Counting cards is a legal and effective way to tip the scales in your favour when playing Blackjack. It was popularised in 1962 when the mathematical prodigy Dr. Edward O. Thorpe published his book Beat the Dealer, which outlined the basic tenets of card counting as well as other successful strategies that can be employed while playing Blackjack. While card counting won’t guarantee a win, it can give you the edge over the house and make Blackjack a more profitable game for the player.
Staying Under The Radar
While card counting is neither cheating nor is it illegal, it is – unsurprisingly – frowned upon by casinos. For this reason, it’s crucial that before testing your card counting skills in an actual casino, you practice counting at home until you can do it almost automatically. The more naturally card counting comes to you, the less likely you are to be picked up by a casino’s security. Despite card counting being legal, casinos can and will ask you to leave if they suspect you are counting cards, and most casinos employ a number of methods to keep card counters out.
The Hi-Lo System
There are a number of card counting techniques in existence, some more complicated than others. The simplest card counting method is probably what is known as the high-lo system, wherein every card is assigned a value: low cards of 2-6 are worth +1, neutral cards of 7 – 9 are worth 0, and high cards of 10-A are worth -1. A card counter will keep a running total of the cards which have been dealt using this system and use it to get an idea of whether there are more high or low value cards left in the deck.
After going through a full deck, a count should stand at 0. If the count stands at a negative number, this means that more high cards have been drawn and more low cards remain in the deck; if the count stands at a positive number, this means that more high cards remain in the deck. A deck with more high value cards increases the odds in the favour of the player, who may be more likely to be dealt a Blackjack or 20, while increasing the chance of the dealer’s going bust.
The hi-lo system can be made more accurate by also considering the number of cards remaining in the deck, because the closer to the bottom of the deck you are, the more accurate your card count will be. The simple way to convert your running count into a ‘true count’ is to first learn to estimate visually how many decks are left in the shoe, and then divide your running count by this number. For example, if your running count stands at +2, and you estimate there to be two decks remaining, you divide +2 by 1 to get +1 – which means the cards are still in your favour, though only just.
Keep It Simple
There are much more complex card counting systems in existence, but generally speaking simpler systems like the hi-lo system are the safest and the most profitable. By keeping your card counting system simple, you are far less likely to get caught out by casinos and more likely to be able to play well and count accurately.