“Is card counting worth it?” That is a question other Blackjack players always ask me. The people who ask me this are still at the “aspiring pro Blackjack player” phase of their career. They’re still testing the waters and, as you would expect, have a lot of questions. But asking questions is always good. It means a player is invested in the game – and themselves, really.
My answer to this question is almost always the same. I tell them if they would like to become a professional Blackjack player – or any other card game, really – you will have to learn how to count cards. Card counting is an essential skill every professional gambler needs to master. Dead stop. Without card counting, you’re at the mercy of the luck of the draw. And as any professional card player will tell you, that is a guaranteed way to end up broke.
As you may have guessed, casinos are not fond of card counters. In fact “not fond” might be a misnomer, since they outright ban card counting. In addition to banning the practice, they implement a bunch of methods in their premises that makes card counting difficult to do. This includes using shuffling machines and other tactics. Now, is is card counting still possible even with all the obstacles casinos throw in our way? Remember, earlier I said card counting has become “difficult” to do, not impossible! So yeah, you can still do it – and should!
What is Card Counting?
Card counting is, simply, a complex method of analyzing the cards being dealt and played in a card game. As the name implies, card counting implies keeping a running tally of the cards that are being dealt and played. And take note – all of this is done in the player’s head. That player then makes the appropriate moves – of which betting is just one of – they’ve gathered and analyzed. Without card counting, you’re practically playing blind. You need to count cards to make decent returns on your bets in this game.
There’s a whole scene dedicated to card counting, and it’s fascinating stuff. But this blog post is simply about whether card counting is still viable in the current landscape.
Is Card Counting Illegal?
If card counting is banned in casinos, the strategy has to be illegal, right? I can dig why you’re thinking that. But the answer is no, card counting is totally, absolutely, 100% not illegal. But that doesn’t mean casinos can’t ban it. Think about it: casinos ban a lot of things that aren’t illegal, like smoking on the gambling floor (although I see a lot of high rollers that regularly ignore the no smoking rules).
Casinos try to stack as much of the odds in their favor. That includes doing a bunch of sneaky (but not outright cheating) tricks like serving you copious amounts of alcoholic beverages, and making the place as noisy and distracting as possible. All of these are done to help you lose – while keeping you entertained, of course. And banning card counting is one way they ensure that the odds are ever in their favor.
I need to go on the record and say that I hate that ban. How can a casino penalize you for being a good player? I need to remind you that card counting is all done in the player’s head. No apps, no notepads. But it is what it is. In recent years, it seems to be that knowing how to hide the fact that you’re counting cards has becoming just as important a skill as simply knowing how to count cards!
Card Counting Still Works!
I echo the sentiments I’ve read in this interview on Forbes magazine with a professional Blackjack player. The interviewee also mentioned a few tips that would be useful to anyone trying to beat the house. That player said:
The basic rule is, the more decks, the less they watch. Six deck games are said to discourage card counters, but they take a long time to shuffle and casinos do not like it when gamblers are just sitting there watching cards being shuffled. Where they tend to place the cut card is important. The deeper they place the cut card, the less time is spent shuffling. What I’m looking at when I go in.
Take note of what the player said. One thing stood out for me – “casinos do not like it when gamblers are just sitting there watching cards being shuffled.” And what means is it gives us card counters the opportunity to stop and analyze different factors of the decks, like where the dealer places the cut. These little tidbits of information may be miniscule, but the goal here is to gain incremental edge after incremental edge. As you slowly stack the odds in your favor, you will notice that you will be winning more often.
Most tellingly, the player being interviewed also mentions:
Sure. I think there are probably about 100 strict counters in town, those who are in it for a living.
So people still do it. I myself know a couple of dozen dedicated card counters (one of which is me – and no, I’m not the playing being interviewed! Although it would be awesome to get interviewed by a mainstream publication).
And while it’s true that casinos are more dedicated than ever to stopping us card counters, the truth is card counting will always be a thing. Casinos may not like it, they might ban it, they might ban the player who do it, but it ain’t never going away.
The primary reason for that, I think is that gamblers see the ban on card counting as just another obstacle to overcome. It’s no different from having to master the game. In fact, I know a few players who get a rush from the fact that card counting is banned – if it weren’t banned they doubt they’d even be playing this much!