Interested in Advantage Gambling? Start With Card Counting

Bicycle Playing Card Back Design With a Numbers Background

Card counting may be the most famous advantage play (AP) method, but it also provides a low edge to players. Even as a skilled counter, you’re only looking at between a 1% and 1.5% advantage over the house.

With that said, some prospective APs aren’t satisfied with a 1% edge. Instead, they want to pursue a form of advantage gambling that provides much bigger profits.

The problem for beginning APs, though, is that everything beyond card counting is much tougher. You pay for larger edges by dedicating more hours due to fewer lucrative opportunities.

Even if you have aspirations of gaining the biggest possible advantage over casinos, you should definitely start out by counting cards. This guide explains why by comparing card counting to other AP strategies.

How Does Card Counting Work?

Professional gamblers have devised a number of card counting systems over the years. These systems vary based on their difficulty level and the advantage they provide.

If you’re just starting out, you can’t do any better than the Hi-Lo system. This card-counting system provides a nice mixture of simple strategy and a solid edge.

As with any system, you begin by counting every card that comes out of the shoe. Your goal is to assign each card a point value based on its grouping.

Here are the different groupings and card values with the Hi-Lo system:

  • 10 through ace (high cards) = -1
  • 7 through 9 (neutral) = 0
  • 2 through 6 (low cards) = +1

The Hi-Lo is a balanced counting system, meaning your count will be zero at the end of a shoe. Therefore, you must account for the number of decks to get your “true count.”

To do this, you simply need to divide your running count by the estimated number of decks in the shoe. Assuming you have a count of +4 and two decks are left, for example, your true count is +2.

Finally, you need to raise your bets when the count is positive. You can use the following model for deciding when and how much to raise your wages:

  • Start by developing a unit size.
  • Anywhere from 4x to 6x the minimum bet is a nice unit size (e.g. $25 on $5 table).
  • Raise your bet 1 unit (e.g. $5 to $25) each time the count increases by one past +1.
  • +2 true count = 2 units ($25 bet)
  • +3 true count = 3 units ($50 bet)
  • +4 true count = 4 units ($75 bet)
  • +5 true count = 5 units ($100 bet)

Increasing your wagers is key to capitalizing when you have an advantage. Meanwhile, you should bet the table minimum whenever your true count is +1 or less.

Deck penetration is one more worthwhile card-counting concept. This term refers to how much of the shoe is dealt before the dealer shuffles. Simply put, you want as much deck penetration as possible. The further you go into the shoe, the more accurate your count will be.

Overhead View of Several Blackjack Hands

Many casinos differ on the amount of penetration they allow. You generally want to look for casinos or tables that allow at least 75% deck penetration.

You can see that counting cards isn’t overly difficult. Once you thoroughly master the advice above, which shouldn’t take long, you should practice your counting abilities.

Here are a few good ways to do this:

  • Deal cards to yourself.
  • Use a free online card counting trainer.
  • Count cards for fun while playing at live dealer casinos.
  • Visit a land-based casino and count off to the side.
  • Count while playing low-stakes blackjack without raising your bets.

Other Advantage Play Options

Card counting draws the most publicity among AP methods. But as you’ll see below, there are several other options for making guaranteed money at the casino.

I won’t cover these methods in as much detail as I did with counting. However, I’ll at least give you the basic jest on how these strategies work.

Caribbean Stud Collusion

Caribbean Stud is typically one of the toughest games to beat in the casino. It features a lofty 5.22% house edge even when you use perfect strategy.

But you and a group of players can beat this game by colluding and sharing your hole card information. This strategy will give your team enough information to make better informed bets and gain up to a 2.38% advantage.

The first thing you need when colluding in Caribbean Stud is seven players. You must fill the entire table in order to get an edge. If you only have six or fewer players sitting down, then you’ll be facing a 0.4% house edge or higher.

The next factor you need involves a silent method of sharing how many aces, kings, and matches (cards matching the dealer’s up-card) your team has. These are the most critical cards when deciding if you’ll raise in a hand.

Caribbean Stud collusion is one of the tougher AP strategies to pull off. Plus, it doesn’t result in much more of an advantage than card counting. If you’re still interested, though, you can learn more about it here.

Chasing Bonuses

Most online casinos offer deposit bonuses. Some of these bonuses can provide a long-term advantage when you play things right.

The main aspects that you must look for when seeking profitable bonuses is a combination of the following:

  • A bonus that features low playthrough (a.k.a. rollover)
  • An offer that doesn’t restrict many games from meeting playthrough

Regarding the first point, you must satisfy rollover before cashing out bonus funds. The lower the rollover, the less you need to risk before officially obtaining your bonus money.

Game restrictions either exclude or increase the playthrough for games with high return to player (RTP). For example, an online casino might increase rollover from 20x to 80x for all slots with 98% RTP or higher.

Here’s an example of what combination you need to profit from a bonus deal:

  • A casino offers a 100% match bonus worth up to $200.
  • You deposit $200 and, thus, qualify for a $200 bonus.
  • Rollover is 30x.
  • 200 x 30 = $6,000 must be wagered
  • You play a slot with 98% RTP that’s not restricted in any way.
  • 6,000 x 0.98 = 5,880
  • $5,880 + $200 = $6,080
  • You’ll theoretically earn an $80 profit.

I should stress that these are merely theoretical profits. Even with an advantage, you could still lose money while satisfying rollover.

Another problem with chasing bonuses is that only so many opportunities are available. Therefore, you’re not going to win lots of money with this method.

Hole Carding

Most table games feature hole cards, which are dealt face-down. These cards can come in one of three forms:

  • Player hole cards – Only you can see the face-down cards dealt to you.
  • Dealer hole cards – Nobody except the dealer can see these.
  • Community cards – Although these cards can be used by any player at the table, they remain face-down until a certain round.

You’re only supposed to see face-down cards in one of these scenarios. Therefore, you’re acting on incomplete information in many casino table games.

Closeup of a Casino Dealer Pulling a Card Out of a Dealing Shoe

Hole carding provides a chance to see face-down cards and gain more info. This technique involves trying to see hole cards as a dealer pulls them out of the shoe, or during any other opportunity that arises.

The biggest factor that you need to pull off hole carding involves an inept dealer who keeps flashing their face-down card values. You must spend quite a bit of time looking for such a dealer.

Assuming you do find one, though, you stand to gain a huge edge. Mississippi Stud, for example, offers at least a 50% advantage to expert hole carders.

Shuffle Tracking

Shuffle tracking is an added step to card counting. It begins with counting a shoe and continuing to count until the dealer stops to shuffle.

At this point, you must determine which part of the deck is positive and negative. Here’s an example:

  • The dealer stops to shuffle cards after dealing five out of eight decks.
  • You end the shoe with a -3 count.
  • This means that the three undealt decks feature a +3 count.

Once you know which part of the shoe features a positive count, you visually track the relevant card clumps. Your goal is to figure out where the positive clumps fall into the shoe. With this information, you can raise your bets whenever the positive clumps come out in the next round

Shuffle tracking is definitely tougher than card counting. It not only requires you to keep an accurate count but also have great visual observation skills.

However, you’ll definitely benefit by adding shuffle tracking to the mix when you gain experience as a counter. You could hold nearly a 7% advantage over the house with this technique.

Why Is Card Counting Best for New APs?

Outside of hunting for bonuses, card counting gives you the smallest edge out of any major AP technique. That said, you’ll be grinding out profits while trying to evade casino detection.

You might see the massive advantages offered through hole carding and shuffle tracking and want to immediately pursue them. However, each of these methods also requires more time and in-depth knowledge.

Card counting, on the other hand, is relatively easy to get started with. If you’ve read through this entire post, you already know the basics.

Furthermore, you don’t have to search for a diamond-in-the-rough dealer like with hole carding. Instead, you’ll find plenty of countable games in major casino destinations.

Of course, you may eventually yearn for bigger edges. But I strongly suggest that you stick with card counting until you feel more comfortable with advantage gambling.


Counting cards isn’t as glamorous as it seems when consider its relatively low advantage. Even if you’re a great counter, you can only look forward to around a 1.5% edge.

Nevertheless, card counting is definitely the best point to launch your AP career. It’s relatively easy to learn and doesn’t require any rare conditions to work.

You can use counting as a feeler for whether you truly like advantage gambling. If so, you may branch out into more lucrative gambling pursuits later on.