People are often impressed when they hear of others beating the casinos. Impressed and skeptical. You don’t get to meet people every day that were thrown out of casinos due to them winning a card game.

“Really? And you managed to beat them? How? Wait, how much money did you make?

I used to count cards at the local casino when I was playing blackjack 10 years ago until they spotted me. My blackjack career was over in less than a year, yet I talk about that experience from time to time. I find myself explaining what I did, how I did it and how they kicked me out.

Every time I answer those questions, my goal is not to impress my audience. Instead, I try showing them how easy card counting is and convince them that they themselves could do it, should they spend enough time practicing.

So, no, I believe card counting in blackjack is far from impressive. But maybe it seems that way due to Hollywood movies and how other card counters have built a myth around their name. Like they can remember hundreds of numbers or do hundreds of calculations in their head in a mysterious, yet extraordinary way.

Let’s bust that myth.

The simple guidelines of card counting in blackjack

First you need to learn the charts of Basic Strategy. Memorize them. By acting on the blackjack tables according to that strategy, you minimize the casino’s edge against you. Depending on the blackjack rules, that edge can be reduced down to 0.5%!

Don’t worry. I won’t bother you with math and numbers. You don’t even need to know the theory behind beating blackjack to

Now that you know the Basic Strategy, let’s move on to card counting itself since it’s paramount to already know Basic Strategy’s charts before you can beat the game.

Take a deck of cards. Hold your deck face-down in your hand and start turning one card after another, throwing them on a table face-up. Now, starting from zero, count the cards like this:

  • For every 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 that lands on the table, add one (1).
  • For every 10, J, Q, K, A, subtract one (1).
  • Totally ignore sevens, eights, and nines.

hi-lo-card-counting-blackjack

By doing so, you always end up having a specific number in your head. Starting from zero, that number will swing around zero. How far off zero you’ll find yourself counting the cards, depends on the shuffling. Let’s see two extreme examples:

  1. The first 5 cards in order are: 4, 2, 6, 9, 2. Your count should be: zero, plus one, plus two, plus three, plus three (ignoring 9), plus four. That +4 means the rest of the deck is richer in high cards (tens, face cards, and aces) than normal. And a rich-in-high-cards deck is in favor of the player due to blackjack being paid 3:2.
  2. The next 10 cards are: 10, J, J, A, K, 10, K, A, A, Q. When that Queen appears, your count should now be minus 6 continuing from the previous step. Now the same deck of remaining cards have a lot more low cards than normal. The odds have shifted considerably. The casino’s dealer now has a tremendous edge over you. If that happened on a blackjack table, you should immediately stand up and leave until the next shuffle.

Congratulations! You now know how to count cards!

Was it that hard? I doubt it. Practice counting over the next few days and you’ll quickly get the hang of it.

I can count a deck of cards in 20 secs! Am I ready to beat the casino?

No.

You have to learn money management. In other words, how much money you are going to bet on each deal. To do that, you first need to allocate a bankroll. Money that will be used exclusively for gambling purposes.

You should always bet the table’s minimum unless your count is positive. In that case, your bet size depends on the remaining decks of cards inside the shoe. At the most favorable conditions, your maximum bet size should not exceed 1% of your bankroll. So, if your bankroll is $5000, your maximum bet should not exceed $50.

Finally, there are more charts to memorize, which will dictate the actions you need to take (hit, stay, double, split, etc.), depending on the dealer’s face card and your running count. But let’s not rush things.

The point of this article was to show how unimpressive card counting is. Add one for every low card, subtract one for every high card. If you counted correctly, the count should end to zero at the deck’s final card.

Great, you are now a card counter! You may try to learn advanced counting systems that will give you a bit more edge, or begin studying charts like this (called “basic strategy variations”). Or you may meet your friends and bshow off  your card counting skills!

Photo by: Bob Owen