Is Card Counting Dead? Or Can You Still Beat Blackjack?

Blackjack Card Counting on Tombstone
Blackjack Card counting has existed since the 1950s. Casinos initially struggled to deal with successful card counters.

However, they’ve spent the past several decades understanding this advantage play (AP) method and how to combat it. Casinos have since added multiple decks, instated unfavorable rules, and learned how to spot APs.

These days, the industry even has technology on their side. They use facial recognition technology and databases to identify APs and keep their info on file, respectively.

That said, casinos seemingly have a big edge in this game of cat and mouse. Many blackjack players feel that card counting is dead as a result.

In reality, though, card counting and table-based advantage gambling is just as alive as ever. I’ll cover why this is the case and what you can do to win a fortune today.

Learning Card Counting Is Easy

You’ve likely seen card counting showcased in movies. This AP method is often portrayed as a complicated process that only geniuses can employ.

But counting cards isn’t really that complex, and you can learn it in minutes. Below, you can see the main components of card counting when using the popular Hi-Lo system.

Assign Values to Cards as They’re Dealt

Your first task as a card counter is to watch cards as they’re dealt and assign the following values to each type:

  • High cards (A through 10) = -1
  • Neutral cards (7 through 9) = 0
  • Low cards (2 through 6) = +1

You need to keep a running tallying and add or subtract 1 as each card comes out of the deck. This count is known as your “running count.”

Convert Your Running Count into a True Count

Understanding the running count is a nice start. However, you need to have a “true count” to account for the multiple decks featured at most real money blackjack games.

You must divide the running count by the estimated remaining decks to make this conversion. You estimate the amount of decks left by visually looking at the shoe.

Here’s an example:

  • +9 running count.
  • You estimate that 3.5 decks remain.
  • 9 / 3.5 = 2.57
  • Your true count is +2.57

You may have trouble determining how many decks are left at first. Furthermore, you might not be so precise on the remaining decks (i.e. 3.5) and true count (i.e. 2.57).

But the more precise you are, the better you’ll be at knowing your exact advantage or disadvantage. You should become more comfortable with these aspects over time.

Determine Your Edge (If Any)

Once you have the true count figured out, you can apply it to see if you have an advantage over the casino. Here’s how the true count correlates to an edge or disadvantage in various scenarios:

  • +3 true count = 1.77% player’s edge
  • +2 true count = 1.17% player’s edge
  • +1 true count = 0.58% player’s edge
  • 0 true count = 0.42% house edge
  • -1 true count = 0.80% house edge
  • -2 true count = 1.53% house edge
  • +3 true count = 2.05% house edge

You gain an advantage when the true count is at or near +1. However, you don’t want to raise your bets until reaching a +1.5 true count or higher. A more-favorable count helps you make higher wagers with more confidence.

Raise Your Bets to Capitalize On Your Edge

You determine your bet size based on your advantage in a given hand. Assuming the casino holds an edge, then you flat bet.

But you want to gradually raise your wagers as the true count becomes more favorable. Here are examples on how you can determine your bet sizes:

  • +4 true count = $300
  • +3 true count = $200
  • +2 true count = $100
  • +1 true count = $25
  • 0 true count = $25
  • -1 true count = $25
  • -2 true count = $25
  • +3 true count = $25

This model represents a 1-12 bet spread. $25 serves as one unit, while $300 represents 12 units (300 / 25).

You need to spread your bets from low to high to make long-term profits. However, you don’t want to get crazy with a 1-25 spread or higher. Pit bosses can easily spot this massive difference.

Consider Strategy Deviations Based on the Count

You can further increase your profits by knowing when to deviate from proper strategy based on the count.

Blackjack

The main idea behind card counting is to wager more when the deck is rich in aces and 10s. Your chances of getting a natural blackjack are higher at this point.

Another perk to counting cards is that you can tell when more high cards (favor you) exist than low cards (favor dealer). Dealers, who draw to a hard or soft 17, benefit from low cards, because they have a smaller chance of busting out.

Assuming you go away from basic strategy at the right times, you can further boost your edge. Here’s an example:

  • You’re dealt an ace and 7 (soft 18).
  • The dealer’s upcard is 2.
  • Basic strategy dictates that you stand in this situation.
  • However, the true count is a very favorable +3.
  • The deck features a large number of high cards that could bust out the dealer.
  • You double down as a result.

You don’t necessarily have to make these strategy deviations to win with counting. But you can increase your advantage even more when doing so.

Why Do People Consider Card Counting Dead?

Back in the 1960s, famed gambling author Edward Thorp refined card counting to the point where he gained a sizable edge over casinos.

However, Thorp’s Ten Count system wouldn’t hold up in today’s blackjack world. Worse rules, enhanced surveillance, savvy pit bosses, and facial recognition make counting tougher than ever.

Skull and Crossbones and Blackjack

You need to put far more effort into winning blackjack profits today. Many players take this as a sign that card counting is dead.

They don’t see a way to get around the databases, facial recognition, and RFID tracking inside chips that are used today.

Of course, card counters are still making money today. Therefore, those who think this AP method is dead are wrong.

You Can Still Win with the Right Approach

You can win through card counting alone if you’re skilled enough. But you should consider adding more layers to your approach in the form of shuffle tracking, different appearances, and more.

Shuffle Tracking on Top of Counting

Shuffle tracking is mixed with card counting to capitalize on weak shuffles. It can also result in less scrutiny from the pit boss and surveillance.

This technique calls on you to look for opportunities where aces and 10s are grouped together. You want to follow these card batches, or “slugs,” as they’re placed into the discard tray.

Cards Shuffling

Once the shoe has been dealt, the dealer pulls cards out of the discard tray and begin shuffling.

You continue visually tracking the slugs as the croupier shuffles. If the dealer uses a “one pass” shuffle (weaker than two pass), you can successfully employ this method and determine where the slug might come out during the next shoe.

Assuming you’ve done a good job at tracking the slug, you can raise your bets once the slug cards begin coming out.

Shuffle tracking accomplishes two main goals:

  1. It gives you a bigger advantage by helping you track aces and 10s.
  2. It masks your counting efforts.

Regarding the latter, increasing your bets towards the end of the shoe is a big sign that you may be counting. You’re more likely to determine that the deck is rich in high cards at this point.

With shuffle tracking, though, you can more accurately locate a slug of good cards. If this slug is earlier in the shoe, then you can also spread your bets earlier too.

Switch up Your Appearance

You can hit the casino multiple times within a year or even month by changing your look. Different appearances make it harder for gambling venues to recognize you after multiple hot nights.

You don’t necessarily have to wear disguises. In fact, flamboyant looks can attract unwanted attention from the pit boss.

A better plan is to slightly alter your appearance. You can go unshaven with glasses one time, for example, then be cleanshaven the next.

Be Careful with Spreading Bets

Again, you want to be mindful of how large you’re spreading bets. The bigger the spread, the more likely the pit boss will take notice.

Blackjack Bets

Of course, you must vary your minimum and maximum wagers by a fair amount. Otherwise, you won’t make any money.

But you also want to avoid being greedy and going from a $10 minimum to $500. A 1-100 spread like this will almost assuredly lead to you being thrown out.

Know Where to Count Cards

Some of the best US casinos are more tolerant than others when monitoring advantage players. Ideally, you’ll play at gambling establishments that gives you the benefit of the doubt.

Every casino has its limits regarding APs. The best plan is to research casinos ahead of time and chose those that have a reputation for being lenient.

Stay on the Move

The worst thing you can do as an advantage gambler is continue hitting the same casino again and again. One huge session can draw attention from the pit boss and surveillance – let alone multiple big wins in a row.

You want to stay on the move and continue traveling from casino to casino. This practice is much easier in major gambling destinations, such as Atlantic City and Las Vegas.

Assuming you’re good enough and have a large bankroll, you might even consider playing in various states. This way, you avoid developing the AP stigma in single gambling destination.

Conclusion

Card counting is much easier to learn than Hollywood makes it seem. You can earn money through counting if you practice enough and develop good skills.

That said, card counting isn’t dead in any capacity. Even with their sophisticated technology and trained employees, casinos are still losing money to APs.

Of course, counting cards is also tougher than at any point. The best APs counter this by improving their skills even more.

Some of the things that you can do to boost your profits include shuffle tracking, changing your appearance, researching casinos, and staying on the move. The more layers you throw on top of your card counting approach, the more money you stand to win.

But first thing’s first: you need to thoroughly learn basic card counting. After you feel comfortable in your counting abilities, you should proceed to the advanced AP techniques.