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How to use Card Counting Strategies in Blackjack

The Basics of Card Counting

Blackjack is one of the most popular card games at brick-and-mortar and online casinos. Over the past century, many successful professional players have used card counting strategies to increase their chances of beating the house. When done correctly, players can reduce the house edge. However, as casinos began to catch on to the various methods that were used, they implemented new rules to make card counting more challenging.

Is it still possible to count cards and give yourself a better chance of winning? The simple answer to that question is yes.

To count cards successfully, you will not need to learn any incredibly difficult and complicated systems. However, you will have to master the technique by practicing it rigorously. Here are the things that you should know about card counting before we go into any further details. You will have to:

  • Assign a value to every card
  • Keep track of the cards that have already been played
  • Use this information to calculate the count per deck
  • Change your bets accordingly

The most popular card counting strategy is the Hi-Lo. In most casinos, card counting is frowned upon, so if you do intend on using the strategy, you must master it first and then use it in a subtle way.

Hi-Lo Strategy

When using the Hi-Lo card counting technique, you should start off by assigning a value to every card in the deck. The values for each card are:

  • +1 for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
  • 0 for 7, 8, 9
  • -1 for 10, J, Q, K, A

As each card is dealt from the deck, you should add 1, subtract 1 or do nothing based on the card’s value.

For each card that is dealt from the shoe, you will have to keep track of the running count for the cards that have been dealt. For instance, if you are playing a multi-hand blackjack game, you should consider all of the cards on the table, not only the ones in the hand you are playing at the time.

Example 1

You are playing a three-hand blackjack game. Your first hand is a 7-3, your second hand is a 10-J and your third hand is a 2-A. The dealer’s up card is a 6.

In this scenario, the running count of the round is 0. The reason behind this is:

  • 7-3 (+1 as 7 is 0 and 3 is +1)
  • J-10 (-2 as J is -1 and 10 is -1)
  • 2-A (0 as 2 is +1 and A is -1)
  • Dealer’s up-card 6 is valued at +1.

Example 2

In this scenario, you are playing three-hand blackjack and are dealt 7-2, K-5, A-3 and the dealer’s up card is an 8. The running count of the round is +1. The reason being:

  • 7-2 (+1 as 7 is 0 and 2 is +1)
  • K-5 (0 as K is -1 and 5 is +1)
  • A-3 (0 as A is -1 and 3 is +1)
  • Dealer’s up-card 8 is valued at 0.

Example 3

When joining a three-hand blackjack game, you are dealt a 8-10, 2-3, 4-7 and the dealer’s up-card is a 4. In this instance, the running count is +3. The maths shows:

  • 8-10 (-1 as 8 is 0 and 10 is -1)
  • 2-3 (+2 as 2 is +1 and 3 is +1)
  • 4-7 (+1 as 4 is +1 and 7 is 0)
  • Dealer’s up-card is 4 that is valued at +1.

In the examples above, players can determine the running count by the value of the cards that are already on the table. In the first example, there is an equal number of weak and strong cards on the table. That is why the running count is rated at 0.

In the second example, the running count is +1, as there are more weak cards on the table than there are strong ones. Thus, by using this logic, the deck holds more strong cards in it than weak ones.

The third example shows an incredibly high running count of +3 for the round. Thus, using this logic, you will know that there are many -1 strong cards in the remainder of the deck.

It is important to keep the count going through every card dealt and hand played. However, once the dealer shuffles the cards again, you will have to start all over. The aim of the card counting strategy is to keep track of the running count.

It is advantageous to the player if the running count increases. If the running count goes negative, the advantage is in favour of the casino.

Adapting the Hi-Lo Strategy

As mentioned earlier, casinos do their best to ensure players do not have an advantage over the house. The way in which casinos may implement this is by shuffling the cards after a smaller number of rounds have been played, or by simply adding multiple decks into the game. For instance, in the second example above, the running count was +1, which is in favour of the player. However, there is a big difference if the running count is +1 and there is one deck of cards used or six decks of cards. Here is how you should work around it.

Calculating the True Count

Most blackjack games use multiple decks to create more difficult circumstances for players to count cards. However, card counting players can still beat the multiple decks by factoring a “True Count” into their calculations. The true count reflects the real running count of the game, depending on the number of decks that are remaining.

Remember: The True Count is calculated by dividing the running count by the remaining number of decks.

If you joined a table that has a running count of +4 with 4 decks remaining, it is different to a table with +4 and 1 deck remaining. If there is only one deck remaining, you will know that of the 52 remaining cards, there are more 10s and Aces than low value card. However, +4 with 4 decks remaining is slightly different. The True Count suggests:

  • 4 ÷ 4 = 1 - Hence the True Count is +1.

In Blackjack games that have a lot of decks, you will have to remain patient, keep track of the running count, and wait for the deck to burn through until there are a smaller number of cards remaining. For instance:

  • If there is a running count of +8 and 4 decks remaining, the True Count is +2 (8 ÷ 4).
  • If there is a running count of -6 and 2 decks remaining, the True Count is -3 (-6 ÷ 2).

How to Capitalize

It is no good if you spend all of this time keeping track of the cards that were played and calculating the True Count of the table if you do not use this information properly. To do so, you should always increase your bet and try to maximise your winnings when the cards favour you. If the cards do not favour you, you should reduce your bet but still keep track of the already played cards and remaining number.

The cards favour you when the True Count is in positive. If there is a running count of +5, you should increase your bet only if there are few remaining decks. Unless you are playing a single-deck blackjack game, in which case the running count is the method used and you do not have to identify the True Count.

If the True Count is negative, you should decrease your bets as this favours the casino. It is always important to keep track of the cards that were played and keep an eye on how many decks are remaining. Therefore, successful card counting is far easier with variants that have fewer decks of cards.

Card Counting Variations

The Hi-Lo card counting technique is the most common and popular method used by casino players. However, there are variations of it that are slightly more advanced but also aim to increase the player’s chances of winning. The variations include:

  • Hi-Lo Opt II– it is the highest insurance correlation of all strategies. Numbers 2, 3, 6 and 7 are +1. Numbers 4 and 5 are +2. Cards 8 and 9 are 0 and 10-value cards are -2. Aces count as 0 as well. When the count is high, bet more. When it is low, bet less or not at all.
  • Omega II– it has a high playing efficiency. Numbers 2, 3 and 7 are +1. Cards 4, 5, 6 are +2. Number 8 is 0 and number 9 is -1. 10-value cards are -2 and Aces are 0.
  • Ace/Five– it is perhaps the easiest card counting strategy and can be used by inexperienced players. All cards are worth 0 except for 5, which is +1 and Ace which is -1.

Putting It All Together

Mastering card counting strategies may not be overly complicated, but it does demand practice. Make sure you thoroughly understand the fundamentals of card counting before attempting to use these tactics in land casinos or even online. Remember, subtly is key to avoid detection, and with enough experience, you can improve your chances of winning and maximize your blackjack enjoyment.

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