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Card Counting in Blackjack: The Key to Beating the House

Card Counting in Blackjack

Card counting is a blackjack method used to gain an advantage over the casino by tracking the ratio of high and low cards staying in the deck. When more high cards are left, the odds shift in favor of the player. When more low cards remain, the odds favor the dealer.

By assigning a positive or negative value to each card based on its rank and keeping a running tally, card counters can approximate how rich or poor the remaining deck is in high cards. This allows them to bet more when the deck is rich and less when it is flawed.

Card counting takes dedication to learn correctly, but it can give skilled blackjack players up to a 2% mathematical edge over the house. It involves using different basic strategy plays at certain times and spreading bets from the table minimum to maximum based on the card count.

While casinos frown upon the practice, card counting is not illegal. However, casinos can refuse service and ban suspected card counters. Subtlety and disguising betting patterns are critical to avoiding detection when card counting.

In this guide, we will explain how card counting works, the steps to counting cards, the various counting systems, and tips for implementing card counting successfully without getting caught. Let's start by understanding the basic math behind card counting.

How Card Counting Works

In blackjack, high cards (10, J, Q, K, A) favor the player, and low cards (2-6) select the dealer. The reason is that tens and aces give players more chances to hit blackjacks and get 20s or 21s versus lower card totals for dealers when more low cards are out.

Card counting takes advantage of this by keeping track of the density of high and low cards remaining in the shoe. Each card is allocated a positive or negative count value. As cards come out, you keep a running tally of the count.

When the running count is high, more high cards are left in the shoe, giving players an advantage. When the running count is low, more low cards favor the dealer.

To size your bets correctly, the running count must be converted to a "true count" by dividing by the number of remaining decks. The actual count provides the advantage correlation - the higher it is, the more you should bet.

True Count   Player Advantage

  One or less     Small dealer advantage

  2                      Slight player advantage

  3                      Moderate player advantage

  4+                   Significant player advantage

Card counters maximize their bets in positive counts when their advantage over the house is highest.

Steps to Count Cards in Blackjack


Here are the basic steps to counting cards at a blackjack table:

  1. Assign values to each card based on the counting system you're using. In a simple Hi-Lo system, cards 2-6 are +1, 7-9 are 0, and 10 are -1.
  2. Keep a running count as each card comes out. Add or subtract the assigned values from your current count. For example, if your running count is +5 and a seven is played, your new count is still +5. If a five is played, subtract one so your new count is +4.
  3. Convert to accurate count by dividing the running count by the decks remaining. If six decks started and two remain, divide the running count by 2. Round fractions down.
  4. Make playing strategy deviations like increasing bets, standing on more totals, doubling down less, etc, when the actual count is two or higher. Play basic strategy when the accurate count is 0 or lower.
  5. Spread your bets based on the true count advantage. Minimum bets on 0 or lower counts. Maximum bets on 2+ counts. Multiple units on significant high counts.
  6. Be subtle - have casual conversations and behave naturally to avoid attracting attention. Don't wildly fluctuate bets. Casually "Wong in" (join tables) mid-shoe when the count goes positive.

With practice, these steps will become second nature. Look at specific counting systems to understand how card values are assigned.

Essential Hi-Lo Card Counting System

The most straightforward counting system is the Hi-Lo method. Each card is assigned a value of +1, 0, or -1:

  • Cards 2-6: +1
  • Cards 7-9: 0
  • Cards 10-Ace: -1

As cards are played, you add or subtract their assigned value from the running count. For example:

  • The running count is +4
  • Ten is played → Running count is now +3
  • Five is played → Running count is now +4
  • Ace is played → Running count is now +3

Pros of the Hi-Lo system:

  • It is simple to learn as few card values to track
  • Effective for novices to grasp the basics of card counting


  • It is not as powerful for large player advantage swings
  • There is a higher chance of player error tracking counts

While essential, the Hi-Lo system is a good place for beginners to learn card counting fundamentals. Next, we'll look at some more complex and robust systems.

Advanced Counting Systems

Once you master the basics of the Hi-Lo system, you can move on to more sophisticated counting methods that offer more significant advantages for skilled card counters. Two popular advanced systems are:

Omega II System

  • A balanced system that assigns a value from +4 down to -2 for each card rank
  • More powerful correlations between running count and accurate count
  • Reduces the tendency to deviate from basic strategy incorrectly

Knock Out (KO) System

  • An unbalanced system like Hi-Lo but with different card values
  • 10s are -2, 2s-7s are +1, 8s-9s are 0
  • Allows greater bet spread due to more extreme count swings
  • A more difficult system requiring precision

Advanced systems take more practice but allow card counters to ramp up their edge over the house significantly. The tradeoff is having to track more card values, and miscues can be more detrimental.

Ideally, learn with the simple Hi-Lo system first. Once counting becomes second nature, you can experiment with KO, Omega II, or other advanced techniques.

Let's review some tips for successfully implementing card counting at the tables.

Implementing Card Counting Strategy

Once you've learned a card counting system, using it effectively takes discipline and skill:

  • Bet spreads - Spread bets from table minimum to maximum based on the accurate count. With a 6-deck game and $5-50 spread, bet $5 per unit on actual counts of 0 to 1, $25 on true 2, $40 on true 3, and $50 on true 4+.
  • Wonging - Back count before joining a table. "Wong in" and start playing mid-shoe when the count hits two or more. Leave when the accurate count drops below 1. Casually change tables to avoid heat.
  • Playing deviations - Deviate from the basic strategy on positive counts. Take insurance, double down less, split more, hit instead of stand, etc. Use basic strategy on 0 or negative counts.
  • Manage risk - Have a loss limit in mind. Leave the table if the running count drops significantly. Consider time constraints. Don't chase losses when the deck goes cold.
  • Avoid detection - Act naturally, have casual conversations, and occasionally mimic other players' bets. Don't wildly change bets or only play positive counts. Take bathroom breaks to pause.

With practice, card counters learn to seamlessly spread bets, Wong, in and out, and modify strategy based on the advantage of the actual count. Subtlety is equally important to avoid attracting attention and being 86'd.

Common Myths and Misconceptions

There are some common myths about card counting that should be dispelled:

  • Card counting is not prohibited, but casinos can refuse your service if suspected of counting. There are no legal repercussions.
  • You do not need to be a mathematical genius. The counts follow simple pre-defined systems. But you do need discipline to keep accurate tallies.
  • Card counters only win some sessions. You can still have losing trips. It is profitable over the long run.
  • The basic strategy must be mastered first. Counting complements but does not replace optimal play.
  • It's not a quick scheme to get rich. It takes significant practice to implement successfully. Profit margins are small, so a big bankroll is required.
  • Does not work online with continuous shuffle machines. It needs multiple deck shoes to gain an advantage as cards come out.
  • You will likely get caught eventually. The goal is to maximize winnings before being asked to leave and banned.

With proper expectations, card counting can be a rewarding side hobby for skilled blackjack enthusiasts looking to exercise their mental math abilities.

Is it Worth Learning Card Counting?


Card counting requires time, discipline, and mathematical skills. But is it ultimately worth the effort to learn?

For most casual blackjack players, the basic strategy is sufficient to reduce the house edge to a minimum. But card counting takes things further by shifting the odds in the player's favor.

The advantages of learning card counting include:

  • Gain a mathematical edge over the casino's long-term
  • It puts power back in the hands of players instead of the house
  • Opportunity to potentially profit consistently from blackjack
  • Mental challenge and satisfaction of executing a proven strategy

The downsides are:

  • It takes months of practice to master
  • Risk of losing money if incorrectly implemented
  • The stress of avoiding casino detection
  • Requires significant enough bankroll to withstand swings

Overall, serious players who take the time to learn card counting strategies properly can gain up to a 2% advantage over the casino. This gives a chance to come out ahead in blackjack over time.

For most, playing with perfect basic strategy is plenty. But gamblers up for the challenge of card counting can take their blackjack game to the next level and try to beat the house at their own game.

While not easy, card counting is a proven method to flip the blackjack odds against the house. For disciplined players, it allows them to build long-term profits by strategically using higher-limit bets during advantageous counts.

By starting with an approachable system like Hi-Lo, transitioning to more complex techniques, spreading bets based on actual counts, and playing with subtlety, card counters can maximize their edge while avoiding casino detection.

It takes time, practice, and perseverance, but the skills and satisfaction gained from card counting can last a lifetime.

Procedure of betting

The reason for this is driven by the relationship between probability and gambling. As with dice and blackjack, there is a system of odds of aiming to win or lose on roulettes. The methods of betting, based on the previous thing, what they do is to get ahead with previous events that will influence, in a positive way, in the plays to the future.

It can be seen from this point of view that it is a bit confusing, but there is no theory without explanation and that is precisely what will be developed next with the most recognized roulette betting systems.

Fibonacci method

This game system is based, no less, than in a mathematical formula, and its objective is basically to establish the parameters for a player to place their bets. According to Fibonacci, each number is the result of the sum of the previous two.

That is, in a sequence the 1 is the first, and it increases in the following way; 1 + 1 = 2 + 1 = 3 + 2 = 5. With this method, it is considered that bets are made in the same way. For example, if a player starts betting $5, the system, according to Fibonacci, should go like this: 5 + 5 = 10 + 5 = 15 + 10 = 25 + 15 = 40 and so on.

Martingale method

Playing with this system is one of the riskiest ways to participate in roulette, but many players affirm the effectiveness of the method, becoming a world-class technique.This consists in that after each defeat the player doubles their bet, compensating the lost money.

For example, if a person pays two dollars for a red box and loses; it means that the next round must bet 4 dollars on a black square.The dynamic, although simple to understand, can diminish a player’s coffers at an insidious speed. Therefore, it is better to know other methods before embarking on the Martingale.

Cancellation method or Labouchere

As the name implies, this technique consists of putting together a series of numbers and canceling them as the rounds pass. This system is designed for equal bets, so it can be used in red/black boxes and odd and even numbers.To start a bet with the Labouchere method, the first thing to do is break down the amount you want to win in small numbers, for example, 10 dollars can be broken down as follows: 1-1-1-2-2- 2-1.

Once this is done, the numbers of both ends will be taken and added; the result is the amount of money that is going to be bet per spin. This will continue until the central number is reached.In the last two cases, of course, the facts can not be ignored, and, while the employee signs his dismissal letter and receives his liquidation, the player is being exiled from that casino and, probably, from a list that includes unwanted players.

D’Alembert method

Similar to Martingale, it is one of the simplest and, surprisingly, the most effective to use. There are no big risks of losses and, according to the method, the player will get good profits. D’Alembert establishes, then, that with each loss the player must increase his bet one dollar and, after each win, he must reduce it by the same amount.