Blackjack Card Counting - Basics

All players regardless of what they say they want from the game, really hope to win big. As you know, there is no method to completely eliminate the casinos edge; even blackjack basic strategy cannot do that. Therefore, players who wanted to win more decided they needed a stronger tool against casinos. Card counting is the only legal method to reduce the house edge and to feel more confident in the casino.

Blackjack Card Counting
ADVANCED level
Find out how to count cards in blackjack and learn the difference between running and true counts in hi lo card couting strategy.

What is Card Counting?

Blackjack cardsCard counting is a system of keeping track of all the dealt cards in the game in order to ascertain when the deck favors the dealer and when the player has higher odds. The odds are determined by the number the counter keeps in his mind. This number is found by adding or subtracting a definite number to a starting count of zero as the cards are dealt on the table.

The player determines the odds in the game and can vary his bet, betting more when the deck has high player odds and betting less when the deck favors the house.

Values of Cards

To keep track of and count all the dealt cards in blackjack, all the cards in the deck have particular values which are different from the traditional values used for counting the hand total. Blackjack card counters use the following values of cards:

clubs-2 diamonds-3 spades-4 clubs-5 hearts-6 count as +1

clubs-7 diamonds-8 spades-9 count as 0

hearts-10 clubs-j spades-q diamonds-k spades-ace count as -1

Card Counting in Action

Let's consider an example of a real blackjack game and count the cards as they are dealt.

Above you can see two players at a blackjack table. The cards are dealt and the counter starts counting in his mind.

The first cards are:

hearts-6 hearts-8 hearts-q clubs-8 diamonds-7

If you look at the section Values of Cards above, you will see the value of each card. All you have to do is to add the values together.

1+0−1+0+0 = 0

The game continues and the players can choose from the available options.

The player on the first base stands and takes no more cards. The player on the second base, splits and gets a 9 and an Ace. The dealer reveals the hole card and has a total of 17. The new cards here are:

spades-9 clubs-ace spades-10

Now we add the value of these cards to the count total we had before.

0+0−1−1 = −2

The overall count for this game now is -2.

This count means that mostly high cards have been dealt and the deck is now full of small value cards, which favors the dealer. The counter will most probably decrease his bet and play the game with a smaller risk.

The game continues and the next hands are dealt. The counter now keeps on counting the cards proceeding from the number he had on the previous game (-2).

However, this Count can only be applied when the game is played with 1 deck of cards and is called a Running count. Due to the fact the running count can only be used for a game with one deck and the system is not accurate if used for more than 1 deck, this system is called an Unbalanced card-counting system.

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Blackjack cards shoe

Balanced vs. Unbalanced Count

Unbalanced card-counting system - is a system that uses the count of a cards one by one as they are dealt and is used in a 1-deck blackjack game.

Balanced card-counting system - is a system that applies the method of Unbalanced card counting and modifies it according to the number of decks used in the game. This method enables the counter to accurately calculate the correct result of card counting and apply it in the game.

The balanced count is usually viewed as an application of the Running count and thus the player can convert the result into the True count.

In order to convert the Running count into the True count, the counter should divide the result of the running count by the number of decks left in the game.

For example, if the running count is 12, and there are 4 decks in the shoe left, the player gets a true count of 3 (12/4=3)

true count = running count / decks left in the shoe

The True count is the basic system of card counting. This method helps you choose how much and when to bet. In addition it tells you when it is better to switch from the recommendations of basic strategy and either risk or surrender.

What do I do with the result of the count?

Remember that a positive count tells you it's time to bet more as there are high cards left in the deck. In general, when the true count is higher than 4 there are lots of high cards in the deck and you should increase the bet and be careful when you hit. However, this rule may vary for a different number of decks and no one is qualified enough as to tell you when to risk and when not to.

The most difficult part of this count is to predict how many decks are left in the shoe.

count ≥ 4 => bet more

In order to find out more about the average results of the count and how often this or that outcome may occur, you can look at the tables with generated hands for games with One, Four, Six or Eight decks of cards.

Getting the Edge

Card counting is based on the fact that when the deck is full of high cards, it has a big advantage for the player and when the deck is full of small cards it is good for the dealer. When the deck favors you, you should make larger bets and make smaller ones when it is good for the dealer.

This is because the dealer has to continue to take cards when he has 16 whereas you can stop any time you wish and not risk going bust when the deck has lots of 10 cards. Likewise, the deck favours the dealer when is full of small cards as he is less likely to bust when he hits.

Needless to say card counting requires much practice, but the correct use of this technique may give you a 2% edge over the casino.

Advanced counting systems

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Best books on Card Counting