Blackjack card counting

Blackjack Card Counting – Strategy and Practice

By definition, card counting is a card game strategy used primarily by experienced blackjack players. The player tries to observe the cards mentally. Thus, the player can gain an advantage over the casino by calculating the probability of certain cards appearing in the game.

Is Card Counting Legal in Blackjack?

Another important thing to keep in mind is that while card counting is perfectly legal, the casino will likely kick you out if you get caught. If this happens, get up, exchange your chips and leave the casino. Those who defend themselves are more likely to get in trouble and, in the worst case, lose all profits because it will be confiscated.

We emphasize that in this article, we will not ask any of our readers to try any of the presented techniques in a real casino.

Card Counting Highlights

  • Legal but prohibited – the casino will ask you to leave the casino;
  • It works with live dealers in online casinos but does not work in regular online blackjack;
  • Hi/Lo is the best card counting method – look for a casino where cards are shuffled 70% or more.

Although card counting is not illegal, almost all casinos think otherwise. Since casinos are privately owned, they have internal rules, and they can prohibit anyone from entering the casino. In their eyes, card counting is illegal.

For us, card counting is more of a strategic approach to the game. If you learn to combine a good blackjack strategy with a card counting strategy, you will have a huge advantage over the casino! And with that, you have a good chance of turning your knowledge at the blackjack table into substantial profits.

Just as poker players place all their bets when they have correctly calculated the odds of winning their hand, blackjack players should be entitled to raise their bets if they can expect the game to end well for them.

When a card counting case ends in court, the same argument arises: card counting is a matter of skill, not fraud. To date, no casino has proven that you cheat when counting cards.

Hi/Lo Strategy is the best and easiest way to count cards

One of the most profitable and arguably, the easiest ways to count cards is the Hi/Lo strategy. The strategy is a running counting technique in which each card has a specific meaning. (If you don’t know what blackjack is, check out our blackjack rules or try online blackjack).

Hi Lo strategy

The strategy is used to determine when the ratio of high and low-value cards is unbalanced.

High-value cards such as tens and aces not only increase the chance of dealing blackjack but also increase the likelihood that hands will be worth at least 20 points. Card deck, containing many high cards, puts the player in a very advantageous position because it increases the dealer’s probability of losing.

In a situation where most of the cards are of small value (cards from 2 to 6), the dealer will have a significant advantage over the player.

If there are more low cards in the card deck, the probability that the dealer will lose if a new card is drawn on a Hard Hand (12-16) is much lower.

If there are more high cards in the card deck, the dealer’s chance is much higher.

How Hi/Lo works and the Running Count

From the moment the first card of the newly shuffled deck is dealt, the player begins to count the cards’ value. A low card increases your value by one point; a high card decreases your current value (“Running Count”). All cards from 7 to 9 are neutral and do not count towards the Hi/Lo strategy.

This is how your count would look in any round of Blackjack:

Hand Value
Player #1 A, 5 -1, +1
Player #2 6, 2 +1, +1
Player #3 7, 8 0, 0
Player #4 D, D -1, -1
Player #5 3, 8 +1, 0
Dealer 9 0
Running Count: +1

The amount after this round should be +1. More low-value cards were dealt with, so there are more high-quality cards in the remaining deck. As you may have noticed, after a few hands, your value may not be very accurate. The more information you collect, the more accurate your value will be, and the greater your benefit.

If you are trying to count on your own for the first time, you can go through a card game with all the cards. You have counted correctly when you come out at 0 at the end.

It won’t be easy the first few times, but the more you practice, the faster and more accurate your counting will be. After a while, you can try to count two cards at a time just by looking at the Blackjack hands. If you practice long enough, you will almost automatically recognize the different card combinations and their meanings. And this is the great thing about the simple Hi/Lo strategy. We will introduce you to more sophisticated counting strategies later.

However, most experts agree that the benefits of quick and simple strategies far outweigh the benefits of more precise and complex strategies.

It won’t be long before you can use this simple technique while playing Blackjack at a normal speed. You need to be mindful of the current meaning and focus on the game without drawing attention. If you haven’t yet mastered the counting strategy and need to think long and hard, the dealers and security managers will notice it because they are trained to recognize this behavior.

True Count

The second factor to consider when trying to determine the balance of a blackjack deck is the number of cards remaining in the deck.

As we mentioned earlier, the closer you get to the end of the deck, the more accurate your value will be. If you now divide the current value (“Running Count”) by the number of estimated remaining cards, you get an even more accurate value, the so-called “True Count.”

If you convert your “Running Count” to a “True Count” your value will be much more accurate! While it can be a little tricky, once you start practicing with multiple decks, you will soon be able to appreciate what cards are in the deck.

True Count

Suppose your current value is +4, and you estimate that there are two decks left in the sled, the “True Count” is +2.

If the value is still positive after the split, the chances are good that increasing your bet will make a good profit. The “True Count” is a more accurate indicator of how favorable/unfavorable the deck is.

Follow the table for the recommended use at specific True Count values and slide size.

Your stake depends on the “True Count”
True Count 2 Decks 6+ Decks
0 1 unit 1 unit
+ 1 2 units 2 units
+ 2 3 units 4 units
+ 3 4 units 8 units
+ 4 5 units 10 units
+ 5 6 units 12 units

How it works: as soon as more than half of the sled has been played (ideally 75% for a 2-deck sled and 60% for sleds with six or more decks) and the True Count is positive, you start increasing your bet according to the table (second column for 2-deck sleds and the third column for 6-deck sleds).

You should never set foot in a casino or online casino with live Blackjack and want to count cards unless you have practiced for a significant amount of time!

You have to keep track of your bets and your hand in real life, so card counting should be lightning-fast and unnoticed.

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Other Casino Card Counting Strategies

Since the advent of card counting strategies, people have been trying to refine and improve these strategies. However, experience shows that it is easier to apply simpler methods. Even if you think you can master a complex and very accurate counting strategy, in the end, it won’t make you more money than another simple strategy.

The disadvantages of complex strategies, such as “Side-Counts” or multi-level strategies, are obvious: the more you have to focus on strategy and the more information you have to assimilate, the more it will prevent you from playing fast and counting accurately.

You will make more money quickly playing a simple strategy than slowly playing a complex strategy. The less effort you put into counting, the less you can get the casino security guards’ attention.

While the Hi/Lo strategy is generally considered to be the best strategy, there are others that are popular depending on personal preferences – as always, everyone has their own tastes. As is usually the case, everyone has their preferences. But you will quickly realize that all card counting strategies are very similar; they just use different values. If you learn to use the Hi/Lo strategy, you can quickly use other strategies if you practice correctly. To illustrate how other strategies work, we have created a small table as an overview.

Name 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 – K A
Wizard 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 -1
KO 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 -1 -1
Hi-Lo 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 -1 -1
Hi-Opt I 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 -1 0
Hi-Opt II 1 1 2 2 1 1 0 0 -2 0
ZenCount 1 1 2 2 2 1 0 0 -2 -1
Omega II 1 1 2 2 2 1 0 -1 -2 0

As you can see from this table, all strategies look relatively similar, but the count is different. In the end, only the player can decide what works best for him/her, so experimenting with all versions doesn’t hurt.

Wonging Blackjack Counting Technique

One of the most famous card counting techniques is called “Wonging,” named after the pseudonym Stanford Wong, which John Ferguson used in his blackjack books. The name “Wonging” refers to a technique he described of observing blackjack tables, counting cards similar to the one described above, but only interfering with the game if the cards’ value gives the player an advantage.

Wonging Blackjack Counting

Using this technique, you cut your running costs because you don’t do anything until you’re sitting at a “hot” table. However, this technique is well known today, and the casino manager will have no problem recognizing it.

In addition, it is no longer possible in many casinos to bet on a deck that has already been played. The obvious advantage of strategies such as “Wonging” is that the player does not have to play every hand he counts. This will minimize fluctuations in your bankroll and even increase your edge.

Why Simple Card Counting Strategies are More Profitable

For the reasons already mentioned, it is much easier for casino staff to recognize multifaceted counting strategies than simple strategies. A group of counters playing together as a team is very easy to spot with surveillance cameras. Secret symbols and codes are recorded by the cameras, even if you think that no one will notice them. And if they are not noticed immediately, they will certainly be after reviewing the tapes.

The camera will never be able to peer into the player’s mind, which is probably why high-tech casinos today are still struggling to track down the most successful card counters. The moment a strategy goes out of your head and involves other team members, it leaves traces that the casino staff will find.

Most casinos try to track card counters by manually tracking irregularities in the betting scheme or using local technology. Using a simple counting strategy will allow you to focus on covering your tracks, for example, by talking to other people at the table or changing your betting scheme so that it is not suspicious.

Team Play and Blackjack Card Counting

Of course, one player can only play a certain number of hands at a time. Consequently, playing as a team seems like a smart way to raise hourly wages. Team play has been successfully practiced by groups like the M.I.T. Blackjack Team. This was a group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) who were the inspiration for the movie “21”.

M.I.T. Blackjack Team

The most popular way to play as a team is when different team members play at the same table and tell the rest of the team when the table is hot, and they should join the game. One of the benefits of this is that players only need to place big bets if they can be sure that the table is favorable for them.

The disadvantage is that playing as a team requires a lot of effort. In addition to the imminent danger of being caught, many people are involved in the game, looking for a piece of the pie.

In addition, the casino manager will be sure to keep a close eye on the player who moves from table to table. Again, the risk of being caught is very high.

If you still want to try out what it feels like to play as a team or want to know how it works, we’ve put together a classic blackjack team structure here:

The Card Counting Team

Gorilla

Gorilla Team play Blackjack

Gorillas are not known for their math skills, so they don’t have to count on the blackjack team. Instead, this team member runs from table to table and plays at maximum stakes – and only when the table is really “hot.” The classic gorilla character is a drunken millionaire who throws money around.

Spotter

Spotter Team play Blackjack

This team member is an active player at the table. However, his/her main task is to keep track of the deck’s exact value at his/her table. Since many casinos observe irregularities in the betting pattern at the tables, the spotter always makes the minimum bet. He then signals the gorilla or team boss when the deck is “hot”.

Back-Spotter

Back-Spotter Team play Blackjack

This team member does not necessarily have to sit at the table. His/her job is to observe the tables from a distance and signal to the rest of the team when the gorilla should come to the table.

Big Player

Big Player Team play Blackjack

The big player’s job is to keep the team from getting caught. The high roller who is also a good Blackjack player will surely attract the attention of the casino staff.

Remember, playing blackjack with a perfect strategy is not prohibited. And a talented player with the same bankroll as a gorilla will attract the casino’s attention and distract the team’s attention.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Card Counting

One thing is certain: anything that is a scam is prohibited. Methods such as past posting (i.e., late bets when they can no longer be accepted) or base dealing (when the card is not removed from the top but from the bottom) should be considered illegal. Aids such as apps, mirrors, or calculators on a mobile phone are, of course, prohibited at the Blackjack table.

Keith Taft and his son are also a good example of this. They gained fame in the 1970s with the construction of portable, mechanical card counters (see photo).

Keith Taft card counters

However, due to the reprisals you may face from the casino security, we strongly advise inexperienced players not to try it in a real casino. In other words: We do not want you to get caught!

Counting cards online (in digital games) is rather pointless because cards are drawn randomly in online casinos.

But in regular casinos or live casinos where multiple Blackjack hands can be played before the dealer has to reshuffle the deck, card counting can be very useful.

Countermeasures by the Casino

Card counting strategies have been around for many years. The first books on the topic were published in the early 1960s – and ever since then, casino staff and operators have tried to stop these activities.

Countermeasures by the Casino

Below are listed some of the most common – and some of them unsuccessful – attempts to stop card counting:

The “Cutting Card”

One of the first measures that casinos have taken is the “Cutting Card.” This is a card, after which the current deck will stop playing. This way, the whole deck is never played through.

Multiple Decks

Casinos have also started to use multiple decks at the same table – although the number of decks is not as important as, for example, the Hi/Lo strategy explains.

Own Card Counter

There are currently several automated strategies that casinos use to track dishonest gambling. Some casinos scan all the cards dealt from the blackjack sledges to count the cards themselves. If they notice that a deck is unbalanced in favor of the players, they merge this information with irregularities in the betting pattern at the table. If a player systematically raises his bet when the computer finds the deck to be “hot”, it is assumed that the player is counting cards and is likely to be asked to leave the casino or try his/her luck in another game.

Microchips in Chips

Another common method of detecting violations is the use of microchips, which are inserted into the casino’s gaming chips. This makes it very easy for the casino to track how and how much is bet at the tables. This approach may sound a bit like George Orwell’s, but casinos are businesses where surveillance cameras have been a part of the good name for decades and their main goal is to make money, not to give it away.

Face Recognition Technology in Casinos

One of the newest surveillance technologies in casinos is face recognition. Facial recognition cameras can identify known fraudsters, which are collected in a database. Cameras take pictures of all visitors entering the casino. Because of these new cameras, a known card counter could be asked to leave the casino before they have even made it to a blackjack table.

Counting Cards Without Attracting Attention

We believe that the best way to avoid getting caught in the casino is to simplify your strategy as much as possible and master it 100 percent. It is possible that the best card counters are not math geniuses, but rather those who know how to count accurately and know how to become one with the casino environment.

Casino Robert De Niro

Our card counting trainer will certainly help you become a better card counter, but the task of how you merge with the casino is on your side.

But one thing is certain: the better you are, the easier it is for you to come up with the right values, and the easier it is for you to improve your stealth skills in the casino. And hopefully, one day, we will find out about your legendary winnings at the blackjack tables – or better yet – we will never hear about them!

History of Card Counting

Dr. Edward O. Thorp is considered the father of card counting. His book “Beat the Dealer,” published in 1962, showed the basics of card counting and various theories of how to play Blackjack strategically. In many ways, Thorp was well ahead of his time – at least he was one of the first to publish his theories and thus made them available to a wide audience.

Edward Thorp

Another big name in the field of card counting is Andy Bloch. Today he is known as a very successful poker player. But he was also a member of the M.I.T. Blackjack Team, and he published a card counting video tutorial titled “Beating Blackjack.” Andy Bloch is mentioned in David Layton’s documentary about Blackjack “The Hot Shoe.”

In the film, Leighton interviews card counters such as Thorp and Bloch. During the film production, Leighton used the knowledge gained from the interviews and gambled away $5,000 of the film’s budget for experimental purposes.

Additional sources

At the end of this guide, we’ve compiled a list of additional online resources for you:

bbc.co.uk: Making Million The Easy Way – B.B.C. documentary on card counting
Wikipedia: M.I.T. Blackjack team

If you know of any other card counting strategies that should be added to the list, just email us.

I hope this guide has helped our players find the right way to play Blackjack. And we hope that our knowledge will be used with benefit. As mentioned earlier, card counting is not illegal. It is just a very smart technique to reduce the house edge.