How to Count Cards in Blackjack: Card Counting Trainer & Guide
You need to learn about blackjack card counting to take your game up a level. Counting cards is an easy skill to pick up, but difficult to master. Get yourself equipped with the ultimate how-to guide, plus strategies, legalities and the history of card counting. After practicing with our exclusive Casino.org card counting simulator, you'll be playing like a pro in no time.
Practice Card Counting with Our Training Game
How to Use Our Blackjack Training Game
1. First you need to memorize the assigned values of all cards.
- High cards (10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace) count as -1 each
- Low cards (2 to 6) count as +1 each
- The remaining cards (7 to 9) count as 0
2. When you press play, the cards will be dealt.
3. Calculate the overall value of all cards on the table. There is a 40-second time limit. You must add and subtract card values to get a final amount.
4. Type your answer into the box or use the arrows to select the correct answer.
5. If you are correct, the game progresses. You will need to continue adding or subtracting from your previous total.
6. Keep track of your total count as you level up. For example, the answer to Round 2 will be the sum total of the first and the second rounds.
7. This continues the further you go. So Round 3 will be the sum total of all previous rounds, including the current round.
Casino.org's Blackjack Card Counting Guide
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What is Card Counting in Blackjack?
Put simply, to count cards means to keep track of the number of high and low cards left in the dealers' deck. Do this successfully and you can raise your bet when you know the odds are stacked in your favor, making you much more likely to win big.
Why shouldn't I do it?
There are no federal or state laws which consider counting cards to be a criminal act. Providing you're doing it in your head and not using a card counting device or mobile app, there is nothing illegal in this. However, despite the law, it is regarded as cheating. If you are going to attempt to count cards in a casino, we strongly advise you to be cautious. Casinos will come down heavy on suspected card counters. You may be asked to leave the table or even be banned. Beware - your behavior will be closely monitored at all times. Even the best card counters occasionally get rumbled.
Why should I do it?
In a word: winning. Do it right and you can strike gold with one simple, strategic game. Learning to count cards in blackjack can help you win big. Blackjack is a casino game phenomenon worldwide because, as well as being fun, you have a decent chance at pocketing whatever you win. Especially when you know what you're doing… It gets even better when you can flip the odds in your favor, giving you more chances of big wins!
How does Blackjack Card Counting Work?
To card count properly, whether in an online blackjack game or in a casino, all that you are doing is keeping a running tally based on the face value of any cards revealed.
The basic idea is to assign cards a value of either +1, 0, or -1 depending on their face or number. Providing you keep an accurate count as the cards are dealt, you can monitor the running value of the cards left remaining in the deck.
This dictates when you should bet high (when the value of the cards remaining in the deck is low). And you'll also know when to bet low or not at all (when the value of the cards remaining in the deck is high).
So how does this create an advantage over the casino? Well, if you're playing blackjack perfectly, the house edge is around 0.5%. If you play perfectly plus master card counting, you are playing with a 1% advantage over the casino! So it really does pay to start practicing.
Did you know?
When card counters work as part of a team it's estimated that the advantage gained over the casino rises to between 2 and 4%.
Counting Cards in Online Blackjack
Card counting is mostly seen as something which is done in land-based casinos with real cards, but it can be done online too. Card counting in online blackjack means being in the safety of your own home, without the risk of losing money or being caught by the casino. You shouldn't join a land-based casino table until you have practiced and feel confident counting cards online. A great way to practice is by using one of our free online blackjack games. Our free games enable you to hone your skills without risking real money.
If you decide to play for real money online, beware that some sites employ software that shuffles cards almost every time a new hand is dealt. This makes it increasingly difficult to count cards online and win money.
Basic Card Counting Strategy
The most basic strategy for beginners is called the Hi-Lo strategy. This is the type that you practice in our simulator.
In this strategy, high cards (10 - Ace, including face cards) are assigned a specific value of -1. Low cards (2 - 6 in any suit) are assigned a +1 value. The remaining cards (7 - 9) count as 0.
As the dealer deals a card you make a note in your head of its assigned value. If the card is a ten for example, you count is as -1. If the next card dealt is a three, its assigned value is +1. Now your cumulative total adds up to 0.
The idea is that you do this continuously for every new card dealt, without breaking your sum until the deck is shuffled again. The total is considered the 'running count'.
That's all there is to it. When you keep it simple, the calculations are not too difficult and your mind does not go into overdrive!
Casino.org Blackjack Expert
Advanced Card Counting Strategies
Once you've mastered the art of basic Hi-Lo card counting, you are probably done with counting off cards on your fingers. When you want to progress to more complex techniques, you have several options to choose from.
The Omega II technique is a 'balanced' system, where you have 0 as base. Bryce Carlson developed this and wrote a book about card counting back in 1992. It is more sophisticated than the classic +1,0 and -1 values.
- 2, 3 or 7 are valued as 1
- 4, 5 and 6 are valued as 2
- 9 is valued as -1
- 10 and all face cards are -2
- 8 and Ace cards are 0
A positive count reflects that more low cards are present in the deck being dealt. A negative count means a large number of high cards are in the deck still.
The name for this system comes from its creator Stanford Wong. It's considered an advanced strategy on account of its assigned values, some of which are fractions.
- 3, 4 and 6 are valued as 1
- 2 and 7 are valued at 0.5
- 5 is valued as 1.5
- 8 is valued as 0
- 9 is valued as -0.5
- 10, Ace and face cards are -1
Wong Halves is a 'balanced' system, meaning that when a deck is dealt completely, your count should be 0. You can simplify the strategy by doubling up all the values to avoid using fractions altogether.
Some card counters make it a team effort. The benefit of this is that multiple decks, on multiple tables, can be counted simultaneously. The team use signals to communicate with one another while avoiding detection. In this way, they can tell hovering players when to join in a hand, and whether to bet big or not.
This strategy was employed by a team of students and alumni at MIT to win millions of dollars from multiple casinos for years. Once uncovered, their escapades became the subject of a best-selling book. In 2008, their story became a Hollywood movie called 21.
Counting Multiple Decks
One of the ways casinos try to counteract card counting is by using multiple decks. This in theory makes it harder for card counters to keep track of the running total. If you come up against a dealer using multiple decks in blackjack, you can still use the Hi-Lo strategy. All you need to do is divide the running count by the number of decks remaining. This will give you what is called a 'true count'.
Your true count figure, rather than your running count, dictates your advantage when multiple decks are involved. You must keep an accurate running total to enable you to work out the true count value. For example, if your running total is 5 and there are 2 decks remaining, your true count will be 2.5 (because 5 divided by 2 is 2.5).
Which Strategy Should I Choose?
The easiest strategy to master is the Hi-Lo approach. For first time card counters it's advisable to start here and see how you get on. As your ability increases, on top of counting you can choose to advance to an alternative blackjack strategy should you feel it necessary. Of course, you need to be 100% confident that you have mastered the game itself before you even attempt card counting. We have got plenty of other tips on playing blackjack which you can employ in your game technique.
Is Counting Cards Illegal?
At Casino.org, we want to ensure that you are best informed as possible when playing casino games. There are laws which you must consider before practicing card counting.
For example, Nevada state laws prohibit card counting with electronic or mechanical aids such as smartphone apps. You will be arrested if you are caught doing this. Using your own arithmetic skills to keep track of cards is not illegal. Although the legal situation for card counting is quite clear cut, using your head to count cards is still not welcomed at casinos.
Although a casino and its operator cannot prosecute unless you are using a device, they can make your situation very unpleasant if you're caught. Some law firms in the US have specific legal teams and defense attorneys who deal with Las Vegas casino arrests.
Since casino operators are well aware of the practice of card counting, they take measures to keep you from doing so. You will find surveillance cameras whenever you look up. Dealers are often switched when a table is considered 'hot' by a pit boss. Sometimes, the pit boss will get the dealer to force a shuffle once the hand being dealt is over. Online blackjack does not have the same problem, but some software forces random shuffles to counteract this practice.
It is important to be responsible and to respect the rules of the house if you decide to walk into a casino.
The 5 Greatest Card Counters in History
The MIT Blackjack Team
- Team members: Starting in 1979, the MIT card counting team existed for nearly two decades. Its original members and successors ranged from college students to alumni.
- Biggest win: Unspecified, but the cumulative total won amounted to millions.
- Interesting fact: Several members of the MIT card counting team, including Bill Kaplan (photo) all make cameo appearances in the 2008 film 21, which is loosely based on the team's story.
- Born: 1972
- Biggest win: As part of the MIT team, Jeff helped to cheat casinos out of millions.
- Interesting fact: Jeff was one of the most notorious members of the MIT Blackjack team. After his card counting success, he went on to develop a tech start-up, which he later sold to Twitter for a reported $50 million.
- Born: 1937
- Biggest win: Unknown
- Interesting fact: Peter was a mathematician and one of the original seven members inducted into the blackjack hall of fame. He authored the book The Theory of Blackjack: The Complete Card Counters Guide to the Casino Game of 21. He was one of the first people to calculate the percentage disadvantage of a blackjack player.
- Born: 1935
- Biggest win: Millions of dollars. He was known to bet as much as $12,000 in a single hand.
- Interesting fact: Ken became famous for being banned from multiple casinos around the world. This didn't deter him, and he frequently adopted disguises in order to gain entry.
- Born: 1978
- Biggest win: Turning $25 into $2000.
- Interesting fact: Erica earned the nickname 'Blackjack Babe'. This was due to her bucking the typical stereotype of a blackjack player because of her career as a model. She was taught to count cards by a member of the MIT team.
Blackjack Card Counting FAQ
How does blackjack card counting work?
Card counting is a system for tracking the probability of receiving cards that are favorable to you, during the course of a game.
With card counting, the idea is not to count the numbers of each individual card in order to know when you have an advantage over the house. The idea is to know when the remaining deck is poor or rich in high cards.
Is it illegal to count cards?
It is not illegal to count cards unless you are using a mechanical or electronic device at a land-based casino. When you play online, a pit boss cannot monitor you anyway. Card counting is a skill and is a playing strategy above all else.
Is it difficult to count cards?
The technique itself is not difficult. It does however take practice. There is a learning curve when it comes to card counting. While it’s manageable it isn’t always straightforward. You just need to get a grasp of blackjack as a game and understand the required counting system each time you play.
How do you get good at counting cards?
Our dedicated card counting simulator is a great way to practice the basic Hi-Lo strategy. It won't take you all the way to becoming a pro, but is a great way to start practicing. Practice online or with friends rather than in a real casino, you don't want to be caught out while you're still learning!
How long does it take to learn how to count cards?
The amount of time it takes to learn how to count cards is completely subjective. As a rule of thumb, it’s fair to say that you won’t go from zero to pro overnight. The way to determine how long it might take, is to first consider how fast and efficient you are at arithmetic.
Can you count cards in other games?
You can. Baccarat is a game that can be controlled via card counting, although it requires an impressive level of skill to implement the strategy. The seldom mentioned 3-card brag can also be played by card counting, as the deck is only shuffled during specific game scenarios.
Sources and Further Reading
- Blackjack's Rise And Fall Shows What Drives Customers Away, Forbes, 2018
- Las Vegas Card Counting Legality, De Castroverde Law Group, 2016
- Card Counting: Cheating or civil right?, The Washington Post, 2014
- How a team of students beat the casinos, BBC News, 2014
- Bryce Carson, Blackjack for Blood: The Card-Counters' Bible, and Complete Winning Guide, 1992 (revised edition 2018)
- 21 (film), Colombia Pictures, 2008