You’ve probably seen lots of movies and read books that mention the so-called “ blackjack card counting”. The strategy is legit and can give you an extra edge over the house as it changes the optimal action in certain situations. Still, most of the time you will be playing the basic strategy, so don’t rely too much on blackjack card counting.
What Is Blackjack Card Counting Exactly?
The general concept of blackjack card counting is to follow what cards are already used and thus, get a better idea what’s left in the deck. If it contains more aces and ten-point cards than usually, it’s a good thing for you. If there are more small cards left, it means the dealer has advantage. Either way, knowing the balance between the two in the deck will give you an advantage in certain situations.
How to Count Cards?
In order to keep track of the deck, you need to follow the cards that were already played. There are different ways to count them, but the most basic strategy would be to assign a certain point value to each card. The cards from 2 to 6 are given +1, tens and aces -1 and the rest are considered neutral or 0.
The whole concept of blackjack card counting is to start from 0 at the beginning of a new deck and then just keep adding or subtracting the value of each card played. The running total you have is called the “running count” and is an indicator what’s left in a deck. If the value is positive, it means that more smaller cards have been played and the number of aces and ten-pointers is higher than usual. A negative number would mean the opposite.
If you want to be even more precise, you can divide the running counter by the number of decks remaining. You will then get the so-called “true count”. It shows how skewed the amount of certain cards is, compared to standard decks.
What are the Benefits of Blackjack Card Counting?
There are two main ways you can benefit from blackjack card counting. The first one is related to the size of your wagers. Since decks with aces and tens are better for the player, you can increase your bets when the running or the true count is high.
The other benefit (often considered more important), is that you can change your strategy based on your knowledge about the deck. Counting might affect each and single action might as follows:
- Standing: unlike the dealer, each player can decide to stand on hard totals of 12 to 16. If you know that there are lots of tens left in the deck, more conservative play is better;
- Blackjack: the dealer and the player will both hit blackjack more often in a deck with more tens and aces, but the player gets paid 3:2;
- Doubling: most of the times, you double and want a ten to come. If the count of the deck is high, you have a better chance to see it happen;
- Insurance: insurances are usually in favor of the dealer since he won’t hit his blackjack often enough to cover the price. This is why you should usually skip this option unless you know the deck true count is high;
- Surrender: you should surrender more when the count is high;
- Splits: when you are splitting, you usually want a higher card. When the count is higher, you have a better chance of getting it.
As you can see, the count number gives you an additional edge in certain situations. Depending on the number of the decks and the rules in the casino, you could get between 0.5% and 1.5% better long-term results than usually.
Is Card Counting Illegal?
Technically, card counting is not illegal. However, the casinos have their ways to protect themselves against this strategy. They can ask any customer to leave or change the decks at any given moment. This is why you should always try to look like a casual player. It’s not easy and it takes practice.
One of the most obvious mistakes would be to make too significant changes in your bet sizing. For example, a deck is really hot and there are lots of aces and tens. You decide to take advantage by making a wager that is 3-4 times higher than usually. This would attract the attention of the dealer and the pit boss, so it is not the best idea. Avoid such obvious moves and try to look casual to avoid trouble.