BlackJack : Card Counting : Cards

So, you've learned how blackjack is played, you've learned the Five Basic Play Rules of Thumbs, and memorized BlackJack Basic Strategy. Not bad. The next step on the road of becoming a BlackJack master is the aquisition of a skill called Card Counting.

Contrary to popular belief, Card Counting is not illegal. You cannot get arrested for counting cards in a casino, however the casino (if they suspect you are a card counter) may ask you nicely to leave. Usually they do this by saying something along the lines of "Sir, you're too good for us. We welcome you to play any of our other games, but we can't allow you to play blackjack here." The player usually has some idea that this is going to happen because floormen and pit bosses start lurking about... analyzing your play, watching your chipstack get higher and higher. Getting booted is seldomly a surprise. It is the players duty to be cautious when counting cards... we'll get into that a bit later.

The concept of counting cards is simple, yet oft misunderstood. The casual player thinks that card counting is memorizing every card that has been played... a feat unfit for mere mortals. In actuality, Card Counting is the act of keeping track of the Deck Composition of yet-to-be-played cards by keeping track of the ratio of low cards (2-7) to high value cards (Aces and 10s) that have already been played.

Now let me explain that in English. If more low cards than 10 value cards have already been played, then we know that there are a proportionately higher number of high cards left in the deck. If there are more high cards in the unplayed deck, the player is at a greater advantage. Why? Because with a higher percentage of high value cards in the deck there is more opportunity for the player to receive BlackJacks, 20s and other high hands and there is more of a likelyhood that the dealer will bust if they have to draw a third card to their hand.

So how does the player keep track of all of these cards? Frankly, it isn't easy, it takes steady practice and dedication to analyze and tally The Count in real life casino situation. These discractions can include conversations with other players, speedy dealers, cocktail waitresses, heat from floormen and pit bosses, the noise of the slot machines... all that stuff). However with enough practice, anyone can learn to count cards.

How To Count Cards

The Count is kept track of by the player using a sliding scale. High value cards (Aces and 10 value cards) are worth -1, and Low Value Cards (2-7) are worth +1. Middle value cards (8 and 9) are not counted. Every time a High Value card is dealt, the player subtracts 1 from the current count. Every time a Low value card is dealt, the player adds 1 to the current count.

Let's say, for example, that The Count starts at zero and two players are at the table... the cards are dealt as such:

  • Player 1 is dealt 2-A, one Low Value Card (+1) and one High Value Card (-1). These, in effect cancel each other out, so the count stays the same.
  • Player 2 is dealt 10-Q, two High Value cards so the count goes from zero to -2.
  • The Dealer is dealt a 5, one Low Value Card (+1). The count goes from -2 to -1.

Any further cards that are dealt add to and subtract from the count according to their Value. When the hand is complete, the count carries over to the next hand and the player continues to add or subtract based on what cards are played. This continues on and on until the decks or shoes have been completed and a shuffle takes place. When a new shoe begins, the count starts at zero (or another number, depending on the number of decks in play and what style of card counting you are employing.)

So now that you've got the basic idea on how to count cards, you're probably asking How does this make me money?. Good question. The idea behind card counting is that when the Deck Composition of Unplayed Cards is unfavorable to the player (more low cards left then high), the player should bet the minimum amount allowed. When the Deck Composition of Unplayed Cards is favorable to the player (more high cards than low cards) the player should increase their bets proportionately to how favorable the count is.

For a truly detailed understanding of counting cards, check out the following resources:

The Vegas Tripping BlackJack Players Library - featuring THE BEST Books you can find about the subject, including:

The Blackjack Bible : Beat The Dealer - by Dr. Edward O. Thorp
Knock Out Blackjack - a simplified way of counting cards.
Ken Uston on Blackjack - Ken was one of the legends of card counting.
Hollywood Blackjack - card counting stories and techniques by Hollywood Dave Stann, the 'Bad Boy of Blackjack'

Websites: - The website of reknowned blackjack expert, Stanford Wong - Another very informative blackjack website