Blackjack Card Counting Guide

Hands With CardsBlackjack card counting creates opportunities for blackjack players to win more money than they otherwise might. It’s not an easy skill to learn and it might not be for everybody. But it can definitely improve your overall blackjack results if you can pull it off.

In the casino world, there are few games as universally beloved as blackjack, both in casinos and at blackjack online casinos. It’s a relatively easy game to learn.

But learning to play it at a top level where you can actually hope to beat the blackjack odds against is another matter. That’s where card counting comes into play.

In the following article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about blackjack card counting. We’ll explain what it is, how to do it, and why it helps you win more when playing blackjack for real money. But we’ll also talk about whether it’s for everybody and how casinos feel about the practice.

What Is Blackjack Card Counting?

In its simplest terms, blackjack card counting is something that you can do at a casino table or in some cases online, in an effort to give yourself an advantage. As cards are played hand after hand, the blackjack card counter keeps track of them in an effort to know what cards are still out there to be played.

You should only use blackjack card counting in conjunction with blackjack basic strategy. This blackjack strategy strategy is something that tells you how to play each deal that you get in conjunction with what the dealer receives. Putting basic strategy and card counting together gives you your best chance of winning at blackjack online and in the casino.

How to Count Cards in Blackjack

Let’s start by laying out the basic theory of how to count cards.

  • The more aces, face cards (jacks, kings, queens), and tens remaining in the decks being used, the better it is for the player.
  • The more low-value cards (like twos, threes, fours, etc.) remaining in the decks being used, the better it is for the dealer.

This blackjack theory should play into how you bet particular hands. For example, if many face cards have been seen in previous hands compared to low cards, you might choose to lower your bet. And you would raise your standard bet if the reverse is true.

As a result, you have to keep track of which cards have been played by making a mental count. How you choose to do this depends on how involved you want to get.

Basic Method of Blackjack Card Counting

Ace and JackIn most cases, online card counting methods and casino methods involve you assigning a value to certain cards. For example, you might use a method where any two through six counts as +1 (positive one), while tens, face cards, and aces might all be -1 (negative one). All other cards would have a value of zero.

You would then set a threshold of when to start changing your bet. For example, if you get to -4 in your count, you might decide to lower your blackjack bet, since that means a lot of high-value cards have been played. And if you get to +4, you might decide to raise your bet, since the advantage now belongs to you.

Let’s take a look at a sample round of blackjack and see how you might count it all up:

  • Player 1: King, three, ten (bust)
  • Player 2: Eight, queen (loss)
  • Player 3: Three, seven, ace (win)
  • Dealer: Ten, four, six

In this blackjack hand, you have five high cards (ten through ace), which adds up to +5. You also have four low cards (two through six), which totals -4. Putting those together leaves you with a +1 after this hand.

You would then keep track of that heading into the next hand and continue the running total. And you would reset to zero at any point the decks being used are reshuffled.

Advanced Blackjack Card Counting Methods

If you look at blackjack online, you’ll see that there are dozens of different methods of blackjack online card counting and casino card counting that are in existence. Many get much more complex than the basic method above, which is sometimes known as the hi-lo method.

For example, you’ll find other methods that add some division into the act of card counting.

These methods ask you to take your running count and divide it by the number of decks still left in play during the blackjack game. In this way, you can get what’s known as a true count, which provides a more accurate estimate of who has the advantage, the player or the blackjack dealer.

You’ll also find online blackjack card counting methods which will actually affect how you play certain hands instead of worrying about the bets. For example, a certain blackjack card counting system might command you to buy insurance when you reach a certain point level and the dealer has an ace showing. Or you might be required to double down your bets a little bit more if you have the advantage.

The Benefits of Counting Cards in Blackjack

As we said above, blackjack card counting online and in the casino should always be used with some sort of basic blackjack strategy method that you already have in place. Most blackjack basic strategy charts can bring you a payback percentage of over 99%.

What that means is that, on average, you’re winning back over 99% of your blackjack bankroll. It also means that you are losing a tiny percentage of that bankroll for blackjack over time.

But the most effective card counting methods for blackjack can bring your payback percentage up around two full points. Adding that to the previous total puts you at around 101%. In other words, you can expect to win playing blackjack online and in the casino over time.

Eliminating the Casino House Edge

HouseMost casino games have an established house edge. In other words, over a long period of time playing that game, you would be expected to lose money playing blackjack. The house edge is how casinos and blackjack online casinos stay in business.

If you can eliminate that blackjack house edge with consistency, it’s almost like a license to print money. That’s why casinos fear effective blackjack card counters (more on that below).

Blackjack Card Counting and Bankroll Management

The other way that card counting blackjack helps is with bankroll management. Each time you settle in to play blackjack online or in the casino, you establish a bankroll of chips that you will use for that session.

The key to blackjack bankroll management is putting enough money in to withstand a potential slump which might cause you to lose it all. Having a proven blackjack card counting method in your corner should allow you to come to the table with a more relaxed bankroll since those slumps would be less likely.

What Casinos Think of Blackjack Card Counting

First of all, blackjack card counting is not illegal in the sense that you’ll get put in jail if you do it on your own. But casinos will try to protect their investment at any cost and will take measures if they think you’re succeeding at card counting.

The easiest way for a casino to stop your blackjack card counting is to shuffle more frequently. That eliminates any edge you might have.

They can also simply ask you to leave the blackjack table. That’s within their right. You won’t be facing legal consequences, but the casino will be watching you from that point forward, meaning that it would be difficult for you to try blackjack card counting again and pull it off.

How to Avoid Getting Caught Counting Cards in Blackjack

  • Time your bet changes. If you can time your bet change to a winning streak, it will make it look like you’re just trying to ride a hot streak and not necessarily count cards.
  • Don’t make a sudden and drastic change in the size of your bet. If the dealer or pit boss sees the size of your average bet jump in a big way from where it was previously, it will send up huge red flags.
  • Don’t give it away with physical movements. Counting under your breath or stacking chips as cards show up are dead giveaways. Seasoned casino employees can spot these kinds of things from a mile away.

Questions About Blackjack Card Counting

  • Do I Have to Count Cards If I’m Just a Casual Blackjack Player?

    Not at all. If you’re a casual player who only places once in a while, learning to count cards will probably be too big a stretch for you. And it might not be worth that much to you anyway.

  • Which Method of Blackjack Card Counting Is Right for Me?

    The differences between online blackjack card counting methods and casino methods is relatively small in terms of improvement to your payback. But the difference in payback is great between someone card counting blackjack accurately and someone doing it wrong.

  • Is There a Way to Count Cards in Online Blackjack?

    That depends. If you’re playing an online blackjack game with an automatic dealer, there’s no advantage in blackjack card counting online. That’s because the deck reshuffles after every hand.

    If, however, you can find an online blackjack game with a live dealer, card counting online could work. Most of these blackjack games reshuffle much more often than a live game in a casino. But you might be able to provide yourself with a slight edge card counting blackjack online.

Final Words on Blackjack Card Counting

Think of blackjack card counting online and in the casino as just another weapon in your arsenal as you attempt to be a great player. If you do it right and find an effective method, it could make the difference between winning and losing money over the long haul.