Card Counting

Blackjack

Blackjack has one important difference when compared to most other games in the casino.

It is beatable.

Since multiple hands of the game are dealt to players between shuffles, a smart player can use information about the cards that have already been dealt to predict something about the cards to come.

Unlike games like roulette or craps where the previous spins or rolls have no impact on future decisions, each hand in blackjack depletes the remaining deck of the cards that were used. From that simple fact arises the idea of card counting, a legal advantage play method that can provide the player a real mathematical advantage over the casino.

If the remaining cards to be dealt have a higher than normal ratio of tens and aces compared to the smaller cards, the player’s advantage is increased. Thus, card counting is simply a method of determining when the remaining deck is player-favorable. When the deck is “rich” in tens and aces, the card counter places correspondingly larger wagers. When the deck instead has more small cards such as twos through sixes, the card counter will bet as little as possible or leave the table.

With the help of the articles and discussions listed below, you’ll find that card counting is not just for math geniuses, despite misleading media portrayals like the movies Rain Man or “21”. Instead, most players who are willing to put forth some time and effort can learn to beat the game of blackjack.

Articles About Card Counting

Card Counting Resources


20 comments on “Card Counting

  • Ken Wu said:

    Hello there, firstly, I apologise if this has been asked and answered already, but could you go to a casino and watch a game from the sidelines whilst counting the table then when the edge is in the player’s favour, makes bets within basic strategy then? Not do this over and over but say for one or two rounds. Be in and out, make your profit (or loss) and leave?

    • Yes. Backcounting a table and dropping in when the count is good can be a very effective approach. It’s also known as “Wonging”, named for Stanford Wong.
      Although many casinos now restrict mid-shoe entry to prevent this and similar strategies, it’s quite common still. For low bankrolls especially, this is a great way to play against the shoe games.

      • Ken Wu replied:

        Great! Thank you for your reply. I’ve been doing my homework and I’m excited to invest at the table as per the brilliant guidelines laid out in the lessons on here. I live in England and the casinos that I’ve been to seem to allow you to watch from the sidelines and join in at anytime.

        • Bob replied:

          Yeah but it then becomes really obvious that your card counting had the casino will kick you out. I wouldn’t bother, if it were really that easy, everyone would be doing it and the casinos will lose money.

        • Jim replied:

          Hi Ken, I play the UK casinos and I too have no problem Wongin in but I have ‘respected’ the environment more now and will play through a moderately negatively shoe. However last month I played in continental Europe and after 15 minutes I was told I either play or go away. Later in the week, a player synchronised his bets with mine and also played deviations. We got chatting after and it didn’t go unnoticed that he attracted a lot of heat. He was informed his play was no longer welcome and we think it was because he was moving from table to table.

    • Mike replied:

      You can stand in the shadows and count, but when the dealer gets to certain point in the shoe, you will have to wait for the shoe to play out. So, if you are watching a 2 deck game, when a half deck appears in the discount pile, you will not be allowed to play the remaining deck and a half.

  • John ( a very wealthy gambler willing to bet a lot of money .) said:

    i called up the Mirage casino in Las Vegas five years ago I did not bother to call again on this date September 24 , 2015
    asked is card counting legal they said no and i said even if i bet 5000 thousand dollars on seven hands at a table and they still said no

    if i am standing on hard 13 , 14 , 15 they know i am studying the cards very well and if i bet much more money when the deck is rich in high cards they will no doubt know what i am deciding to do
    if i leave the table when there are a lot of low cards in the deck they know what i am doing what do you think about my comments ?

    • I don’t know why anyone would call the casino and ask that question. Still, no matter what the Mirage chose to tell you, card counting is of course perfectly legal. And yet the casino is also within their legal rights to tell you that you can’t play if they think you have an advantage. Welcome to the cat and mouse game of card counting.

      Counting cards is the easy part. Staying welcome to play is the difficult part. You are certainly not going to be able to just camp out at tables for hours on end varying your bets directly with the count. At low stakes to mid black chip action, you can survive by keeping sessions short and moving around a lot between casinos.
      At the very highest stakes, this tactic is less useful. For bets in the thousands, there are better ways to beat them than card counting. At that level, you should be able to demand a percentage rebate if you lose on a trip. If you handle that well, it can be worth much more than counting.

    • observer replied:

      Wow. While you were at it, did you contact the united chess federation while and ask if it’s against the law to think about your moves before you make them or if you’re legally required to move randomly when playing chess (not just by the rules of the game, but under penalty of law)? Maybe ask if it’s a misdemeanor or a felony to not move at random? You obviously either think we live in Orwell’s 1984 subject to enforcement by thought police (what, it’s illegal to try to REMEMBER something now? And we’re not even talking about a GOOD memory, a FISH could remember that much, it’s laughable how much an intellectual thing counting cards ISN’T) or don’t even know what counting cards is. All it is, is remembering a stupid number that starts at 0 at the beginning of the shoe, adding 1 to the total whenever you see a low card dealt out, subtracting 1 when you see a high card dealt out! Remembering a number. That’s IT! That’s all it is! That’s all it’s ever been! “Card counter” shouldn’t even be a NOUN! It’d be like “move thinker” in chess. If you’re not counting cards, it’s not that you’re avoiding cheating, you’re simply playing badly. Just like the chess player who refuses to do anything but move at random isn’t somehow doing something ETHICAL by refusing to form any sort of plan in his moves and play the game well, he’s just not playing the game well, he’s playing it like a 4 year old is all! You’re either counting cards or you’re playing badly. Those are your choices. And if you call the casino and announce your intention to count cards, you are an even bigger idiot than the people who go to the casino and play blackjack and DON’T count cards (i.e. play the game BADLY). Because the casinos make their money from stupid people. They don’t want people who play it well, they want imbeciles. And being a BUSINESS, they have a right to refuse to do business with anyone they want to, you’re just telling them you’re one of those people who they want to not do business with. Whatever. At best you’re a shill for a casino to ask a question like that on a website like this, but probably just someone who intellectually reaffirms my cynicism and disgust for the human race.

  • In live casinos on line, one has the advantage of back counting (8 decks games).
    the question is which is prefered, to back count and wait till the true count is high (say +3 or higher) and only then start betting, but then, you only play small number of hands per shoe. Or to play across the entire shoe, where you can play many more hands per shoe ?

    • Sorry, I thought I responded to this earlier. I must have forgotten to hit Reply.
      There is no advantage in playing more hands per shoe if those hands have a negative expectation.
      Your results will always be best if you can limit yourself to betting only in positive situations.
      And to be profitable at all you must bet very little or not at all in even or negative counts.
      Entering these games only at TC +3 or better will yield a nice percentage profit, but you will watch far more hands than you play. I would probably start at +2 instead, but it depends on your bankroll.

  • HMS32954 said:

    I just saw information, and a UTube snippet on “Speed Count”, where one only counts the plus cards (2-7) played during the hand, and then subtracts the number of hands played to get a running count. Of course, they recommend their system highly, claiming a 1% player advantage using the system. What are the betting increase levels? ( I presume since they use 2-7 like KO and REKO, one starts out at -2 x [number of hands] )

    I have tried to use REKO. I keep up the count just fine at 2 deck games, but have difficulty maintaining count at 6-deck due to not wanting to merely sit and stare at cards throughout.

    What’s the “review” of SpeedCount.

    • I am not a fan of Speed Count, unless you really feel that you are unable to manage anything more powerful. Speed Count is quite a bit weaker than KO or Hi-Lo, and when you are playing a six-deck game it really extends the number of hands you must play before you reach the fabled “long run”. My recommendation is keep working at maintaining the count using KO. I have a tough time believing the claimed 1% player edge using Speed Count, except under very good conditions and a large bet spread. KO and Hi-Lo can rarely achieve that level in practice, with 0.5% to 0.7% being a more typical edge in a six deck game. Does Speed Count work? Yes, but your edge will be smaller, and it will take more hands to reach a high likelihood of being ahead of the variance of the game.

  • Ken, years ago I counted using HiLo. I would like to start counting again recreationally when I go to Vegas or a day trip to AC. I am trying KO because there is no need to estimate the number of decks in the discard tray. But I find the the increased negative counts hard to deal with and it is easier to know when I have an advantage using HiLo and the betting table is easier to remember. What would you advise for a recreational player, put up with deck estimation or get over negative numbers and unintuitive betting strategies? How accurate do I need to be at deck estimation?

    • KO really does perform favorably compared to Hi-Lo, so I think it is a very reasonable choice. Most people who choose KO end up adjusting the starting count and the key numbers up by enough to eliminate most of the negative running counts. That is a good plan.
      Even so, I always personally preferred balanced counts despite the need to convert to a true count. With KO, you really can’t reliably know how big your edge is, just whether you have an edge or not. That bothered me, although the sims confirm it’s not a big deal. While deck estimation accuracy does matter, you will be fine if your accuracy is pretty reliable to one deck.

  • Jesper said:

    Hi. I got into learning the KO counting and tried it out in the Casino Vérité Blackjack program and got really good at it and i now feel ready to try it out online. The problem is, it says to increase the bet at -6 BUT in the online casino i play at (unibet.dk) they change the shoe midway, so it often doesn’t even come down to -6, it’s stays around -10 to -16 most of the time. Is there a good way to know with the KO when to bet higher even if the TC isn’t down to -6??

    • You also mentioned that this is an 8 deck game. An 8-deck game that deals only 4 decks will rarely get positive. That’s what the KO count is telling you.
      There is not a good time to bet other than when the count reaches the target count. Card counting online is rarely worth the effort. Most games shuffle every hand anyway, so it’s not possible. The few games where they do not shuffle every hand are very poor penetration, or exceedingly slow in the case of live dealer games.

      To really get a chance to play profitable blackjack via counting, you will need to find a land-based game.

      • Jesper replied:

        Thanks for the answer :)

        Yeah that was kind of what i was “afraid” for. Is there a way to beat the online casino like counting in a land-based casino, or is the only way to try and beat it, by lower the dealers chance to win by using a Basic chart? I just feel like, using the chart as i did before i learned how to count cards, it wasn’t very profitable. I lost a 100, won a 100 and so on, but never a bigger win?

        • Ten years ago, online casinos were a fantastic opportunity, because of the generous bonus offers and promotions. They have been exploited so frequently that this opportunity is pretty much gone, due to much more restrictive wagering requirements. Since I am in the US (and not usually in New Jersey), I don’t have recent experience with any alternatives for beating casinos online. My guess is that you are unlikely to find much of an edge.

          Your comment about trying to beat the game by using basic strategy is a little misguided, although I realize you may not mean it quite literally. If you play a negative expectation game long enough, any good luck that you happen to experience will not be enough to keep you ahead of the game. It’s just a matter of time. In games like this, if you are entertained by playing, then it may be reasonable for you to play. (And basic strategy will reduce your expected cost to a small amount.) But don’t expect to create a profit.

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