Basic Card Counting Strategy: How to Count Cards in Blackjack

card counting strategy

Blackjack has long been a popular casino game. And, while it is fairly easy to play, it is ultimately a game of chance.

That said, like most casino games, Blackjack is also a game of mathematical probabilities. So, it’s not surprising that players have been searching for ways to optimize their chances against the house for a long time now.

Well, if you’d also like to increase your chances of winning in blackjack, you should master the basic card counting strategy, also known as the Hi-Lo system. The advantage of using this method is that it will reduce the house edge from between five and ten percent to as little as 0.1%.

But what exactly is the basic card-counting strategy in blackjack and how does it work?

This is exactly what we’re here to tell you, so read on to find out all there is to know about card counting and blackjack.

What Is Card Counting in Blackjack?

Card counting in blackjack is a math-based strategy that players use to determine whether the odds are in their favor by keeping a count of high-value and low-value cards.

By knowing whether the next hand is going to be more beneficial for the player or the dealer, players can make more informed decisions on whether to bet high, low or not at all.

Specifically, players take advantage of the mathematically proven fact that high-value cards benefit the player in blackjack, while low-value cards benefit the dealer.

By taking advantage of this knowledge, players can beat the house edge by calculating their beats.

How Does the Card Counting Strategy Work?

In the card counting strategy, each card is assigned a value (positive, negative, or zero). The values assigned to the cards depend on their EOR (Effect of Removal). Specifically, EOR determines how removing a specific card can affect the house edge percentage.

In the Hi-Lo card counting strategy, the player adds 1 point when dealt anything from 2 to 6 and subtracts 1 point upon drawing 10, King, Queen, Jack, or Ace. Cards 7, 8, and 9 are assigned a value of 0.

As you may expect, when low-value cards are dealt, the amount of high-value cards in the deck is greater just like when high-value cards are dealt, the number of low-value cards in the deck is higher.

By keeping track of this, players can calculate when the odds shift in their favor.

Card Counting Strategy: How to Count Cards in Blackjack

Surely, the card counting strategy in blackjack takes effort and lots of practice to master, but here are the basics to get you started.

To begin with, the player should start from the value count of zero. Then, for each card that is dealt the player should either add 1 point to the value system (for cards from 2 to 6), subtract 1 point from the value system (if cards from 10 to Ace are dealt), or do nothing with it (if 7,8, and 9 are dealt).

Now, if your value count is +1, that means that there are more high-value cards left in the deck than low-value cards and thus the odds are in your favor. However, if your value count is -1, then there are more low-value cards left to be dealt and consequently, the advantage goes to the house.

If all of this seems too complicated just remember that you, as a player, should only add or subtract 1 point as cards are dealt and keep track of the value count.

It’s always a good idea to practice with a deck of cards before you move on to the actual game of blackjack. Once you do get to the real game, make sure to choose a place around the table that gets dealt the last. This way you will be able to view and count all the cards easily.

7 Other Card Counting Systems in Blackjack

Apart from the basic card counting strategy, also known as the Hi-Lo system, there are a few other systems you can use to minimize the house edge:

  • Omega II System – This is an intermediate level system that, unlike the Hi-Lo system, assigns values such as -2 (to 10 and face cards) and +2 (to 4,5,6). The rest of the cards are given -1, +1, or 0, but the way these values are assigned to the cards is different from the Hi-Lo system.
  • Hi-Opt I & II Systems – Hi-Opt I and Hi-Opt II are systems with slightly different value assignments. For instance, in Hi-Opt I, cards such as 3 to 6 are given a +1 value, while in Hi-Opt II, +1 is assigned to 2,3,6 and 7.
  • Wong Halves System – Just like the two above-mentioned systems, Wong Halves is also a balanced system, meaning that once all the cards are dealt, your value count should be zero. However, unlike Omega II and Hi-Opt I & Hi-Opt II, this is a three-level system, which means that cards are further categorized as per their values to increase count accuracy.
  • Red 7 System – This system is a one-level card counting system and it is quite similar to the Hi-Low system regarding value distribution. The only difference is in regards to card 7. If the 7 card is red, then it is assigned a value of +1 but if it is black then it is given 0.
  • KO System – KO is short for Knock-Out. This system is also similar to Hi-Low in terms of the value assignment. However, in this system, card 7 is assigned a value of +1 instead of 0. Thus, KO is not a balanced system as the value count will not equal 0 once all the cards are dealt.
  • Zen Count – This is another simple card counting strategy. Just like most of the above-mentioned ones, it is also a balanced system. Keep in mind that if your value count is at 0 or less, then you should place minimum bets. But if your count goes up then you should increase your bet with 1 unit or a minimum bet so you do not catch the attention of the casino.
  • Team Card Counting – This system uses the same values as the Hi-Lo system. However, this strategy is a team effort of 3 people with designated roles – a big player, a controller, and a spotter. The spotter is the one keeping the count, the controller is the one who verifies the calculations, and the big player makes the bet once the first two have verified the odds.

Is Card Counting Illegal?

Under U.S and British law, card counting is not illegal. However, most casinos prohibit the use of other devices or persons that can help the player with card counting.

In general, most casinos are against card counting, as it can decrease the house edge and make the casino lose money. That’s why they watch out for any card counters and, in case they suspect someone, ban them from ever playing in their casino (although they aren’t legally allowed to do so).

3 Tips For the Casino to Beat Card Counting

There are certain things casinos can do to prevent card counting other than spotting card counters in their casino. Here are our top tips:

  • Multiple Decks of Cards – Casinos are aware that it is hard to keep track of the card count when you have to play with multiple decks of cards rather than just one. That’s why casinos tend to use 6 to 8 decks of cards in blackjack and other similar card games.
  • Continuous Shuffling Machines – The dealer takes the cards in and out of the machine continuously, placing the dealt cards into a machine for reshuffling, which makes it extremely difficult for the player to keep up with the card count.
  • Banning Winners – Players that have won a large amount of money in blackjack at a specific casino, are usually banned from ever playing there again. The reason behind this is that casinos don’t want to lose money, which is inevitable if card counters who have won are going to return and win again using card counting.

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FAQ on the Card Counting Strategy

Do you still have some questions on card counting and blackjack? Our answers to the most frequently asked questions can help you with that:

#1. Is card counting in blackjack still possible?

Yes, card counting in blackjack is still possible. While using one of the strategies, make sure to stay unnoticed by the casino. If a casino suspects that you are using a card counting strategy, then you will most likely be prohibited from entering that casino in the future.

#2. Can I count cards in online blackjack games?

It is definitely possible to count cards while playing live blackjack. However, be aware of the software most online casinos use. Such software tends to shuffle cards throughout the game, which makes it very difficult for the player to keep track of the card count.

#3. Can casinos detect card counters?

Casinos can detect card counters since they have people watching the players. Thus, if players look suspicious, if their bets aren’t steady, if they keep winning a substantial amount of money continuously, if they are communicating with each other regarding their strategies, or if they signal each other during the game, the casino will find out and assume that they are using card counting strategies.

#4. How can I learn card counting?

You can learn card counting by first watching videos and reading articles about different strategies. Once you get accustomed to them, you can choose a strategy that fits you the best. Afterward, you can start practicing with a deck of cards and once you feel like you have mastered the strategy, you can start playing either live blackjack online or blackjack in a physical casino.

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Harvey Dickenson

Safe Gambling Specialist

Harvey Dickenson is our safe gambling specialist. Harvey is a recreational poker player and an expert in online casino safety, cons, and scams.

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