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How to Count Cards

how to count cardsOver the years, card counting has gained a reputation for being a strategy that practically ensures success at blackjack. With Hollywood films like 21 and Rain Man displaying the strategy as an easy path to big wins, it is not surprising.

Unfortunately, card counting isn’t quite as rewarding as popular media makes it out to be. Most people who have tried the strategy will tell you that it didn’t work for them. A big reason for this is that card counting is tough, especially when you’re playing at casinos in Las Vegas or the like that use at least a six-deck shoe.

We’re not trying to dissuade you from learning the strategy. However, we would like to help you keep your expectations in check. If you would like to learn how to count cards, stick around because we have created an easy-to-use guide down below.

But before we begin, we recommend that you get yourself well-acquainted with basic strategy because it is part of the reason card counting can be effective. We have also listed some casinos below with good blackjack games if you would like to practice either strategy.

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Step-By-Step Card Counting Walkthrough

Multiple card counting techniques exist. Arguably, the most popular is the Hi-Lo system, which we will stick to explaining here. The overall system can be broken up into just five steps:

  1. Assign the following values to the respective cards:
    1. Cards between 2-6 get a value of +1.
    2. Cards between 7-9 get a value of 0.
    3. Finally, cards between 10-A get a value of -1.
  2. Start counting cards after the deck has been shuffled, and you are starting your first round.
  3. Keep a running count as cards are dealt. Make sure to count for the dealer, yourself, and any other player in the game.
  4. When your running count is positive at the end of a round, you should increase your bet. The reason for this is that the deck is more likely to give you a good hand.
  5. When your running count is negative, decrease your bet. The reason is that you are more likely to get a bad hand with smaller numbers.
  6. Usually, the best time to increase your bet is when you have a positive count of 2 or above. This gives you an advantage of at least 1% or more.

As mentioned above, casinos tried in the past to beat card counters by using more decks in the shoe, such as six or eight. As such, you need to adapt your card counting strategy to fit this model.

So, you need to divide the running count by the number of decks being used in the game. This will give you the true count and a better idea of when to increase or decrease your bet.

card counting explained

Does Card Counting Work?

The simple answer is that card counting does work but only to an extent. When you watch films and television shows with players counting cards, they only display the successes because they only have a finite amount of time to tell the story.

However, this isn’t a strategy where you will win every hand. In fact, it is part of the strategy to lower your bet in unfavorable situations. You make money by increasing your bet when the odds are in your favor.

Even then, if your arithmetic is wrong, you could land up making a bad bet.

Overall, card counting can be a useful strategy. It is also easy to understand. However, it is challenging to practice successfully. You need to be like a human calculator, tallying up player and dealer counts quickly. If a large number of decks is being used, you will need to factor that in too.

Most people aren’t capable of doing this and keeping track of basic strategy at the same time, which is why you need to practice a lot to perfect the process. So, if you have the patience, you may get some use from card counting, but it is not guaranteed.

Unfortunately, nowadays, it’s also harder to count cards because many casinos shuffle cards after each game. But you can still try it if you like.

Is Card Counting Illegal?

Card counting isn’t illegal. It’s just a strategy that most pit bosses frown upon. The worst that will happen to you if you cannot avoid detection while counting is that you will get banned from the casino you played at. As most casinos have a shared blacklist, you’ll probably be banned from a few others too, unfortunately.

Card counting only becomes illegal if you use a card counting app or device to help you. In states like Nevada, it is unlawful to use computers to help you beat casino games. So, you will face criminal charges if you get caught. If you’re caught, you will lose all the money you won too, so it isn’t worth it.

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