A Beginners Guide to Card Counting

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Blackjack is one of the few casino games where skilled play can increase the player’s chances of winning. The way to increase your chance of winning is to count cards. Card counting is a strategy that is used to determine when the player has a probability advantage over the casino. Card counting allows the player to modify their bets based on this probability advantage. This strategy allows the player to minimize their losses whilst maximizing their wins. In the long run this will give the expert card counter a slim statistical advantage over the casino. The knowledgeable player can then turn this small advantage into a large profit.


Contrary to popular belief card counting is not illegal. As yet there is no law against performing mental calculations to assist in playing Blackjack skillfully. Having said this, it should be noted that casinos hate card counting. This is because card counting removes the casinos advantage over the gambler and ultimately results in the casino losing money. You cannot be jailed for card counting but casinos will take a dim view if they suspect you of engaging in this practice. If you are caught counting cards you are likely to be escorted off the premises.

There are many card counting systems available. These range in complexity. I will discuss the Hi-lo system which is easy to learn and offers a reliable means of counting cards for the beginner. Before using this system at a casino it is imperative that the prospective card counter practices thoroughly so that they are able to effortlessly count cards. This will both enhance your skill and reduce the likelihood that the casino will be able to tell that you are counting cards.


The Hi-lo system assigns point values of either +1,-1 or 0 to each card in the deck. Cards 2-3-4-5-6 are assigned a value of +1, 7-8-9 are assigned a value of 0, whilst A-K-Q-J-10 are assigned a value of -1. The Hi-lo system is a balanced system of card counting. This means that after all the cards have been dealt the count should be at 0. You can prove to yourself that this is the case by running through a pack of cards, starting at 0, and adjusting the total according to the value assigned to each card dealt. To use this system you simply keep a running total of the value of each card dealt. If the total is negative this indicates that the ratio of low cards (2-3-4-5-6) to high cards (A-K-Q-J-10) is high. In this case you would place the minimum bet. As the card count increases, the ratio of high cards to low cards left in the deck increases. In this case you would raise your bet. The reason you increase your bets with an increasing positive count is that decks with a higher proportion of high cards make Blackjacks more likely and also increase the chance that a dealer will bust on a stiff hand.


Casinos routinely use multiple decks of cards. This is meant to make counting cards more complex. To take into account multiple decks the player will need to adjust their count by dividing it by the number of decks left to be dealt. For example, if you are playing with eight decks of cards and three decks have been dealt and the card count is +5 the true count would be +1 (+5/5 decks = +1).


Players gain an advantage in card counting through maximizing their bets when they have the probability advantage over the casino. A word of warning though, it is wise to increase your bets gradually with a rising count. Sudden increases or decreases in bet size will alert the casino that you may be counting cards. I have found that the following bet increases work well. Where the count is <+1 = minimum bet (min), +3 = min X 2, +5 = min X 3, +7 = min X 4, >+8 = min X 5.


The novice player should always keep in mind that the advantage offered by card counting is slim at best. You will not always win and there may be times when your losses are substantial. It is good practice to never bet more than you can afford to lose. If you adhere to this and are prepared to practice your card counting before hitting the tables you give yourself the best possible chance of maximizing your profits whilst playing Blackjack.


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