It’s never easy to gain an advantage on the casino. After all, gambling establishments rely on their house edges to make profits.
But if you’re looking for the path of least resistance, then card counting is the easiest advantage play (AP) technique available.
I use the word easiest here lightly. While you can learn card counting rather quickly, you must hone your craft before pulling off this AP method with any degree of consistency.
Your plan should be to practice frequently until you feel 100% comfortable in your counting abilities. Only then can you handle the dealer’s speed, annoying casino patrons, and cocktail waitresses shoving drinks at you.
The good news is that you have several available routes for training to be a card counter. You can read about the merits of each practice method below.
1 – Use a Training Program
If you’ve seen the movie 21, you may recall a scene where the student-players show each other flash cards. The point of this exercise is to quickly and properly assign a point value to each card.
Here are the point values that are added to each group of cards with the High-Low system:
- 10 through A (high cards) = -1
- 7 through 9 (neutral) = 0
- 2 through 6 (low cards) = +1
The whole concept of counting is to determine when the deck has more high than low cards. At this point, you gain an edge over the casino due to two main reasons:
- You have a better chance of getting a natural blackjack.
- The dealer, who must hit to 17, has a higher chance of busting out (due to fewer low cards).
If you can consistently identify the point when a deck is rich in aces and tens, then you can increase your bets and capitalize.
Of course, accomplishing this feat is easier said than done in the casino. You must be automatic with your counting skills to keep up with the dealer and block out distractions.
Luckily, you don’t need anybody to show you flash cards to practice. You can simply use an online blackjack trainer for this purpose.
These programs show you card values in fairly quick secession. Your goal is to maintain the count as best as possible throughout the shoe.
You might expect to pay money for a program like this. However, you can find many free blackjack trainers online.
2 – Deal Cards to Yourself
Aside from flashcards and trainers, you can also work on keeping the count by dealing to yourself. All you need is a deck of cards and a table to lay them on.
Dealing to yourself may seem redundant when you can simply hop online and use a trainer. However, this better simulates the real-life process of seeing cards and attaching point values to them.
Being your own dealer is an easy and stress-free way to practice. You can go as slow as you’d like in the beginning.
Once you build up your confidence, you can increase your dealing speed. Upping your speed is a good idea because you want to get used to counting at the same pace as a dealer moves.
3 – Take Turns Dealing with a Friend
The downside to dealing cards to yourself is that you can’t be your own dealer in the casino. That said, you may seek help from a friend in your card counting adventure.
If you have a buddy who’s competent with a deck, you can have them dole out cards while counting them. Your friend can even deal to different spots on the table to replicate multiple players being seated.
Assuming your friend is also interested in counting, you can take turns dealing. You may even create a fun competition to see who can best maintain the count.
Just like dealing to yourself, you and your friend should gradually increase the dealing speed. Your goals should be to eventually deal at the same pace as a professional croupier.
4 – Count Off to the Side of a Real Game
The three practice methods covered up to this point will prepare you for the basics of card counting. However, you’ll ramp up your efforts even further by practicing at a real table.
You should note that casinos don’t take lightly to gamblers staring at tables for hours without betting.
Staff members may get annoyed or, worse, suspect that you’re plotting future AP moves or even cheating a game.
Regardless, you can still pull of the ruse that you’re just an interested spectator. Casinos don’t technically have any rules against you briefly watching tables.
Aside from not risking anything, you benefit from this technique by counting along with a real deal. In this way, you can really put your skills to the test.
5 – Count While Playing Low Stakes Blackjack
Yet one more way to turn up your counting practice to actually play the game and bet money. This method accomplishes two goals:
- You’ll be counting for real.
- You risk less money in case you mess up.
All of the techniques covered before this point fail to truly simulate counting cards while actually sitting at a blackjack table. Playing for low-stakes gives you a real experience that’ll pay off when you up the ante.
Of course, you’re unlikely to be perfect when you first begin counting. If you do lose track of the count and start dropping money, then at least you’ll only be losing small amounts.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that you can still get thrown out for counting at low stakes. Assuming the pit boss sees you raise your bet from $5 to $25 later in the shoe, they may begin scrutinizing your play.
After all, a key component of card counting involves increasing your bet size when the count is positive. These increased wagers are what allow you to beat the house in the long run.
You can usually get away with a small bet spread, such as $5 to $25. The pit boss may simply think that you’re feeling lucky in this instance.
However, you can never be certain on how you’ll be treated. The pit boss might still assume that you’re an AP even with a smaller spread.
You can make card counting work for you and provide profits. You just need to be willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen
Earning real money profits playing blackjack requires time and patience. You must practice so much that counting becomes second nature.
Training programs, dealing to yourself, and having a friend deal to you are good starting points. Each of these options let you practice in low-pressure environments without betting money.
When you’re more confident, you can visit a casino and count off to the side of blackjack tables. This method may leave you feeling strange. However, it’s still a valid technique that beginning counters often employ.
If you’re comfortable putting money on the line, you can even sit down to low-stakes tables. This option allows you to experience everything that a pro counter does — just without the really big bets during positive counts.
There’s no perfect training routine that will help you make X amount of money after practicing X number of hours. Instead, you just need to feel everything out and blaze your own path.
I highly recommend that you start by dealing to yourself and/or using a free trainer to nail down the basics. From here, you can graduate to the more-advanced practice techniques.