Fundamentals of Card Counting

One of those things that seems simple to do is card counting. Stories of people who were able to count cards and outplay the casino are told in films like 21, Rain Man, Breaking Vegas, and others. One would assume that with some practice it wouldn’t be difficult to do, especially with such a low house advantage. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. Learning to count the high cards and low cards is just the beginning; there is much more to it. Every day, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people attempt card counting but fail. The five steps to becoming a successful card counter are listed below.

Recall the basic blackjack strategy.

The first thing you need to do is learn and memorize the fundamentals of blackjack strategy. The starting hands for players and dealers can be combined in 300 different ways. When a choice is presented to you, you must be able to make it correctly within seconds. Any errors in basic strategy usage decrease your chances of long-term success. Simple errors like standing on a 16 when the dealer has a 7 will set you back hundreds of dollars annually. To be successful at card counting, you must have a perfect memory of basic blackjack strategy. Basic strategy cheat sheets and charts are freely available online.

Fundamentals of Card Counting (1)

Running Count

Now that you’ve mastered the fundamental strategy, you can start learning how to count cards. At your kitchen table with a deck of cards, this is the easiest place to start. As you flip the cards over one at a time, you get some counting practice. You should end up with a final count of 0.

Use a high/low count to begin. When you use a card that helps you, the high low count gives it a +1. When played, cards that reduce your chances in the future are given a -1. Additionally, cards with little to no value in assessing the strength of ensuing cards are given a point value of 0.

The cards 2 through 6 are thus given a +1. When these cards are exposed, it indicates that an Ace or card worth 10 was not played. Early in the game, these are excellent cards to see. Neutral cards have a rank of 7, 8, or 9. They are given a point value of 0, but in practice you don’t even count them; instead, you ignore them. And the Aces and all cards with a 10 value are a one. These cards hurt your chances in the future when they are exhausted.

You must repeatedly practice counting the deck until you can accurately and consistently go through an entire deck in 30 seconds or less. Once you’ve mastered this, you can try out some online counting exercises, have a friend or member of your family deal you a hand of blackjack while you keep score, or play and keep score in an online casino’s free play mode.

True Count

The section above described how to study and practice a fundamental count. The running count is used to describe this. However, you must translate this running count into what is known as the true count in order to count cards accurately. Based on how many cards are still to be dealt, the true count converts the running count into an exact number. It is significantly less profitable to have a +3 count with 4 decks left in the shoe as opposed to a +3 count with 1.

You must be able to guess how many decks are still in the shoe in order to ascertain the true count. The remaining decks are then divided by the running count. A true count of +1 would result from a +3 count with only 3 decks left. A true count of +2 would be a +6 count with 3 decks left. Starting with your base unit and then adding one more unit for each rise in the true count over +1 makes betting these counts simple. Thus, if the true count moves from -2 to +2, you would increase your bet from $5 to two units, or $10. For example, a +3 would be 3 units, or $15. If the true count decreases after increasing, don’t forget to lower your wager.

Knowing the true count is useful for determining when and how much to bet, as well as for predicting when you should stray from basic strategy as you become more experienced. For instance, you might decide to pass on hitting a 16 against a 17 if you know the remaining shoe is very rich with cards valued at 10, for example.

Getting better with practice

You must practice all of this in challenging circumstances now that you have a foundation in fundamental strategy, running counts, and converting to true counts. When practicing, turn on the TV or play some music. Practice in a playground with children. It will be very stressful to start trying to count cards in a casino. You may communicate with dealers, players, and supervisors. Both overhead announcements and slot machine noises will be present. To be able to handle all the distractions in a casino, you must practice enough at home.

Try it Out

Finally, you’re prepared to plunge into the action. Of course, you should begin with small wagers and wager spreads. A safe range that won’t draw attention from the casino is $5 to $20. While you might not win every time you play at this level, over time you should still win a little bit. When you feel secure, you can increase your base bet and spread. It is easy to see how the higher your bet spread, the more you can win when the count is in your favor. This is because each increase in true count from 0 is equivalent to a 0.5% decrease in house advantage.