How to count cards in Blackjack

It’s no surprise that blackjack is one of the more popular casino games. It’s simple to learn and easy to play. Your aim is to beat the dealer by getting cards with a face value of as close as possible to 21. You just don’t want to go over 21, of course, or you’ll lose the hand. Getting 21 on-the-dot is the pinnacle of blackjack hands. So, is there a way to increase your odds of winning at blackjack? Is it possible to know which card is most likely to come up so that you know whether to stick or twist? Those who use blackjack card counting strategies would argue that there is. But how effective is card counting in blackjack? Will it really give you a big advantage? Let’s take a look.

What is card counting in blackjack?

Card counting simply refers to keeping a tally of which cards have already come up so that you know which cards are left in the deck and therefore which cards are likely to come up next, for both you and the dealer. If lots of low-value cards are left, you know that you are statistically more likely to get a low-value card next, and might be willing to take another card, even though you know that a high one will put you over 21. You can also take into account the fact that when the dealer draws, they are also more likely to get a low card.

If you’re aiming to win your next game of blackjack, counting cards might be worth trying, but there are no guarantees. Unless you can count cards so well that you know exactly what’s left in the deck, you will probably only have, at best, a good idea of what is statistically most likely to come up. 

What’s more, casinos are wise to the fact that players try to count cards, and actively put policies in place to prevent it. One of these is increasing the number of decks they use in their blackjack games. Whereas blackjack is traditionally played with a single deck, many casinos now offer blackjack games played with more than one deck of cards, and sometimes as many as six or eight decks. When you play multi-deck blackjack, counting cards becomes more challenging just because there are so many cards to keep track of.

Many casinos also use the practice of ‘burning’ the top card before play starts, which simply means discarding it and dealing the next card down. This can also make life difficult for card counters. Often, the card is discarded without the players being allowed to see it. So, this is a card that players can’t factor into their card counting strategy. However, burn cards don’t have a significant impact on card counting, and most casinos do it more to protect against the top card of the pack being accidentally exposed to players, giving them a potential unfair advantage.

How to count cards in blackjack

Card counters tend to assign a value to each card and then try to mentally keep track of what is happening on the blackjack table. The assigned value helps them keep a tally in their head that lets them know roughly what types of cards still remain in the pack to be drawn.

Different players have different card counting blackjack strategies, but perhaps one of the simplest and best systems is the high-low strategy. This involves keeping a simple mental tally of the cards being played by assigning them to one of three categories. If the card has a low face value (twos through to sixes), the player adds 1 to the tally. If it has a high face value (a 10 or a picture card), the player subtracts 1 from the tally. Sevens, eights and nines do not change the tally.

Using this system, the player knows that when the tally is positive, the upcoming cards are statistically more likely to be high, and when the tally is negative, there are more low-value cards in the deck, meaning that the next one is more likely to be low. When the deck is shuffled, the count goes back to zero.

Experienced card counters can keep that tally in their heads quite easily, but for most players, it’s quite hard, especially as there might be lots of other things going on in the casino at any given time. Concentrating too hard may also give away the fact that you are counting cards, and get you thrown out of the casino. 

Card counting is not actually illegal, though casinos sometimes like to imply that it is. However, casinos reserve the right to refuse service and can have you removed from the premises and even banned. They can also suspend your account at an online casino. They may do all or any of these things if they suspect you of card counting, especially if you’re doing it successfully.

Can you win blackjack by counting cards?

When it comes to playing blackjack, counting cards can help you get an idea of what is statistically likely, but that won’t guarantee a win. Even if most of the cards left are low, there’s still a chance that you’ll get a picture card on any given draw, and vice versa. The more decks there are, the less likely you are to successfully predict what will happen next, and ultimately, most players would agree that blackjack is mostly, though not entirely, a game of chance.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that blackjack is actually a pretty fair game. The ‘house’ (that is the casino) always has an advantage with any game, but blackjack actually has one of the lowest house edges of any game. The odds of winning in blackjack are always quite close to 50/50, and even though there are things, including card counting, that can change the house edge, they won’t have a huge impact.

For this reason, many people would say that it’s not really worth counting cards in blackjack. There are plenty of players, in fact, who enjoy the element of chance in blackjack, and who are happy to relax and play for fun. If you want to increase your chances of a win (just a little) by trying a card counting system, then you can certainly give it a go.

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Author: Tanya Fields

Campaign Acquisition Manager Length with RC: 1 year, 9 months Favorite Casino Game: Starburst Background in iGaming: Opened the iGaming Department at Hard Rock Atlantic City in 2018 in both Customer Service, and then CRM, prior to moving over to RC in January 2021 Location: Based in NJ at the RC HQ Content: Occasionally, but only as it pertains to RC