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An Intro to Counting Cards

To win at Blackjack, you need to play your cards optimally. And to do that, you need to count cards. Now, you can be a good player without counting cards. A lot of casual and weekend warrior types get by just fine without it. But in my opinion, if you want to truly elevate your Blackjack game, card counting is a skill you should learn.

What is counting cards? Card counting is exactly what the name implies. You make mental calculations based on the cards that are on the table, and form the information available to you, make the appropriate moves. All of these calculations are done inside your mind, but casinos tend to frown on card counting. You’ve probably heard of players (specifically card-counters) getting booted out, or even banned, by certain casinos. And that’s probably why you’ve asked the following question:

introduction to counting cards

Is Counting Cards Illegal?

The answer is: absolutely not. As far as I know, card counting is not an illegal act anywhere. However (and here’s the rub), card counting is not tolerated in casinos. If any of the casino personnel figure out that you’re counting cards, you will be asked to leave the casino premises. This has happened to me countless times, and I’ve even been banned from three casinos for card counting.

I haven’t been charged with anything during any of those times. But it definitely sucks to get busted for card counting. I mean, isn’t that what a player is supposed to do anyway? It’s like banning LeBron James for playing too good on the court. All of that is true, but none of it matters. The casino is a private establishment, and the casino owners can set their own house rules. And those rules always include no card counting. It’s totally ridiculous, but unless you can set your own rules, you’ll have to abide by what the casino says. All you can do is try not to get caught.

That said, this doesn’t mean you can’t get away with card counting. In a future blog post, I’ll tackle how to do just that. But for now, I’ll be giving you some basic tips on how to count cards.

And just for emphasis, I’d like to repeat that card counting is not against the law. It won’t endear you to casino staff, but I personally think you can and should count cards. Counting cards is the only way, in my opinion, to properly play Blackjack.

is counting cards illegal

Card Counting: the Four Basic Steps

All the various card counting practices may seem pretty esoteric, but the basic principles are relatively easy to grasp. Also, you don’t really need a Rain Man-level memory. Not really. All you need to remember for now are these four basic steps.

Step 1: Give all cards a specific value

The card-counting method I like to use is called the Hi-Lo system. Under this card counting system we assign values to cards. They are:

2 to 6 are assigned as “+1”

7 to 9 are assigned “0”

10 to Ace are assigned a “-1”

When cards are dealt, count the total value of the cards on the table based on the above assignments.

Step 2: Keep a running count of all cards being dealt

This is where having good situational awareness pays off. Keep a running tally of the total value of the cards on the table. You need to do this for every card that is taken from the shoe and dealt. A shoe usually holds up to four complete decks of cards. Casinos do this to make it difficult for players to count cards. And for sure, the additional decks make it a bit more challenging to keep a running count, but it’s nothing you can’t overcome.

Step 3: Figure out the true count per deck

AS mentioned above, casinos use multiple decks to make things harder for us card counter. For example, have a running count of X with several decks is totally different from having the same running count with only one deck. In the former scenario, you won’t have the advantage over the house.

But getting the true count is extremely important. To do that, you simply follow this formula:

True Count = Running Count / Number of Decks Remaining

If you use your basic strategy and card counting methods correctly, you can use the above information to bet and skew the odds slightly in your favor. If you’ve been wondering how professional Blackjack players can make money consistently, that is how. We play optimally, mitigate risks, while maximizing our advantages. Using the true count is also tell you if you should switch playing strategies. This is called playing deviations.

Step 4: Adjust your betting strategy as the true count goes up and down

When you keep both a running count and a true count, you are able to better gauge when the advantage swings to your favor. But having this sort of intel is only valuable when you make the appropriate actions based on it. As the true count rises, so should your betting. This is also called bankroll management, and it’s an extremely important skill for you to learn. I think part of this is instinct. I could give you all the charts and card-counting tips, but the best way to sharpen your skills is to get out there and play.

4 basic steps at card counting

So Can I Start Beating Tables Now?

Well, blackjack card counting is definitely a great method to increase your chances of winning, and that translates to more earnings, which in turn translates to the possibility of making this a viable source of income.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll be the scourge of casinos anytime soon. While the tips I’ve given you will greatly improve your game, you still need experience and a few more skills to add to your arsenal. But don’t worry, I’ll be covering all those topics on this blog. Stay tuned for all the top Blackjack tips. But for now, keep playing, keep learning. Good luck!

beating blackjack tables

One Comment
  1. Rick Jordan January 30, 2019

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