A wise person once said, "there's a sucker born every minute." Although this person lived almost a century ago, he must have had pre-cognisant powers, because he was clearly talking about people who believe in the strategy of card counting in poker.
In a moment we will explain what we mean by the above statement, but right up front, let us say, for the record: there is no such thing as a functional card counting strategy in poker. There really isn't. No amount of wishing that there were will make it so.
Poker is a game of skill, strategy and timing. It is not a game that you can employ a system to defeat, because there is no one single opponent, as there is in a game where you play head on against the house. And even if you believed there was, you should remember the old adage: the house always wins.
The dream of card counting
This belief that a card counting system can help you in poker is born out of how well card counting works in the game of Blackjack. But the two games are fundamentally different. In order to understand why card counting does not work in poker, you need to understand why it does work in Blackjack.
Blackjack is an adversarial game, but your opponent is the house dealer. There are never more than two players: you, and the house. In poker, you play against a large group of players, none of whom is the casino.
How card counting works in Blackjack
In Blackjack, your aim is to have a hand of cards whose value is as close to 21 points as possible, without going over this. All the cards in the deck are considered to have their face value in points, except for the Royals, which are all considered to be worth 10 points. The ace is considered to be worth either in 11 or 1, depending on what works better for you.
Now, the dealer will deal two cards to you and two to themselves, but will keep one of their own cards face down. From the exposed card, you can gain an impression of what their hand is like, which helps you with your decision making.
However, and this is the important part: you must bet before you ever see your cards.
In poker, you see your hole cards and based on this knowledge you can elect to call, raise or fold. In Blackjack, you must bet before the cards are ever dealt, and this is why people count cards – to give you a similar chance of making a good betting decision.
In Blackjack, the deck is not shuffled except for once at the very beginning of the game. Therefore, if you have an extremely good memory, you can take note of the cards that you have seen, hand after hand. Using deduction, you can then work out how many cards are left in the deck, and what those cards are.
Having worked this out, you can generally tell when it's time to bet high or low. For example, if there has been nothing but low cards for a while, then the chances of the next hand having Royals in it increases - so you bet high.
If, on the other hand, you've seen only high cards for a while, you bet low. Also, you can Hit with confidence that you will be unlikely to go bust.
Why it just doesn't work in Poker
The entire premise of card counting only works because in Blackjack the deck is never shuffled until it has been entirely expended. With only 52 cards in the deck, it's possible to remember what you have and have not seen.
But in poker, the deck is shuffled after every single hand. By the time you have seen the flop, you will have seen a total of five cards - about 9.61% of the deck. This doesn't even begin to give you a basis to guess what the next card might be.
At the end of the hand, the dealer shuffles – and whatever cards you have memorised become null and void. What an utterly useless idea.
Let us reiterate what we said in the opening paragraph: poker card counting is a complete myth. Not only does it not work, but there is no way in the world that it could work.