What is card counting?

If you play blackjack or other casino-based card games, you may have heard of card counting. While some might think of card counting as cheating, others consider it a legitimate strategy that can give them an advantage, though there is never any guarantee that you’ll win. Today we’re going to look at what card counting is, how it works, and whether you should use it.

Card counting

Card counting is when players try to keep a tally of which cards have already come up so they have a better idea of which cards are still in the deck. This means they can adjust their strategy, or their bets, accordingly. Card counting is not easy, and most players find that it doesn’t have a huge impact on the outcome of a game, but others insist that it gives them at least a slight advantage, especially when playing blackjack. When it comes to card counting games, blackjack is definitely the one that most players agree on.

What is card counting in Blackjack?

There’s a reason card counting in blackjack is popular. It is not necessary to know exactly which cards are likely to come up, but it is helpful to know if the cards are more likely to be high or low.

Most of us don’t have the mental capacity to remember exactly which cards we have already seen, so blackjack players tend to use specific strategies, such as the hi-lo system described below. Card counting can work pretty well in blackjack if you have the right system. Players tend to assign a value to each card, so they don’t have to remember exactly which cards have already been played. The assigned value helps players estimate what types of cards remain in the pack, even though they don’t know exactly what they are.

While some expert card counters can easily keep that mental tally, it might be nearly impossible for less experienced players, and you could argue that it’s not worth it. Having a basic card counting strategy in place can help you get an idea of what is most likely to come up next, but it doesn’t guarantee you a win, and it won’t have a huge impact on the overall house edge, which is already quite low in blackjack. 

Blackjack is mostly a game of chance, and the odds of winning are close to 50/50. Yes, the casino has a slight advantage, as it does with all casino games, but blackjack is not one of the harder casino games to win, even without card counting. For this reason, some players argue it’s not worth the effort of counting cards in blackjack.

What is hi-lo card counting?

Hi-lo card counting is a card counting strategy that involves assigning the cards you see into one of three categories. For the purposes of card counting values are ascribed to each card in the pack. When cards of a low value (twos through to sixes) come up, the player adds one to the tally. When a high-value card (a ten or a picture) comes up, the player subtracts one from the tally. Middle cards (sevens, eights, and nines) are not counted.

This card counting strategy is not perfect, but it does give the player an idea of what might happen next. A positive tally means the cards left in the deck are statistically more likely to be high, and a negative tally means there are more low-value cards left to be played. Of course, the tally only applies until the dealer shuffles the deck, at which point you must start counting all over again.

Can you count cards in any other game?

While many people think of counting cards as a blackjack strategy, it can be used, in some form, in other games as well. You may well find card counters around most of the tables in the casino, although some of them will be doing better than others.

In poker, only a limited number of cards are shown face-up, so you don’t get to see many of the cards that your opponents play. This means you get much less information about what is left in the pack than when you’re playing blackjack. However, it also means there’s less to remember. Knowing which cards are likely left to play can certainly be helpful when playing poker, so card counting can give you a slight edge. Poker-playing card counters need to remember to count any face-up cards served to players who then decide to fold. Those players might be out, but their cards have been played and won’t be returned to the deck.

In baccarat card counting is possible, but it’s not worth it for most players. Unlike blackjack, you’re not going to have much of an advantage from knowing if there are a lot of high-value cards left in the deck. While there are strategies that will allow you to increase your edge, it has been estimated that the return on card counting in baccarat is very low: probably only cents for every $1000 wagered.

 Things you should know

  • Card counting is not illegal, so you can’t get arrested for doing it.
  • Casinos don’t like it, though, and they have the right to refuse service, so they can throw you out of the casino.
  • Card counting helps reduce the house edge, but only by a small amount.
  • Many casinos make card counting in blackjack much harder by making you play with multiple decks.
  • Online blackjack card counting is easier than trying to count cards in a busy, distracting, real-life casino.

Counting cards is like anything else – you will get better at it as you practice

Sign up today to practice your casino game strategies, including your card counting strategy, at Resorts Casino. You can play for free with our demo games.

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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