Blackjack Card Counting

When you hear the term Card Counting, do you think of the movie "21", a top 5000 ranked film on that starred Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey?

If you're unfamiliar with card-counting and how to implement card-counting strategies, 21 is a fun movie that will not only entertain you, but also show you a real life example of one of the first ever major card counting schemes in the United States. Several methods of counting cards while playing blackjack have been developed throughout the years, including the method that in real life, and in the true story 21, six MIT students used in the movie, the Hi/Lo card-counting strategy that took Las Vegas by storm and for millions of dollars.

What is Card Counting Exactly?

Card counting is a blackjack strategy for keeping track of the cards that have already been played so that you have a better idea of what's left in the deck. Blackjack players are in theory calculating the odds of hitting a blackjack, or the dealer busting.

Blackjack is the only game in the casino, outside of poker played against other players rather than against the casino where the player can control the outcome enough to create an edge over the casino. In other words, if played correctly and strategically, the player can win.

Basically, if you can determine that there are a lot of big cards left in the deck, you're more likely to win the hand, if there are a bunch of low cards in the deck; you're most likely to lose.

Why is Card Counting Beneficial

If the player has some idea whether the deck has more high cards, or more low cards in it the player will know whether or not he/she's likely to hit a blackjack. The player will know the odds on the dealers hand busting because he's dealt 12s through 16's, which if you've looked into blackjack strategy at all you'll realize are the hands you want the dealer to get. These hands, when dealt to the dealer, offer the best possible outcomes for the player, because the dealer has to draw and is at risk of busting.

The player will also have a better idea when he/she should double-down. If the decks full of low cards for instance, and you're dealt 6/5 for a total of 11, doubling down isn't the best option. It seems like it is, and most beginning blackjack players will ALWAYS double down on 11, however, if the odds are that you won't find a big enough card to beat the dealer, then a double here is nothing more than a donation to the casino.

Additionally, players will know when the dealer is more likely to begin with a blackjack, because they have an idea how many 10 cards are left in the deck, so they can use the usually inadvisable insurance option to their advantage.

Steal the Casino's Advantage for Yourself

As mentioned briefly above, if the player counts cards, and uses even the basic blackjack strategy, the player can completely remove the house advantage and build a bankroll playing blackjack for profit. Poker players like to say they're not gambling, they're playing strategically, that's exactly what you're doing here, you're taking the gamble out of the game.

Blackjack Card Counting Systems

Hi/Lo or Plus/Minus Blackjack Counting System

The Hi/Lo system, also known as the plus-minus system is the system used in the movie 21. To begin each card is assigned a numerical value. The player will sit down to the table, online, or at a real casino, and start at 0. Very quickly the player will begin a running total that includes every player's, and the dealer's cards. Every card from 2 to 6 is given a value of +1, so they add 1 to the count.

Cards from 7-9 are 0 cards, so these can be disregarded immediately. 10 cards and Aces are given a value of -1. When a player receives a face card, ten or Ace, the count is decreased by one.

When a new shoe begins, the count resets to zero again. During first few hands of a new shoe, the count is considered unreliable, after a few hands have been dealt, the player may start increasing his bets when the count is positive, and decreasing them when the count is negative.

The Hi/Lo card counting system is a single-layer counting system. It's really easy to grasp for new card counters because the count never changes by more than 1 at any time. It's always +1 or -1. There are more advanced card counting systems that are more accurate but trickier to grasp.

Popular Blackjack Card Counting systems include:

  • Wizard Ace/Five
  • KO
  • HI-Opt
  • Hi-Opt II
  • Zen Count
  • Omega II

Using the Hi-Lo Count with Multi-Deck Blackjack

When you're using the Hi-Lo card counting system with one deck of cards, you get what is called the true count. When you're using more than one deck of cards, the number you come up with is called the running count. The true count, as is obvious by is name, is the most accurate.

Blackjack Card Counting- The reason you learned all that math in high school.

When you're working with more than one deck of cards, which is most common online and in land based casinos where 4-8 decks mixed together are usually used to deal a game, you will divide the number of decks of cards, that remain in the shoe to be played. So if the count is running count +6 and approximately 3 decks of cards have landed in the discard pile in a six deck game, then 3 decks remain to be played. You'll divide +6 (the running count sum) by 3 (the amount of decks left to be played) and have +3 as your true count.

More counting and Strategy Concepts

Shuffle Tracking

Shuffle Tracking can only be utilized in live casino games. Basically, the player will attempt to keep track of clusters of cards that seem to always follow each other. Keep in mind, in the average casino, a dealer only has about 2 minutes to shuffle from 6-8 decks of cards.

These dealers are taught that no clumps of more than 4 cards should stick together during a good shuffle; however, that isn't always the case. Not to mention, even if a dealer shuffles perfectly, there are still small clusters that can be identified and taken into consideration when making bets.

Casinos are obviously not fans of this strategy, and develop shuffle strategies that are designed to keep the game going as quickly as possible, while also mixing the cards as thoroughly as possible. One such defense is the blackjack auto-shuffler; however, due to the patent, casinos can only rent these machines, and not buy them, making them a very costly accessory for smaller casinos.

Profiting from Card Counting, Shuffle Tracking and Using Blackjack Strategy

Just by using the most basic blackjack play strategy in addition to a basic card counting strategy like the high/low system a player can gain a 1% advantage over the house. Meaning they'll win 1% more often than the casino.

Counting is an exact science, as is basic blackjack strategy, both with lots of variables. Some things that effect this are the cut for instance, all casinos let a player cut the deck, the more cards that are played from the deck, the better for the counting player, so always offer to cut the deck, and always cut so that there will be as many cards in-play as possible all of the time.

Furthermore, learning more strategies that go further in depth than the High/Low counting method described here will further improve the player's advantage over the house and in turn, improve the player's profit.

From a mathematical perspective, let's imagine a player sitting down at a blackjack table with a $5 minimum bet and a $50 maximum bet. The player's average bet is $25, but he bets $50 when the count is favorable, and $10 when it's highly unfavorable.

The player's averaging 100 hands per hour throughout a 5 hour session using the basic blackjack strategy, and the strategy used by the MIT blackjack counting team, the Hi-Lo counting system.

The minimum the player can earn using this formula is $25 x 5 hours x 100 hands per hour x 1% advantage so we have: 25*5*100*1% = $125 in profit.

Play at that level yields an hour pay-rate of about $25 per hour. Not a bad wage for an entry level earner, and you control your own pay raises by learning more intricate counting strategies, and gradually increasing your bets as your blackjack bankroll increases. If you want to play blackjack online, check Mr Play Casino. And you are guaranteed to have a great time.

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