application. And that requires practice, and lots of it!

To master card counting, start with a single deck of cards. Flip them over one at a time, assigning values according to the Hi-Lo system. Once you’re comfortable with a single deck, try multiple decks to simulate real casino conditions.

Another crucial aspect is learning to determine the ‘True Count’. By dividing your ‘Running Count’ by the approximate number of decks left, you adjust your strategy based on the actual composition of the undealt cards. For example, a Running Count of +6 with about 3 decks left gives a True Count of +2. The higher the True Count, the more you should bet.

This is because a high True Count signifies a deck abundant in high-value cards, thereby increasing your chances of hitting a Blackjack or at least landing a strong hand.

Blackjack Card Counting Bet Spread Strategy

True CountBet Size (as a multiple of minimum bet)
1 or less1x
4 or more8x

This table shows an example of how you might want to adjust your betting size based on the True Count. As the count goes up, so does your bet, taking advantage of the better odds.

However, a crucial point to remember is not to overextend yourself. Manage your bankroll wisely and only increase your bets within your comfort zone. Excessive betting can lead to significant losses and is not a sustainable strategy in the long run.

Now, you might be wondering how to practice these steps without heading straight to the casino. This is where card counting simulations come in. There are numerous online platforms where you can practice card counting with multiple decks. This low-stakes environment can help you sharpen your skills before you play with real money.

Steps to Mastering How to Count Cards in Blackjack

1Start by assigning values to each card.
2Practice by flipping cards over one at a time and assigning values.
3Once you’re comfortable with individual cards, practice with pairs, then with whole hands, maintaining a running count.
4Once you’re adept at maintaining the running count, learn to determine the true count by estimating the number of decks left in the shoe.
5Apply the knowledge at a real table by visiting a casino or joining an online game. Start with low stakes and gradually increase as you get comfortable.

Once you’re confident in your abilities, it’s time to test them in a real-world scenario. Whether at a physical casino or an online live-dealer game, start with low-stakes tables. As your comfort and proficiency grow, gradually move towards higher stakes.

Edge Gained from Card Counting Strategies

Card Counting SystemHouse EdgePlayer’s Edge
No system (just basic strategy)0.5%0%
Hi-Opt I0.19%0.59%
Hi-Opt II0.15%0.65%

These numbers are approximations and may vary based on the exact rules of the game and how well the player implements the system. Nonetheless, they provide a rough idea of the potential advantage gained from card counting.

Video: How to Count Cards (and Bring Down the House)

FAQs: How to Count Cards


Card counting in Blackjack isn’t some mystical skill only achievable by a select few. Rather, it’s an advanced strategy that requires understanding, practice, and an ongoing willingness to learn.

So, start slow, be patient, and remember: Blackjack, at its core, is a game meant for enjoyment.

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