Counting cards in casinos used to be a way to think that people were counting the cards that were coming in and going out, remembering what and which cards have gone. That’s not what card counting is in blackjack. We’re talking about a method that will make you succeed, and if you do it right, could give you a spare bit of pocket money when you decide to play.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could play at a land-based casino and ensure that you’ll have an advantage over everyone else? Sure, it would! It’s not easy though, and if it were, everyone would be counting cards. While most of these card counting methods can only really be done at a land-based casino, some of the rules can be applied for online blackjack. At the end of this page, you’ll know how to count cards in blackjack, both land-based and online.
What is Card Counting
Card counting is something that isn’t quite specific to blackjack but applies most in that case. It’s a technique that players can use to keep track of high and low cards that are left in the deck to give themselves a better chance to win. If a player can card count successfully, they can raise the odds of them getting the cards they would want or need, giving them more of an advantage going forward.
While card counting could be helpful in some cases, it’s important to remember that card counting is not the be-all and end-all of blackjack, both at a land-based casino and online casino. Blackjack is still a game that is dependent on the cards, and while it may help you win a little more, it’s not going to help you win all the time. It’s called gambling for a reason.
There are arguments on either side of the fence for card counting. Some believe that it’s regarded as cheating, while others believe it’s just using your brain to make better decisions. Everyone has the same information presented to them, so it’s not like the player is doing anything untoward in order to win money more easily. It’s just about playing the statistics and making calculated guesses.
How Does it Work?
When we talk about counting cards, we’re not asking anyone to commit every card that has been played to memory in order to remember what’s been played and what’s still coming. This would be highly unlikely, almost impossible, especially given that land-based casinos use 6 decks on average, and online casinos use a mixture of either a single deck that is shuffled each hand, or just random RNG based off a single deck.
We’re talking about a system that allows you to determine a base number off of certain card values. By assigning lower cards to a positive value, middle cards to a nil value and high cards to a negative value, any player can determine a “count” of where the value is, and based off of that, have it influence their decisions.
If a player is accurate with the count and is able to do it for a few rounds at a land-based casino, then the count that is in mind will be accurate. Should your count be +4, then it means that a lot of small value cards have been played and there are a lot of big cards that are coming up. When the count is negative, players should be increasing the bet size because there are a lot of low-value cards in the deck to come.
With that all said and done, with the correct mathematics, players can convert that 0.5% house edge of the casino into a 1% advantage for the player!
Counting for Beginners
The strategy is called the Hi-Lo strategy and it’s simple to follow. Bear in mind, this only works at land-based casinos where there are multiple decks in the shoe. This isn’t going to fly for online blackjack. Casinos will try to use multiple decks to obscure the true count numbers, but all that’s needed is to divide the count by the number of decks to get the true count.
The cards that have the value 2 through to 6 will have a +1 value assigned to them. The cards that range from 7 to 9 will have a nil value attached to them, and the cards from 10 upwards to Ace, will have a -1 value attached to them. As the dealer starts handing out the cards to all the players, the player counting will start to add up all the values. Here it is laid out:
- +1 Value: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
- 0 Value: 7, 8, 9
- -1 Value: 10, J, Q, K and Ace
This needs to be second nature for players! If the dealer gives out a 10, a 3, a 5 and a 9 to the players, then hands a K over to the house, the collective count is still 0. If two Queens, 2 Kings and an Ace have been played, your count is -5. This means that there are a lot of small cards coming up.
The Wong Halves system of counting is more advanced, and far more complicated. Instead of having just the single digit values, this one accounts for half values too. Here are the values for Wong Halves:
- +1.5 Value: 5
- +1 Value: Cards 3, 4 and 6
- +0.5 Value: Cards 2 and 7
- 0 Value: 8
- -0.5 Value: 9
- -1 Value: 10, J, Q, K and Ace
This is what’s described as more of a complete system. Designed by Stanford Wong, it gives an accurate representation of what’s in the deck and after the final card in the shoe, the count should reset to 0.
Bryce Carlson’s Omega II technique is also somewhat balanced, and perhaps lies between the Hi-Lo and the Wong Halves. The following numbers and cards are what’s going on in the Omega II:
- +2 Value: 4, 5 and 6
- +1 Value: 2, 3 and 7
- 0 Value: 8 and Ace
- -1 Value: 9
- -2 Value: 10, J, Q and K
What’s instantly noticeable about this method compared to the other two, is that the Ace is sitting on a 0 value. The difference between all three is that it’s easy to forget how high a +4 count is with the Hi-Lo system, where on Omega II, the count of +4 isn’t as high as you might think.
Teamplay in Counting
One of the more intricate ways of counting cards is to do it in groups. There are actually quite a few good Hollywood movies on it, and most of them involve one or two players, and a few spotters. People can develop complicated systems for signals in order to communicate with each other to signify a count. The trick is that the spotters will keep their eyes on other tables while the player waits before they swoop in.
For example, two spotters are looking at two different tables, and the one spotter notices that the count has gone quite low and is sitting at -5. The spotter can do something to signal the player such as tug their earlobe or scratch their chin; this can signal to the player that the count is where it is and it’s time to play.
From there, the player moves in, bets big from the start and wins because he or she knows that a lot of big cards have been played and plenty smaller cards will be coming out in the next couple of hands. From the casino’s point of view, it’s a flashy new player who has come in to play, but little do they know, there’s a team working the casino.
Legalities Around Card Counting
There are some legalities surrounding card counting in land-based casinos. In Nevada, you aren’t allowed to use mechanical or electronic devices to aid you in any way. You’ll get thrown into the Big House if you’re caught. Using your own brain to count the cards is fine, but casinos still frown upon it. And since casinos have right of admission, they’ll just throw you out once they’re on to you.
Casinos have got surveillance cameras all over. These cameras will monitor your betting patterns, facial experiences, and everything else in real-time. The casino will do everything that they can to mess up a player or a team of card counters. They’ll send over free drinks, they’ll change the dealer, they’ll force shuffles each hand, anything they can do to ensure that people aren’t gaming the system.
The final piece of advice that we’ll offer is that you should respect the rules of the house when you enter the casino. Know that counting is frowned upon and if you’re caught, there’s going to be trouble.