Card counting in Blackjack: From land-based to online casinos
Several among you have familiarized yourselves with the technique of counting cards on blackjack. Lately you’ve been asking me which online casino to choose in order to practice and, hopefully, win some cash. If you really want to hone your skills I have no objection since practice makes perfect. But don’t count your chickens before they hatch when it comes to winning real money!
First of all, if we talk about online casinos not offering live dealer options, the reason is quite simple: each game constitutes a unique digital, virtual deal.
Cards appearing at the very next game are picked completely in random out of the whole pack of cards. Furthermore, the whole sequence of dealing cards depends on the algorithm applied by each online casino, which is also the case in poker games; the so-called Random Number Generators. Each new game is irrelevant and independent to previous games, although in the long run all combinations of cards are expected to appear in more or less the same frequency – at least in theory.
A computer will set the parameters for the next game, and the following, and the following, and so on. There is no deck or dealer in the sense we are accustomed to seeing in brick-and-mortar casinos. In fact, there are no cards you can feel in your hand or deck out of which the dealer picks the cards.
Therefore, it makes no sense to count the cards, hoping to calculate the odds of getting a good hand on the next round. In reality, you may receive the exact same set of cards, as it is the case at ordinary casinos where automatic shuffling machines are installed on blackjack tables.
Remember that card counting’s edge derives from the fact that the remaining cards on the deck are more or less known. Since we are aware of the cards already drawn, we can anticipate which cards of the deck are missing and will appear on the next rounds. You do not have to be a mnemonist to count cards, given that counting cards is not as impressive as it seems, in my opinion.
Why can’t you beat blackjack with live dealers?
The next obvious question is, of course, why not anyone would not join a casino with live blackjack games and start counting cards. Even though I referred to an experiment I did some time ago and explained the shortcomings of that adventure, I should rather shed more light.
When we say live blackjack online, we mean blackjack games with real people as dealers and blackjack tables you can join in remotely, from the comfort of your living room or office. These casinos are for real, apart from the fact that players have access only through the internet. Recently, this type of blackjack is becoming very popular, since they are supposed to restore trust among players, a fact reinforced by PayPal making its way back to online gambling industry. In addition, beautiful girls are put in place as dealers, hoping to attract the eyes of male players, who are the overwhelming majority in this industry by the way.
As far as I am aware of, there are two types of live blackjack tables now available at online casinos:
- Live blackjack with an automatic shuffling machine
- Live blackjack with a shoe
For reasons I have already explained earlier, in the first case scenario, you are not able to gain any advantage even if just a single deck is used for the game! According to the blackjack theory, the odds are in favor of casinos, given the operator gets paid when you go bust, even if the dealer busts afterward as well. Your own edge comes from the fact that blackjack (21 on two cards) pays 3 to 2.
That also means players gain an advantage when high-value cards remain to be dealt from the deck (tens, face cards and aces).
In the second case, where decks are placed in the so-called “shoe,” you may have a chance; provided you know that a good number of high-value cards still remain in the shoe as the game progresses. Enter the benefit of card counting.
However, this edge is soon flattened by online casinos by “cutting” mid-deck, or worse as a counter-measure. The so-called “penetration” should be as high as possible, so we get to “see” more of the decks and better estimate the remaining cards in the shoe.
Thus, say we assume that six decks are in the shoe, but only two are played during the game. The 10 or 20 high-valued cards we anticipated to count but didn’t in fact see, are left in the shoe’s remaining four decks. Our odds of winning are too slim! Our card counting is not going to be very accurate and reliable, not to mention that true count would hardly rise. Yes, those 4 decks are high-card-rich, but we have no idea, how the high-valued card are scattered within.
Some additional common hurdles include our inability to bet on other players’ cards (when we see fit) and the slow speed of the games in comparison with entirely automated online casinos.
Sites like RealMoneyAction.com are constantly reviewing online casino services. In most cases, casino review websites also refer to casinos with live dealers. I would start by visiting some of them if I am interested in counting cards in the first place.
Nonetheless, if I come across a shuffling machine on the table, I would rather stay away and monitor the game just for practicing card counting. On the other hand, if you see a “shoe”, then you must always remember the pros and cons explained earlier. Try your luck by using virtual money at first – also known as play money. See how it goes. You should not expect to master card counting right from the beginning. It becomes even harder when you risk losing real cash!
Photo courtesy of Matt Northam