Card counting in blackjack is a contentious issue that is the subject of much discussion and controversy. In this article, we’ll shed light on all aspects of this fascinating strategy. We’ll begin with its origins and progress to the methods of card counting. Then, we’ll chat about how casinos attempt to discourage players from using card counting strategies.
But first, let’s look at blackjack basics:
Blackjack, also known as twenty-one, is based on the probabilities of acquiring particular combinations of cards. Let’s explore some basic strategies for playing blackjack. Then, we’ll discuss the blackjack card counting methods used today.
What is Blackjack?
Blackjack, also called 21, is a draw card casino game played with a deck of cards.
Many variants are played worldwide, but the most common is American Blackjack.
Settle in at a Blackjack Table
You sit down at the blackjack table (real or virtual). The dealer gives each player two cards with the fronts facing up. Then, the dealer also gets two cards, one face-up and one face-down.
Determine whether you will be hitting or standing
Determine the worth of your hand and estimate the value of the dealer’s hand. The aim is to reach 21 or as near as possible without going bust – i.e. exceeding that. You can choose to go with your gut feeling or consult a blackjack strategy cheat sheets.
Make a request for another card from the dealer. You should only do this if, based on the worth of the cards you currently have in your hand. Hit if you are either confident that the following card won’t cause you to go broke or you feel the dealer will obtain a stronger hand.
Request that the dealer goes on to the next player and stops dealing you any more cards. This is best when the value of your cards is already high (e.g. above 17) and you think the dealers is lower.
- Determine the value of your hand
Because of the play you just made, there is a good chance that the value of your hand will now be different. However, if the value of the cards in your hand is 21 or below, you will not be eliminated from the game.
- The Dealer Shows Their Cards
After all of the participants at the table have made their choices, the dealer will disclose the card they have been hiding under their hand.
- Examine Who Is Nearer to Turning 21
You “bust” the dealer and win the game if your hand has a value closer to 21 than the dealers. Likewise, the dealer wins the game if they have a score equal to or closer to 21.
If you’ve been fortunate, the dealer will hand over your winnings to you. The type of wager you put will determine the maximum amount you may win from that wager.
Essential Blackjack Points to Keep in Mind
We’ve gone through the fundamental actions that are required to play a typical game. But, there are a few more essential guidelines that you’ll need to keep in mind. It’s always to your advantage to have a working knowledge of the different rewards you can expect to earn in blackjack. These determine the actions may make according to the hand you are dealt. Have a look at the following supplementary guidelines:
- Regular victories pay Regular victories pay 1:1
When the total value of your cards is closer to 21 than that of the dealer’s cards, you have a better hand.
- Blackjack wins payout at a 3:2 ratio
This occurs when the total of your cards is equal to 21.
- Below 16
Any 16 or lower hand requires the dealer to hit.
- To Fight or to Stand?
Players have the option of either adding a card to their hand (hit) or not doing so (stick) to get their final hand value as near to 21 as possible. They’ve also got the option of doubling down or splitting.
Converting a pair of alike cards into two independent hands. This provides you with an additional opportunity to win against the dealer. When you have two cards with the same value, you have the choice to do this.
- Increase your bets
You have the chance to double your bet in the middle of the hand. But if you do so, you will only be dealt one card and will not have the choice to obtain another. Some casinos allow players to double down regardless of the value of the hand you are holding> But remember – doing so on anything other than a 10 or 11 is unlikely to be the smartest play for you to make. On the other hand, several online casinos restrict the option.
Options for More Advanced Wagering
To elevate their blackjack game, more experienced players should also take note of the following advanced rules:
If a dealer reveals an Ace as their face-up card, they will ask players whether they want to purchase insurance. This safeguards your position if the dealer possesses a card with a value of 10.
If you don’t like the hand you’ve been dealt, you can renounce half of your wager at certain online casinos. The choice is different from one casino to the next.
- Soft 17
A hand that contains an Ace is referred to as a soft hand. The term “soft” means a hand with containing a card with either a value of 1 or 11. When playing blackjack in certain casinos, the dealer must hit on a soft 17. However, in others, they are required to stand. Before you start playing, you need to double verify the rules.
- Taking even money
If you hold a blackjack, but the dealer is showing an ace, you will push (tie) if the dealer also has a blackjack. This means that neither of you will win the hand. You can take even money if you think you might not win. You will then receive payment in the ratio of 1:1 rather than 3:2.
Increase your winning in blackjack
Our comprehensive guide to blackjack strategy will provide you with several hints and tips. this will assist you to know when to strike, stand, and double down. To get you started, here are a few key pointers:
Never Separate Any Two Face Cards
Rookie players frequently make this error. They believe that dividing face cards and tens will allow them to increase their winnings by a factor of two. But, unfortunately, when you split face cards, you are trading a hand with a high probability of winning into two doubtful hands. This means that it is never a good idea to split face cards from a statistical point of view.
Tip number two for blackjack: always split aces and eights
This is an obvious choice, or at the very least, it ought to be! When you have a pair of eights, you have the dreaded total of 16. But, if you divide these cards, you are hoping that at least one face card will appear to give you a decent hand. Even a one, two, or three is an excellent card to draw to an eight. This would provide many opportunities for you to construct a winning hand.
Another example: a pair of aces will give you an unfavourable hand value of 2 or 12. Therefore it is a far better idea to split them and hope that some 7s, 8s, 9s, or 10s would appear.
What is Counting Cards?
Card counting is a method that is employed in blackjack and is based on mathematical calculations. Its purpose is to determine whether the following hand will likely favour the player or the dealer. Card counters’ objective is to maintain a running tally of the high-value and low-value playing cards throughout a game. They then use this to determine how best to reduce the casino’s advantage in the game (the “house edge”). In addition, card counting helps players understand the composition of the remaining cards yet to be dealt. This lets them improve their decision-making and reduce the amount of money they lose.
When utilised in games like spades and contract bridge, the strategy of card counting is referred to as card reading. However, card counting is another strategy that could come in handy while playing specific types of poker.
How Card Counting Works
Card counting in blackjack is a systematic method that involves keeping a running track of the cards played. In the most fundamental form of card counting, each card is given a value that can be either positive, negative, or zero. In addition, there should be a direct relationship between the point values given to the cards and each card’s effects of removal (EOR). The expected outcome ratio, or EOR, is essentially an estimate of the influence that it would have on the house advantage % if a specific card were removed from the game.
When a card of a particular value is dealt with, the count is changed using the counting value of the card in question. As a consequence, low cards raise the percentage of high cards in the remaining set of cards. This in turn raises the count as well. On the other hand, the count goes down when high cards are played since high cards have the reverse effect of low cards.
As an illustration, the Hi-Lo card counting system deducts one point for every ten dealt. Therefore, King, Queen, Jack, and Ace add one to any value between 2 and 6 that is not already a multiple of 4. Because each of those variables has been given the value 0, the count is not affected by the numbers 7 to 9.
The Origin and Development of Card Counting in Blackjack
Edward O. Thor
The history of card counting in blackjack is a fascinating topic. Edward O. Thorp, a mathematician from the United States, is commonly referred to as the “Father of Card Counting.” In the book he penned and published in 1962 titled “Beat the Dealer,” he discussed the best ways to play and wager in blackjack to achieve the most success. Unfortunately, the strategies he described can no longer be used in this context. In addition, using the 10-count method was more complex and resulted in lower profits than using the point-count systems that emerged while the 10-count system was in use.
First ever recorded card counters
Even before Edward O. Thorp’s book was released, a select group of experienced card counters was able to win at blackjack at a few Las Vegas casinos. Al Francesco was one of the original card counters, and he was one of the first people to have tremendous success in defeating the casinos by using card counting. Card counting was a skill that Francesco was the one who was responsible for passing on to the legendary Ken Uston. At this time, Ken Uston was a member of the ‘Big Player’ squad that AI Francesco led. In addition, he was the first person to write about the strategy of card counting in the modern sense that it is used.
The card counters, also known as spotters, on the Big Player blackjack crew were referred to as “spotters.” They were dispersed among the tables in the casino and were responsible for keeping track of the count and communicating with the primary player if the count showed that a player had the edge. After that, the primary player entered the game at the table and immediately placed the highest possible wager. Similarly, when the spotter reported that the count had lowered, this would signal the primary player to depart the table. In this fashion, the squad was able to avoid taking disadvantageous moves while at the same time giving the impression of being so random that the casinos were unable to identify them.
The intriguing aspect was that the spotters who conducted the actual counting never altered either the magnitude of their bets or their technique. As a result, they stayed undetected.
How is card counting beneficial?
By counting cards, a player can asses when it is advantageous to place large bets or small bets. For example, a greater number of low-numbered cards in a deck is generally considered to be unfavourable. This is because it increases the likelihood that the player will not obtain a blackjack on the first two cards.
How to improve your Blackjack game by counting cards
Card counting is a blackjack strategy which can be execute it by following these simple steps:
First, decide a value for each card by using the plus-minus count. For example, cards 2 through 6 have a count of +1, whereas cards 7 through 9 have a count of 0 or are considered neutral. And, cards 10 through Ace have a count of -1.
The count begins with zero at this point. As each card is dealt, the card’s value will be added by the players to the count. For instance, if an Ace, King, 2, 7, 6, 4, and 5 are dealt, the count is increased by two since these cards have higher values than the other cards in the hand. Counting the dealer’s face-down card is impossible until it has been turned over.
While new cards are being dealt out of the deck, the counting process will continue. The count serves as the basis for judgments on wagers. In a perfect world, a player would wager bigger when the count is negative and smaller when the count is positive.
Systems for Counting Cards used in Blackjack
Blackjack players subscribe to a few different card counting techniques that are distinct from one another. While some are basic and easy to understand, others are more complex and need more work.
The Hi-Lo method is a fundamentally sound card counting technique based on Edward Thorp’s ten-Count. Beginner blackjack players will find the system relatively easy to understand and helpful. For example, when counting cards using the Hi-Lo method:
Due to the fact that they are low cards, the values of 2 through 6 are increased by one point.
The values of the cards 7, 8, and 9 are each equal to zero, while the King, Queen, Jack, and Ace each have a value of one point less.
The first card dealt from the deck becomes the starting point for the count. According to the numbers on the cards and their values, the greater the positive number in the player’s count, the greater the number of high-value cards that are still present in the deck, and vice versa. When the cards are first given out, players often start a running count at 0 and then proceed by dividing that number by the total number of decks in the shoe.
Card counters should have experience with just one deck before going on to more complicated systems. It is recommended that they start with just one deck. Card counting can be achieved with either one or two decks. Card counters also attempt to maintain an accurate running count despite all distractions.
Bruce Carlson created the Omega II card counting system, which is considered an intermediate-level method. It is a multi-level system in which certain cards are counted as having two points while others are counted as having only one point. As a result, the value of cards 2, 3, and 7 is increased by one point, while the value of low cards like 4, 5, and 6 is increased by two points. The value of the nine is minus one, whereas the value of the ten and each of the face cards, king, queen, and jack, is minus two. The value of an ace and an eight is zero in this game.
This is a balanced card counting system. As such, the player will get to 0 after the dealing of all the cards in the hand – provided they’ve kept track of their totals. This means that the player has a chance of winning.
Hi-Opt I & II Systems
Both the Hi-Opt I and the Hi-Opt II are available as choices with the Hi-Opt system. So let’s have a separate conversation on each of these. In Hi-Opt I:
+1 is added to the values of cards 3, 4, 5, and 6, respectively, the King, Queen, Jack, and Tens are all worth -1, and the Ace is worth 1.
The value of the Ace, 2, 7, 8, or 9 is zero.
Players must keep a running count to make educated betting decisions under this system, which is a balanced version of the Hi-Lo method.
Hi-Opt II gives each card a unique value according to the game’s rules.
The value of +1 is added to the numbers 2, 3, 6, or 7. Then, when they see cards 4 and 5, the players must add 2 to the running total they have been keeping. Finally, players must deduct 2 from the total they are trying to accumulate when they have a 10 and a face card. No value is assigned to an Ace, an 8, or a 9.
Wong Halves Blackjack card counting system
The Wong Halves System is the most complex card counting method ever invented. It consists of three distinct levels. In the same vein as the Omega II, this too is a well-balanced system. After you have used every card from the deck, the sum of the final result of your computations should equal zero. After each player has received their cards from the deck, they should immediately compute their real counts.
The following are the values that are ascribed to the cards in the Wong system:
The value of the 10’s, Jacks, Kings, Queens, and Aces has been reduced to -1;
8’s are worth -1/2,
The value of a 9 is equal to zero, making it neutral.
5’s are 1 ½,
All threes, fours, and sixes are worth one point, and
The value of a 12 is assigned to the numbers 2 and 7.
Players have the option of doubling the values of 12 to avoid having to deal with fractions.
Again, the running count must be turned into a true count to calculate the winning probabilities. It is recommended that the final count be determined after each deck has been dealt with so there is no confusion. This is far simpler than figuring out the last count based on the several decks of cards given out
Red 7 System
Because it just has one level, the Red 7 card counting method is excellent for beginners because it is straightforward to understand. The system’s structure is based on the concept of high cards and low cards. The cards with a lower value have a value of +1, while the ones with a higher value have a value of -1 ascribed to them. The numbers 0 represent the neutrality of the 8s and 9s. When it comes to the 7s in this system, colour is another factor that plays a significant influence. If the 7 happens to be red, it is a card with a low value (+1); if it is black, it is not deemed to have any value and is given the value 0. The players are in a stronger position to win the game when the final count is greater.
The Knock-Out card counting approach in blackjack is often known as the KO system. This card counting method is appropriate for novice and intermediate blackjack players. The technique was presented for the first time in a book titled “Knock Out Blackjack,” written by Fuchs and Vancura.
In a manner analogous to the Hi-Lo technique, the values of the tens, aces, queens, jacks, and kings are assigned the value of -1, while the values of the cards from 2 to 7 are given the value of +1. On the other hand, the digits 8 and 9 are both written as a zero here. The system is not well-balanced since, in the end, after all of the cards have been dealt, the total count will not amount to 0.
A further example of a balanced counting method is the Zen Count system, which sees the count gradually decrease until it reaches zero once all the cards have been dealt. This is also one of the most fundamental and straightforward systems, and the following is the method in which the cards are valued:
2, 3, 7 = +1
4, 5, 6 = +2
8, 9 = 0
10, Jack, Queen, King = -2
Ace = -1
When the player’s real count is at 0 or below, he will be putting the minimum bet, and the goal is to raise your bets by 1 unit, which is the equivalent of the minimum bet, each time the count goes higher. This slow but constant growth avoids drawing the casino’s attention, but players must still be careful of their surroundings.
Card Counting by the Team
The card counting strategy used by the MIT blackjack team was mainly predicated on the Hi-Lo system, and each card was given the same value in this system. Therefore, high cards were worth -1, low cards were worth +1, and the remainder were worth 0. In addition to this method, the team also utilised a plan that consisted of a three-person squad with:
- A significant player;
- A controller;
- A spotter.
It would be up to the spotter to keep track of the count, and once it was confirmed, they would signal for the large player to put on their wager. The group successfully outwitted several casinos and earned millions relatively quickly.
If you Count cards, will you get in trouble for it?
Card counting is not prohibited by law in either the United States or the United Kingdom. However, the casinos banned using external card counting equipment or persons that aid the player in counting cards. This includes the use of a card counter app on a mobile device. Casinos take a dim view of card counting activity and make every effort to stop it. They keep an eye out for anybody who could be counting cards and usually prevent them from entering the casinos altogether.
Although many casinos are not permitted by law to restrict players in general, many have a zero-tolerance policy on card counting. The reason for this is that skilled card counters may reduce the house edge to a large degree, causing the casino to lose money.
Card Counting Countermeasures
Card counting is an activity that is expressly frowned upon by casinos in the United States. Accordingly, the authorities implement a variety of countermeasures, some of which are described in further detail below, to both prevent card counting and identify those who engage in the activity.
Several Stacks of Playing Cards
Card counting is more challenging in a blackjack game with six or eight decks than in a game with only one deck. Maintaining an accurate card count is far more challenging when there are more cards. For this reason, casinos prefer to use many decks of cards in their games to prevent players from counting cards.
Continuous Shuffling Machines
Card counting can be significantly thwarted by employing Continuous Shuffling Machines (CSM), a very effective countermeasure. In this, the dealer places the cards that have previously been dealt back into the machine so they can be reshuffled. This is a continual process, making it pretty impossible to count cards just on the arrangement of the deck.
Casinos frequently employ this evident countermeasure against those who attempt to win money by counting cards. Even though it is against the law to bar any player from playing at a casino unless the player has broken one of the rules, some casinos have a policy that prohibits players who have won significant sums of money playing blackjack from ever revisiting the casino. This is predicated on the notion that the successive wins are consequences of strategies that the specific player utilised using card counting.
In addition to these precautions, the security personnel in many casinos keep a close eye on the players and report any notable conduct they observe, such as a significant shift in the amount of money wagered.
Hopefully, after perusing this article, you’ll better understand how to count cards in blackjack and be able to play confidently. Remember – gambling is all about trying to get the odds as much in your favour as possible. And, it’s also about choosing the right casino to suit your needs.
In San Diego, California’s Barona Casino, visitors can find the Blackjack Hall of Fame. This hall honours the card counters who have made significant contributions to the game of blackjack throughout its history. Who knows – maybe you’ll be added to their ranks!