Blackjack Card Counting – 3 Reasons Why You Should and Shouldn’t Do It

Blackjack Card Counting

Card counting has long fascinated gamblers and the general population alike. Many see it as a path towards quick riches.

Some even attempt to embark on this path in hopes of winning big. They dream of being like the MIT Blackjack Team and many other successful card counters.

However, there’s another side to counting beyond the money and Hollywood glamour. This advantage gambling technique isn’t always as great as it seems.

Therefore, you need to look at the pros and cons before jumping into the matter. Here are three reasons both for and against counting cards.

The Case for Card Counting

The obvious benefit to card counting is that you can make money with it. But as you’ll see below, the advantages of counting go deeper than just financial gain.

1 – Counting Cards Isn’t as Tough as It Seems

Blackjack card counting is sometimes presented as a technique that only mathematical geniuses can pull off. However, this thought is far from the case.

You can actually learn card counting in as little as a few minutes. You just need to study a simple system.

The Hi-Lo is a favorite among both beginners and experienced counters. It’s easy to get started with and offers you a big enough edge to win consistently.

Everything starts with the values you assign to each card as it comes out of the deck:

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

The goal is to count until you get a positive count worth +2 or higher. At this point, enough low cards have come out of the deck to where you have a stronger chance of getting a natural blackjack.

The catch, though, is that most blackjack games feature six to eight decks. Therefore, you need to convert your running count into a true count.

You must divide the running count by the number of remaining decks to do so. Here’s an example:

  • Your running count is +12.
  • Four decks remain in the shoe.
  • 12 / 4 = +3

The last matter is deciding how much to bet when the count is positive. You want to start raising your wager when the true count is at least +2.

However, you need to avoid wagering too much out of the blue and drawing suspicion from the casino. The easiest way to accomplish this is by raising your wager by predetermined betting units.

Here’s an example:

  1. Choose a unit size (e.g. $25).
  2. Determine your true count (e.g. +3).
  3. Subtract 1 from the true count (3 – 1 = 2).
  4. Multiply this number by your unit size (25 x 2 = 50).
  5. You should bet $50 per hand while the true count is at +2.

Counting cards definitely isn’t as simple as basic blackjack strategy. However, you can see that it’s not brain surgery either.

2 – Card Counting Is One of the Few Ways to Make Gambling Profits

Believe it or not, the casino doesn’t want you to make money, at least when they’re facing you. They don’t mind if you win profits in poker against other players. However, they don’t want to provide you with a living.

That said, casinos have stamped out most of the ways you can beat them. Card counting is one of the few remaining routes towards guaranteed winnings.

Slot Machines

As covered later, these guaranteed winnings aren’t so easy to make. But they’re possible, nonetheless.

Card counting isn’t the only advantage gambling technique in the world. Hole carding and shuffle tracking can also bring you profits when done right.

The key difference, though, is that these methods are also infinitely harder and more time-consuming. You need to find one of the rare dealers who consistently flashes their hole cards for this technique to work.

Shuffle tracking works similar to card counting. However, it involves a more complex process of tracking certain cards throughout the deck. Unless you want to become a hardcore gambling expert, then card counting is the path of least resistance.

Of course, you can also win in poker by beating other players and the rake. The problem, though, is that poker has gotten much tougher in recent years.

When compared to card counting, you need to study poker a lot more to beat stakes that can bring in reasonable profits.

3 – You Can Make Your Own Hours

Most people clock in and out at set work times. They never get the joy of being their own boss and making their own hours.

Card counting offers you this rare ability. You choose when to visit the casino and how long your sessions will last.

Working Around the Clock

Of course, some of your hours will depend upon the situation. For example, you may know that the second-shift crew at a certain casino is more lenient towards counters.

In these cases, you need to follow the money and play during the most profitable scenarios. Nevertheless, you still have a choice on when you play and leave for the night.

Chances are that you won’t have to play for many hours each week to make a solid living. If you and your team (if applicable) are good enough, you may earn plenty of money in 20 hours’ worth of work.

You don’t even have to make a full-time living through card counting. Instead, you could merely supplement your income with up to 15 hours of play each week.

The Case Against Blackjack Card Counting

The points covered above definitely make card counting seem like a worthy pursuit. However, you should also consider the drawbacks to trying to make it as a counter.

1 – You Don’t Have a Very Big Advantage

One of the biggest card counting myths is that pros make a fortune every night. This falsehood is perpetuated by Hollywood movies that show counters earning tens of thousands of dollars in a single scene.

Such profits are possible every now and then, especially if the stakes are high. But you shouldn’t expect to win every time out.

Assuming you’re like most counters, then you’re only going to have between a 0.5% and 1.5% edge over the casino. Taking the average of these figures, you’ll earn $1 for every $100 wagered.

Of course, you’re not guaranteed winnings with such thin margins. You’ll only win in just over half of your sessions at this rate. Dealing with losing streaks is an unfortunate part of card counting. You need to have a large bankroll to cover any potential downswings.

As a team, you’re advised to have between $20,000 and $25,000 to comfortably play without risk of busting. You’ll want around $10,000 as a solo counter to survive the volatility.

2 – Card Counting Takes Practice and Dedication

Earlier, I explained how you don’t need a PhD to count cards. But you do need a strong work ethic to become successful.

Learning how to count is only a small part of the matter. You should also practice counting a lot in the beginning.

The goal is to condition yourself to count in the distracting casino environment. After all, you need to keep up with the dealer’s speed while also putting up with players’ chatter. One good way to practice is with free online blackjack trainers. However, these trainers don’t simulate the exact casino environment.

Therefore, you’ll also want to visit a real casino and either count off to the side or play for low stakes while practicing. This method is the only true way to properly condition yourself for what’s to come.

As you can see, card counting isn’t just about learning a simple system and making big profits right away. It instead requires a lot of work and planning beforehand.

3 – You Have to Avoid Getting Caught

The biggest deterrent to counting cards is the fact that casinos will throw you out, at least if you’re caught anyway. You can avoid being detected, although you’ll find this difficult on a regular basis.

Blackjack Players Behind Bars

Staff members are trained to spot counters. They’ll especially be tipped off if you spread your bets too widely.

Bet spreading isn’t the only concern. You also have to fit in with the other players so that you don’t come off as a cyborg-like counter.

These skills take time to master. Unfortunately, you don’t have much chance to develop them before running out of places to count.

If you’re caught counting at an MGM Grand property, for example, then you’ll be blacklisted from all of their properties. That said, you need to work hard to avoid getting caught from the beginning.


Does the good outweigh the bad with card counting? For most people, card counting isn’t worth the effort. They don’t have the patience or bankroll to count with any hope of long-term success.

But this doesn’t mean that you have to be turned off from the matter. You may especially be drawn to counting if you’re really serious about earning gambling profits.

Again, card counting is one of the few legitimate advantage play methods. It’s actually easier to learn and use than other techniques, like hole carding and shuffle tracking.

It also doesn’t require you to pour hours into gaining an advantage like poker does. Instead, you can quickly learn how to count in a matter of minutes.

The key, though, is that you’re able to maintain a proper count in the face of casino distractions. You’ll find this task much harder when you’re at a real table with real chips on the line.

You really have to know yourself before jumping into card counting. Furthermore, you also need the desire to want to be a successful gambler.

Assuming you’ve always been fascinated with people who make a living with gambling, then you may have what it takes to count cards. If this process sounds like too much work, then you might just want to count for fun at low stakes.