Card Counting

Master Blackjack Card Counting (2024)

You may be wondering what makes Blackjack different from other gambling games. Why is it that a skilled player can beat blackjack with card counting, but has no hope for ever beating a game like Craps over the long term?

It boils down to the mathematical concept of independent and dependent trials.

In games like Craps, Roulette, Slot Machines, big six, Let it Ride Poker, and Caribbean Stud Poker, each and every round is independent of all other rounds. Even if a shooter has thrown a natural on four straight crap hands, the chances of success or failure on the next hand do not change. In fact, there is no information whatsoever to be gained by studying the outcome of previous trials.

There is no point in trying to jump in on “hot” streaks and exit early on “cold” streaks; there is no predictive ability.

In blackjack, successive hands are dependent events. This means that past events can and do influence what happens in the future. Specifically, the cards already played affect the composition of the remaining deck, which in turn affect your future chances of winning with card counting.

Why card Counting works?

I will try to explain the principle of card counting simply.

Suppose your friend has a sealed bag that you put in 10 white balls and 10 black balls, and he offers you a bet: Before taking a ball out of the bag, you will bet between \$ 1 and \$ 25 if the ball is black or white.

You bet \$ 1 that the first ball will come out black, and he takes out a white ball. In the first round you lost \$ 1.

Now, there are 19 balls in the bag: 9 white and 10 black. The chance of a black ball coming out is 10/19 while the chance of a white ball coming out is 9/19.

In the second round, you bet again that the next ball will be black because the chance of going black is slightly higher than the chance of going white.

The more you take the balls out of the bag, the more likely you are to guess what color the next ball will be. Therefore, as your chances grow to be unmistakable, you will raise your bet height to the color of the following balls.

When there is only one ball left in the bag, you can be absolutely sure of its color and therefore, keep it in the highest stakes you are allowed.

Card counting in a Blackjack game is very similar, and I will immediately explain how to do the card counting, or you can watch this short (10 minutes clip):

Hi-Lo Cards Counting

Winning at blackjack requires two things: You must bet more when you have the advantage and less when the dealer has the advantage; and you must make correct decisions on insurance, surrender, splitting pairs, doubling down, and hitting or standing. This article discusses single-exposure blackjack.

You need a card counting system to tell whether you have the advantage and to aid in making decisions.

Aces and 10s favor you because naturals are worth half again more to you than they are to the dealer. Small cards favor the dealer by decreasing the dealer’s chance of busting.

Cards Counting in the high-low system is relatively simple. Start with a count of zero after the cards are shuffled. Add one for every small card (2, 3, 4, 5, 6) that you see. Subtract one for every ace or 10-count card that you see. Do not change your count for 7, 8, or 9.

Keep a running count. Accumulate the total since the last shuffle. The running count will hop up and down around zero, but will generally stay between -6 and +6. A full deck contains the same number of +1 cards as -1 cards. Therefore, at the end of the deck the running count should come back to zero. This is called a “balanced count.”

Practice card counting with a deck of cards. Shuffle the cards and turn them up one at a time, while keeping a running count. In addition to counting one card at a time, you should practice with two-card combinations since you often see two cards at a time in casino play.

You should practice until you are very fast and never make a mistake. Practicing at a casino costs money: It is less expensive to become perfect before going to a casino.

Keeping an accurate card counting is essential. The easiest way to maintain confidence in your accuracy is to count every card as it is turned face up on the table. Do not count other players’ cards that you see but that are turned face down. If you count every card you see, when the dealer turns each hand face up in turn you may not recall whether or not you have already counted some cards. You cannot afford such confusion. If you can remember which cards you have counted, then count what you can see. If you do not trust your memory then count only the cards that stay face up.

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Card Counting Per Deck

The high-low card counting tells you when the best cards, the 10s, and aces, outnumber the small cards. The richer the pack, that is, the more 10s and aces relative to small cards, the better for you. You need to know how rich the pack is in order to make appropriate bets and decisions in play:

The richness of the pack depends on the proportion of excess 10s and aces. For decision purposes, you must relate the running count to the number of decks you have not seen. For example, twelve 10s and aces remaining to be used when the dealer is halfway through a single deck is two 10s and aces more than average; that is as favorable to the player as if there were four excess 10s and aces in 52 cards, and is described as a count per deck of +4.

For betting and playing decisions, a running count of +2 with one deck remaining is equivalent to a running count of +1 with half a deck remaining, to a running count of +4 with two decks remaining, and to a running count of +8 with four decks remaining.

Therefore, you must convert the running count into count per deck for making decisions. Simply divide the running count by the number of decks (or fraction of a deck) that you have not seen. If less than one deck remains, your count per deck will be greater than your running count. If more than one deck remains, your count per deck will be less than your running count.

For example, suppose you approach a blackjack table with a single-deck game in progress and see the following cards.

2-3-2-4-7

10-10

Dealer

3-8-9

You glance at the cards and see that the running count is +3. Since what you have not seen is almost one deck, the count per deck is slightly above +3. The dealer picks up the cards, and you place a bet.

You receive 2-10, the dealer’s up-card is 2, the first other player has a natural, and you do not see the second other player’s cards. You must decide whether to hit or to stand.

The running count is now +2. Since about 2/3 of the deck remains unseen, you divide by 2/3. This is the same as multiplying by 3/2. It gives a count per deck of+3.

You need to only approximate the count per deck. You do not need an exact count of the number of cards remaining.

If you had seen roughly half a deck in a single-deck game, a running count of +2 would translate to a count per deck of about +4. If you had seen about half a deck (26 cards) in a double-deck game, a running count of +2 would translate to a count per deck slightly greater than +1 (2 divided by 1.5 gives 4/3).

A rough estimate of the count per deck suffices for decisions because you need to know only whether it exceeds an integer in a table.

Estimating Your Edge with Card Counting

Your advantage or disadvantage if you play basic strategy varies with the rules and number of decks used. Current Blackjack News is a good source for keeping up to date with the rules at various casinos and your advantage or disadvantage. Commonly you are at a disadvantage of about 0.5% with basic strategy:

For each point increase in the count per deck, your advantage goes up by slightly more than 0.5%. So generally when you have a count per deck of+1 you are playing even with the casino – no advantage or disadvantage. At a count per deck of +3, you have an advantage of about 1%.

The 0.5% per count per deck works both ways: The dealer’s advantage over you increases with negative counts. At a count per deck of-1, you are at a disadvantage of about 1% – if you play perfectly: If the count per deck is -4, you can expect to lose about 2% faster than if the dealer were to shuffle.

Winning with card counting requires betting more money when you have an edge than when you are at a disadvantage, and playing your hands correctly.

The only way to get good at Card counting is to practice, and we suggest practicing at home rather than practicing at the casino when real money is on the line.

Card Counting when Jumping into a Game in Progress

When the best available table is a game in progress and you want to jump in without waiting for a shuffle, just start card counting from zero and play according to your count. Treat the unseen discards the same as cards yet to be dealt with. An unseen card is an unseen card whether it has already been used or remains to be dealt with.

Example:

You jump into a four-deck shoe after about one deck has been used. You play and count as another deck is used. If your running count is +6, what is your count per deck? Two of the four decks have been used, but you have counted the cards in only one deck.

Since about three decks remain unseen by you, divide your running count by three to get a count per deck of +2.

Effect of Card Counting Rules on Strategy

Some dealers use one deck, some use six, and some use other multiples. Decision numbers vary only slightly with the number of decks used.

One-deck decision numbers are slightly different from multiple-deck decision numbers, but four-deck decision numbers are almost exactly the same as decision numbers based on other multiples such as two, six, etc.

Some decisions are very close, and different methods of calculation can yield slightly different results. The decision numbers in this website have been found by a calculation method more precise and more time-consuming than the method used by Blackjack Count Analyzer. However, Blackjack Count Analyzer finds decision numbers quickly and for any number of decks and any set of rules.

You should truncate, and not round, when using these tables. Examples: If the count per deck required to double down is +4, then double down only if you have a count per deck of+4 or more, and do not double down if your count per deck is say 3.8. If a count per deck of-1 is required to stand, then stand if your count per deck, truncated, is -1 or higher (Zero is higher than -1, and a count per deck of-1.8 is truncated to -1).

At some casinos dealers stand on soft seventeen, whereas at other casinos dealers hit it. The discussion of this article initially assumes that the dealer stands on soft seventeen, and then also covers what to do when the dealer hits soft seventeen.

Extremely high or low counts per deck are encountered infrequently in actual casino play; so memorizing extremely high or low decision numbers probably is a waste of time. If you follow my advice (coming later in this website) of leaving a table on a negative count, you will seldom encounter counts per deck of less than -1.

Therefore, the tables in this website include decision numbers only from -1 to +6. For a wider range of decision numbers, use Blackjack Count Analyzer.

The decisions are discussed in the order in which you make them at a casino: insurance, surrender, pair splits, double down, and hit or stand. The decision numbers in this book are derived for multiple decks with the dealer standing on soft seventeen, and are also very close for one deck or with the dealer hitting soft seventeen.

You must memorize them; when you are playing blackjack in a casino, you can refer to these decision numbers only in your head.

The amount of advanced card counting strategies are endless and countless books and articles have been written on the topic.

Ultimately the “best” system is one that you can follow, and just because a system is more complicated does not mean that it’s better.

More Card Counting Strategies

 Card Counting Strategy 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10, J, Q, k A Level of count Hi-Lo 1 +1 +1 1 +1 0 0 0 -1 -1 1 Hi-Opt I 0 +1 +1 1 +1 0 0 0 -1 0 1 Hi-Opt II 1 +1 +2 2 +1 +1 0 0 -2 0 2 KO 1 +1 +1 1 +1 +1 0 0 -1 -1 1 Omega 2 1 +1 +2 2 +2 +1 0 -1 -2 0 2 Red 7 1 +1 +1 1 +1 0 or +1 0 0 -1 -1 1 Halves 0.5 +1 +1 1.5 +1 +0.5 0 -0.5 -1 -1 3 Zen Count 1 +1 +2 2 +2 +1 0 0 -2 -1 2