Card counting – all you need to know

If you love nothing more than beating the dealer at a hand or two of Blackjack, you’ll be more than familiar with the strategy of card counting. Even if you’re not a fan of the classic casino game, you will have surely heard of the technique from popular culture – the 2008 movie 21 highlighted the exploits of the MIT Blackjack team, who won millions from a number of casinos across the US. If you play Blackjack in an online casino in UK, you could utilise this technique during your gameplay. However, if you prefer the atmosphere of old school brick-and-mortar casinos, card counting is strictly forbidden. But what is it? How do you count cards? And how does it work? Read on as we give you all you need to know.

What is card counting?

As we mentioned, it’s a strategy utilised in Blackjack. It indicates when the cards are in the player’s favour and when this is the case, players will adjust their bets accordingly. As soon as the advantage shifts in the dealer’s favour, they will reduce the size of their bet. By card counting and adjusting bets, players are able to get one over on the dealer and have an advantage over the casino.

The value of cards can fall into one of three categories: those that are beneficial to the player, beneficial to the dealer, or don’t affect either’s chances and are therefore neutral. It is believed that high-value cards are more beneficial to the player, think 10s, face cards and Aces (worth 11 points); low value cards are more beneficial to the dealer (numerical cards 2 through to 6); while anything in between is ‘worthless’.

How do you count cards?

There are three very simple steps you need to follow:

  1. Assign every card between the values of 2-6 a tag of +1, and every card from 10 to Ace a tag of -1. Neutral cards are zero and do not affect proceedings.
  2. Start your count after the shuffle, and begin your running total with the cards pulled from the deck.
  3. a) After a round, if the count is positive, it means there are more high-value cards in the deck, so increase your bet;

b) After a round, if the count is negative, it means there are more low-value cards in the deck, so decrease your bet.

How does it work?

Obviously to begin with, there are an even number of low and high-value cards, so the ratio won’t change until the initial cards are dealt. Then, dependent on which cards are played in the early rounds, the ratios will change accordingly. For example, if more low-value cards were played in the early rounds, it indicates there is a high volume of high-value cards left in the deck and ultimately, card counters will bet more, as there is a much better chance of landing a Blackjack. Furthermore, with higher value cards left in the deck, the player is more likely to double down, in the hopes of beating the dealer and landing an Ace or a value of 10 as their third card.

It’s important to note that the count at the point of the shuffle should always revert back to zero, not at the end of each hand – so the counter keeps a running total, combining the totals of both their hand and the dealer’s until the deck runs out.

Combining the count and the number of cards played will determine who has the edge and how much will be wagered. For example, the higher the count and the more cards that have been played together mean a greater edge for the player, implying they will bet more. By stark contrast, if the count is negative, they have no edge. It’s vital to concentrate in order to keep track of the cards and adjust bets accordingly. 

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