You’ve likely seen movies where card counters make big profits. Although such film scenes are unrealistic, they at least show that skilled counters do win money.
But one thing you never see in these movies is somebody sitting at home and making thousands of dollars through online blackjack. In fact, it’s widely assumed that card counting doesn’t work at online casinos.
You may be surprised to find out, though, that card counting actually is possible at gaming sites. However, the real question is if it’s profitable.
I’m going to cover the stigma against online card counting and why it’s feasible in certain cases. I’ll finish by discussing if the profits make it worth your time to be an internet card counter.
What Are the Basics of Card Counting?
The very essence of card counting is to determine when you have a stronger chance of getting a natural blackjack. Assuming you’re playing at a table with favorite rules, then you’ll receive a 3:2 payout on your original bet (some tables only offer 6:5).
Your chances of getting a natural blackjack increase greatly when the shoe has a larger percentage of aces and 10s compared to other card values. You’ll theoretically gain more value by increasing your bet size at this point.
Of course, you won’t naturally know when these situations are present. But card counting gives you a tool for figuring out when the shoe is rich in aces and 10s.
The Hi-Lo offers a happy medium between accuracy and ease of use. But the jest of the Hi-Lo is that you assign values to each card that comes out. Here are the point values for each type of card:
- Aces, face cards, and 10s (high cards) = -1
- 7, 8, and 9 = 0 (neutral)
- 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 (low cards) = +1
You want fewer low cards in the shoe, which is why your positive count increases when they come out.
The Hi-Lo also calls on you to account for how many decks are left in a shoe with a “true count.” You do this by dividing your “running count” by the estimated amount of remaining decks.
Here’s an example:
- Your running count is +6.
- You estimate that two decks are left.
- 6 / 2 = +3 true count
You can increase your bet size as the positive true count grows. A simple way to do this is by:
- Flat betting with a count of 0 or +1.
- Increasing your minimum bet 5x with a count of +2.
- Increasing your minimum bet 10x with a count of +3 or higher.
Why Online Card Counting Usually Doesn’t Work
One more aspect to card counting in blackjack that I haven’t discussed is deck penetration. This term refers to how many decks a casino deals before reshuffling the shoe.
Here’s an example:
- You’re playing at a table with an eight-deck shoe.
- Five of the eight decks have been dealt.
- 5 / 8 = 62.5% deck penetration
You want higher deck penetration, because this allows you to place bigger bets with more confidence. A +2 or +3 true count is much more accurate when only one deck remains, versus five or six.
Of course, many casinos reshuffle before this point in order to thwart card counters.
Other casinos allow more deck penetration, because they don’t want to slow down games by constantly reshuffling. They figure that lost hands are most costly than simply giving a few counters a bigger advantage.
Online casinos don’t have to worry about lost hands when reshuffling decks. Their software-based (a.k.a. virtual) tables can automatically reshuffle a shoe with no time wasted.
Online gaming providers program their blackjack games to reshuffle with very little deck penetration. You have absolutely no chance to gain an advantage in these cases.
Of course, you could slightly improve your odds if a casino allowed, say, 25% penetration. But this amount isn’t enough to count with any confidence and swing the odds in your favor.
The low deck penetration in online blackjack games is why card counting doesn’t work at virtual tables.
Some Live Dealer Casinos Allow More Deck Penetration
Many online casinos offer live dealer blackjack, which features a human dealer and real cards. These tables operate just like a normal land-based casino would, with the exception that the action is being streamed through your internet device.
Assuming the conditions were perfect, live blackjack would be the best way to count cards. After all, you could sit at home and count without drawing as much suspicion from pit bosses and floor supervisors.
Of course, online casinos aren’t dumb. They know their live tables are susceptible to being beaten through card counting.
Dealers are instructed to shuffle shoes before too much deck penetration is allowed. They’re not going to deal through 75% of the shoe and give you an easy chance to count.
Some live dealer casino games allow up to 50% deck penetration before reshuffling. You can theoretically gain a tiny advantage in these situations.
I mentioned earlier that at least 75% penetration is ideal. But 50% is just enough to where you can earn a little money over time.
You can visit different live dealer casinos and watch their games to figure out the deck penetration. Take notes on the different percentages in order to find sites that are more susceptible to counting.
What Is the Profitability of Live Dealer Card Counting?
The problem with counting in the aforementioned live blackjack games is that it’s just not very profitable. At best, you’re looking at earning a small amount of profits over time.
You also need to be able to use a large “spread,” which is the distance from the minimum bet to your highest wager.
Here’s an example:
- You’re playing at a table with $5 minimum bets.
- You increase your wager to $75 with a true count of +3.
- 75 / 5 = 15
- Your bet spread is 1-15.
Pro counters generally use between a 1-10 and 1-15 bet spread. But they must be careful, because such large spreads are a telltale sign of a counter.
You need to thoroughly research which land-based casinos allow this type of action without immediately tossing you. Some Las Vegas casinos are more lenient than others.
Gaming sites with live blackjack are generally very lenient with bet spreads. After all, they’re not allowing enough penetration to where you’ll gain a big advantage.
But you need around a 1-30 spread to get an edge with just 50% penetration. If the table minimum bet were $5, for example, you’d be betting $150 with a +3 true count.
Some online casinos might allow this. Others may eventually ban you if they monitor your play and deem you to be a bad customer.
You can of course “wong in,” which involves counting while sitting out and entering games at favorable points. “Wonging” prevents you from having to play unprofitable hands until detecting a positive count.
Another problem is that you’ll have to dedicate a lot of time for such little payoff. Online card counting is nothing more than a low-paying hobby in the long run.
Counting cards at live dealer casinos can result in minimum profits with 50% deck penetration. But you’ll never make any serious money with this practice.
You might be lucky to earn a few dollars an hour, even with a 1-30 bet spread and wonging. These tiny profits hardly seem worth the effort.
Live dealer counting can be a fun hobby. It’s also a nice way to prepare for counting cards at a brick and mortar venue.
Just be aware that you won’t be able to use such large spreads at a land-based casino. You might even attract suspicion at some live dealer tables for doing so.
Also, wonging isn’t permitted at most brick and mortar establishments. Casinos have a “no mid-shoe entry” rule to prevent this from happening.
Nevertheless, land-based casinos are better for profitable card counting. Live dealer sites, meanwhile, are just fun places to hone your counting skills while potentially earning a little money.