Card Counting in blackjack can be an extremely effective way to increase your odds of winning at the game of 21. The simple fact is, the house always has an advantage in all casino games. However, by implementing a perfect Blackjack Card Counting technique, it is not only possible to deplete the house edge but to turn the tables into the player’s favor. Blackjack Card Counting comes in many forms—from simplistic methods to advanced multi-count techniques.
For those who are new to the idea of Blackjack Card Counting, a more simplistic method is encouraged. Once the player has this technique down to a science, only then should more difficult Blackjack Card Counting techniques be used. A good way to test your skills is by playing blackjack online. You are not timed, you are not under the scrutiny of casino security, watching your every move and hesitation from a little booth with a hundred monitors. For starters, you may even try writing down the results on paper as you play Blackjack online, just for the purpose of educating yourself. This obviously would not fly in a brick and mortar casino.
One of the easiest and most popular blackjack card counting strategies is the Hi-Lo Count. The reason this strategy is so popular is that it is simple to learn and easy to implement. Just because this technique is defined as basic doesn’t mean it is not effective. A player can still gain a significant advantage by using this blackjack strategy. The Betting Correlation (effectiveness of betting on a Hi-Lo count) is 97%. Each card in the deck is given a value of either -1, +1 or 0. The total value of a 52 card deck is zero.
The system—also known as the Plus/Minus system—was originally introduced by Harvey Dubner as a remake of Edward Thorp’s slightly more involved Ten-Count blackjack card counting system.
This system isn’t widely used by professional blackjack players, but for casual players or those just starting out, it’s quick and easy to learn. Plus, it is fairly simple to put into use at a live blackjack table. The Hi-Lo Count strategy is basically a simple way to keep track of high cards left in the deck. This system is called a ‘balanced system’; if every card in the deck was counted down the balance would be zero. The smaller cards in the deck are given a value of +1 (cards 2-6). The middle cards or “Neutral Cards” 7-9 are given a zero value, or +0. The face cards, or big cards, 10, jack, queen, king, and ace are all given a -1 value.
This Blackjack Card Counting method tells the player what cards are predominantly remaining in the deck, High cards or Low cards. When halfway through a deck, if your value is high, there are more 10’s, face card and aces remaining than low cards. This presents an advantage to the player. If the value is low, there are more low cards remaining, generally giving the advantage to the dealer. When 10-Ace remain predominant in the deck, the player has a better chance of getting Blackjack. By knowing this, he is able to double up bets at the right moment. It also means the dealer is more likely to bust a stiff hand.
The counting begins when there is a new shuffle, and a new shoe is introduced in a game of blackjack. The table count at this point is zero. As cards are shown, you add 1, subtract 1, or add 0.
If we’re starting at zero (the beginning of the game) and a king is dealt, the table count becomes -1. If a 3 is dealt next the count becomes 0 (-1 plus +1 equals 0).The higher your count, the more likely the deck has higher cards left. A deck that favors high cards is advantageous to know. It is true that a shoe heavy in high cards is just as good to the dealer as the player, knowing there is a better chance of a high card to come can make some of those tough decisions a little easier.
Also, just the opposite, if the count is low and you are faced with a hard decision with a hand totaling 16 against a dealer showing a 9 for example, you can take a hit knowing that a low card number is more likely to come. The more cards dealt and counted, the more accurate the blackjack Hi-Lo Count method is. Of course, there are no guarantees, as it wouldn’t be gambling if there were. However, the use of blackjack strategies can improve your odds and give you a better CHANCE of winning.
The Uston SS Blackjack Card Counting System is more advanced but more accurate with a Betting Correlation of 99%. The idea is the same as in the Hi-Lo Card Counting System but involves 6 values, rather than 3.
The difficulty of this strategy lies in memorizing each card’s value. The math itself is simple—the worst problem that will arise is X+3. If you can count to 21, you can do the math.
In the Knockout Card Counting (KO Count) system, as explained in the book Knock Out Blackjack, all card values are the same as in the Hi Low system, except for the value of the 7. In this system, the seven is considered a low card and thus a positive value—unlike the Hi Low system where it is a neutral card. Another variance between the two strategies is that the KO Count System is not a balanced strategy—whereas the Hi Low Count and Hi Opt strategies are.
The fact that it is unbalanced makes KO Count a Level one Strategy. What that means is, if you begin at zero and count down the entire deck using the Knockout Card Counting Strategy, you are not going to finish on zero. In the Hi-Lo method, the seven is neutral, however, it is a plus one in the Knock Out blackjack counting method, and therefore adds four more points to the deck. If you’ve counted the cards correctly with this system you’ll finish on a positive four.
To use the Knock Out card counting system you will want to keep a running total throughout the game. So if you start at zero, and a low card is played you’ll add one. Now your total is 1. If the next card comes low, add another point, when a high card is dealt you can subtract one. When a new hand is started, the count continues. It does not refresh until a new shoe is shuffled. A count that is high in either direction indicates that the deck is heavy on the high or low side. A high positive count indicates smaller cards left in the deck, and subsequently, it is the opposite with a high negative count.
A formula called “Initial Running Count”—or IRC—is used to determine what number the count will start on. If you’re only playing with one deck of cards, the count will begin at zero. However, when using the KO System, the count does not automatically start at zero, so you’ll want to refer back to the specific IRC for your situation.
As with any blackjack card counting system, you will want to practice the system at home with a deck of cards over and over again until you have it perfected. To cross check yourself, remember that after you’ve counted down the entire deck you’ll end up with a positive 4. You need to be able to keep a running count of the cards, without moving your lips, pausing or making any expensive mathematical mistakes. Once you’ve become accustomed to this system, there are some things that you can effectively train yourself to do to pick up your counting time.
Train yourself to recognize cards that cancel each other, for instance: a negative card cancels out a positive. So a two and a king would cancel each other out. Once you train your brain to know that 2 + k = 0 and k + k equals 2 and so forth, you will find your counting time significantly reduced. A good goal would be to count an entire deck, 2 cards at a time, in 25 seconds.
The Blackjack Shuffle Tracking method is a bit dated, and likely not very useful at land-based casinos, or online. However, the method can still be used at lower key blackjack games where the use of modern shuffling methods (such as the “Big C Cut” or automatic shuffling machines) are not in use. This technique, however, should not be totally discarded as there will be times when you can find the right situation to employ this method—and possibly use it to your advantage. Shuffle tracking is not a tried and true scientific method though and relies more on the player’s educated guess more than concrete facts.
The method depends on the player keeping track of where a run of high cards are throughout a shuffle and then correctly predicting where those cards are and cutting the deck favorably for the player. This method is hard to conquer and even the very skilled are still relying on their best guess. Shuffle tracking doesn’t work in online blackjack games. Because the element of human error is removed online, the cards are shuffled perfectly by internet random number generators.
You can’t really see where in the deck a card lands or is discarded when the shuffling begins, so there’s no way to know or guesstimate which portion of the deck the card ends up in. Card tracking isn’t as simple when the casino you’re playing at uses the half cut method, either—also known as “The Big C.” When a casino is using the half cut method, the deck is cut—usually in the middle, by a random player—and then split toward the last third of the deck by the cut card. Play commences until the cut card is reached, and then no further cards will be dealt from the shoe at this point. The entire shoe is not played through using the above cutting method, in fact, if six decks are used, 2 entire decks may not be played at all.
Because blackjack players must use information gained by the process of elimination when using this very basic strategy, the method becomes completely useless, as the half cut method makes it virtually impossible to determine which cards remain in the deck. This method is also defenseless against most large or prominent casinos as they use automatic shuffling machines. Blackjack players may want to keep shuffle tracking in the back of their minds, as you never know when you might be playing with hand shuffled cards. Keep in mind, however, that shuffle tracking involves as much guesswork as it does scientific fact. Shuffle tracking depends on where cards land, providing that that can be correctly predicted. That outcome depends greatly on each dealer’s personal style and habits.
There are plenty of blackjack rules and strategies out there, but none offer a higher Betting Correlation than the Uston SS system, which is also much easier to implement than other high-yield strategies. The only effective technique we have not yet discussed can be easily added to the Blackjack card counting system of your choice – Side Counts.
The purpose of a Side Counting system is to tell the player EXACTLY what remains in the deck in regards to optimum cards. Many players will only keep a count of Aces, while others count 10’s (including Face Cards) as well. Novice Blackjack card counters should start with a Hi-Lo Card Counting System, then when ready, add in the Ace Side Count. Once it becomes second nature, either advance to the Uston SS card counting system or begin counting 10’s. Eventually, you should be able to implement the Uston SS system with Side Counts of Aces and 10’s.
Implementing a good Blackjack card counting strategy will give the advantage in Insurance bets. Knowing how many high cards remain, especially a side count of Aces, will tell the player exactly how to handle an Insurance situation.
Representations of card counting in Hollywood films range from believable to utterly ridiculous. Here are some films that portray card counting in a variety of different ways.
This 2005 documentary by director David Layton chronicles the history of blackjack card counting. It includes interviews with card counters such as Edward Thorp and Andy Bloch, as well as members of the MIT Blackjack Team, casino employees, and gambling authors. During the making of the movie, Layton used the knowledge he got from the interviews and gambled with $5,000 of the movie’s budget as a case study. This is a fascinating documentary for anyone interested in blackjack card counting.
A mathematics professor recruits three bright students and teaches them to count blackjack cards because he himself is blacklisted from several casinos for counting cards. They then set out on a spree, racking up winnings at various casinos. Although this film has a slightly made-for-TV feel to it, the performances from Charles Martin Smith, Katharine Isabelle and Kris Lemche more than make up for it. However, their card counting system probably wouldn’t work anywhere today.
With four Oscars, two Golden Globes and an Eddie award, Rain Main is quite possibly the best known and most beloved movie about card counting. This 1988 classic is about an autistic savant, his less than perfect brother, and their journey across the USA with an inheritance in the balance—it has it all. Dustin Hoffman is superb in this film and the card scenes are so fabulous, they’re now part of blackjack history. It’s definitely a must see.
In this 2008 film, Kevin Spacey trains a bunch of bright MIT students in blackjack tricks and card counting. They go on to take Las Vegas casinos for millions in winnings. The story is based on the real MIT Blackjack Team, formed in 1979, but the script of the film took a significant artistic license, to say the least. See if you can spot Bill Kaplan, the founder and leader of the MIT Blackjack Team, in the background of the underground Chinese gambling parlor scene.
Much to the contrary of popular media, counting cards is something that any tourist gambler can figure out; you don’t have to be Rain Man. All you need to start counting cards is basic math skills and innate knowledge of a deck of cards. Counting, or Reading Cards as it is sometimes called, is all about statistics. The cards in a deck are known, so counters can use this knowledge along with the cards that are shown to them in order to determine the makeup of high and low cards in the remainder of the deck. This can be used for many different types of games that use a deck or multiple decks of cards but is most common in single-deck Blackjack.
The important thing to remember when counting cards is that it will not produce a win every time for the player, it only improves and influences the chances of a player winning. As most people know, casinos always make money in the long run—which is much more important than the short run, especially in statistics. A good counter can take a game like Blackjack—which, when playing normally has odds slightly in favor of the dealer—and make it so the game pays out to him more than he loses. If he holds when he knows the chances of a card that will make him bust is high, and hits when he knows it won’t make him bust—his average will be above zero. And over time, he will win larger sums of money.
Winning money using card counting takes many hands, and the best systems often utilize a partner system. Partner systems are tricky and require both members to remain focused. Because card counting is not allowed in any casinos, partners not only have to focus on the cards, remember the profile of the deck, win only slightly more than they lose, and help their partner… They also have to communicate discreetly and pretend not to know each other. Most casinos will not notice card counters until the money they win is significant enough to draw attention from the management, so a big part of the strategy is timing, and knowing when to cash out.
It is important to remember that casinos do not allow counting cards and will throw you out if they catch you, and they will keep your winnings. Counting cards can be used to impress friends, and maybe help you earn back money lost on a vacation, but it is not recommended as a source of income. Casinos are really good at hanging on to their money, and if you aren’t careful, they will learn your face and you won’t be able to play at all. Operating in teams is an even easier way to get kicked out of a casino. They will begin watching you if you win a significant amount, and if they see two strangers who are always at the same table where one of them is making statistically improbable amounts of money; they will put two and two together.