How to Count Cards in Blackjack

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Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games in existence. Equally appealing to casual gamblers and serious players, it’s one of those games that will always have its place in casinos. One of the reasons blackjack has become so popular is the fact that players can actively participate and, by playing well, seriously diminish the house edge.

There are numerous ways for players to influence the game and turn the tables on the casino. However, only one strategy can actually turn the advantage into a player’s favor. That strategy is known as card counting. If you’ve ever wondered what card counting is and how to count cards, this article will offer answers to all of your questions. It will teach you some fundamentals on how to count cards and offer detailed explanations why this strategy works.

Male croupier holding card at Blackjack table, close-up

Male croupier holding card at Blackjack table, close-up

What is Card Counting?

Before you can start learning how to count cards, you need to understand what it actually means. In its essence, this is a fairly simple strategy. If you know the rules of blackjack, you know that Aces, Tens, and face cards are the most valuable. Cards like 5s and 6s are the least valuable as these will often cause a hand to bust.

Before learning how to count cards, you need to fully accept and understand this distinction. This is the foundation for understanding all blackjack card counting systems. While there are different systems, they all apply this basic logic to some extent.

How to Count Cards: Basics

Before we move to different systems, let’s look into some basics of blackjack card counting. The first thing to understand is how cards are counted. People are often intimidated by the idea of card counting because they believe it means you have to memorize all the cards. That’s far from the truth. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be many people who know how to count cards.

The card counting works by assigning different values to different groups of cards. That’s why the above distinction is important to remember. In the simplest of the systems, card values are usually assigned as follows:

  • 2 through 6 = +1
  • 7 through 9 = 0
  • 10s and Aces = -1

Together with assigning values, there is another important concept for anyone wanting to learn how to count cards. That’s the concept of the running count. Running count is simply a total score at the moment. For example, if shown cards are two 10s, a 6, a 7, and a 2, the running count would be:

  • -1-1+1+0+1 = 0

Understanding running count in blackjack is crucial if you want to learn how to count cards. You’ll understand why this is so as we move to the next part of this article on blackjack card counting.

Applying What You Know

Simply put, the running count tells you when the deck is “hot.” If the running count is low, it means there are more valuable cards remaining in the deck. To make money counting cards, you will need to balance your bets. This means betting big when the deck is favorable and reducing bet sizes when there are a lot of low cards remaining.

Of course, blackjack is rarely played with just one deck. Usually, there are between six and eight decks in a shoe. If you know how to count cards, the principle remains the same. However, you will need to account for multiple decks. Clearly, it isn’t same if the count is -3 with one and six decks in play.

This is where the concept of a true count comes in. A true count considers the number of decks in play and gives you even better information about when to bet big and when to cool off. The true count in blackjack is calculated as follows:

  • Running count / a number of decks remaining in a shoe

If you know how to count cards and have no problem keeping the running count, figuring out true count is easy. Most casinos will make it clear how many decks are in play at any particular blackjack table. You will still need to figure out how many cards have already been dealt out. This may be the hardest part of card counting, at least initially. With time, you’ll become more skillful in figuring out how many decks there are remaining even at a glance.

Close up of blackjack in casino

Close up of blackjack in casino

Blackjack Card Counting Systems

Everything described so far teaches the basics of how to count cards in blackjack. As you can see, none of what’s been described is too complicated. As long as you are focused and good with numbers, keeping track of the count shouldn’t be too hard. Of course, you’ll need to get used to quickly glancing around the table so to spot all the cards.

Over time, professional blackjack players have come up with even more complex and precise ways to count cards. There are numerous card counting systems in existence today and while they are all based on the fundamental rules described thus far, some of them are more accurate and will provide better results than the others.

If you really want to learn how to count cards, you’ll need to eventually master a few of these systems. After all, if you are intent on making money playing blackjack, it is only natural for you to upgrade your knowledge and skills.

Hi-Lo Blackjack Card Counting System

This is one of the most basic and simplest systems there are. Card values are counted as described earlier in the article. While it isn’t the most accurate you can find, if you are looking to learn how to count cards, Hi-Lo is a great place to start.

Red Seven

This is an interesting blackjack card counting system, and a good one to take as your next step. If you want to really learn how to count cards, you’ll have to progressively face bigger challenges and the Red Seven can ease you into it. In this system, everything is counted as in Hi-Lo, except for red 7s.

  • All red 7s are counted as +1 instead of 0

Black 7s are still counted as 0. This is a bit more accurate system than the Hi-Lo and, as such, will yield slightly higher returns. There is no room in this article to explain intricacies of every system, but you can find plenty of information out there if you seriously want to learn how to count cards.

Omega II

Omega II blackjack card counting system is a more advanced technique. It belongs to the group of so-called level 2 systems. Card values are counted as follows:

  • 2, 3, 7 = 1
  • 2, 5, 6 = 2
  • 9s = -1
  • 10s and all picture cards = -2
  • All Aces and 8s = 0

As you can see, Omega II is more complicated, but it also produces better results and higher winnings. If you are just starting to learn how to count cards, this isn’t the system you should start with. However, you should be striving towards learning level 2 and even level 3 card counting systems as you get better.

Final Card Counting Tips

Learning how to count cards takes time and patience. While the systems may not be overly complicated, learning to apply them correctly at a blackjack table isn’t easy. You have to be willing to learn from your mistakes and not get upset if things aren’t going the way you imagined straight away.

Blackjack dealer

Blackjack dealer

Learning how to count cards alone isn’t going to cut it, either. Casinos don’t like card counters, and if dealers or pit bosses figure out what you are up to, you’ll be asked to leave. While blackjack card counting isn’t illegal, it certainly isn’t welcomed by casinos. They prefer patrons who play blackjack in a more traditional way (i.e. losing money).

To avoid detection, you’ll always need to stay calm and composed while sitting at a blackjack table. Don’t give out any signs that could reveal what you are doing. Keep your lips sealed and count cards in your mind only. If you notice you are attracting unwanted attention, play a few more hands, then walk away.

Learning how to count cards in a real-life casino environment is much different than your practice blackjack sessions. There is added pressure and additional distractions making things harder. To fly under the radar, you need to be able to maintain a normal conversation while still keeping track of the running count. That’s what the best blackjack card counters do, and that’s the goal you need to strive to.

Start Learning How to Count Cards Today

Learning how to count cards at a blackjack table isn’t overly complicated. As you could see, the basic system is quite simple, and with some practice, you’ll be able to keep track of the numbers without problems. As you develop your skills, you’ll be able to use more complex systems, increasing your winning chances further.

However, learning systems and numbers isn’t all you need to know about how to count cards. You’ll also need to learn to do it inconspicuously, so to avoid detection by a casino staff. That part may take a while, and you should probably start with a smaller casino offering blackjack games. Distractions there will probably be reduced to a minimum, and you’ll be free to practice your newly acquired set of skills.

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