If you’ve read our Basic Blackjack Strategy then you’ll understand the basics of the game and the correct decision based on your starting cards, and the dealer’s. However if you want to play the game in the best way possible, reducing the house edge so that the odds can be in your favour, then you’ll need to know how to count cards.
Card counting has been around since the 1950s and it works because as cards come out of the shoe they are not dealt again until the dealer reshuffles. By knowing what cards have already been dealt you can adapt your strategy to the remaining cards.
Bear in mind that card counting only works in brick and mortar casinos. In online Blackjack the cards are virtually shuffled after every hand, so card counting can’t help.
The Hi/Lo Count
The Hi/Lo count is one of the earliest and most popular card counting methods. In general removing low cards (2-6) is good for the player but removing high cards (10-ace) is a disadvantage. The Hi/Lo count simply keeps track of how many high and low cards have been dealt, giving an indication as to whether the odds are in the player’s favour.
Step 1: What is the count? - When the dealer shuffles the cards and places them in a shoe start a count of 0. Cards with a value of 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 are given a score of -1 and 10, J, Q, K and Ace have a score of +1. Every time you see one of these cards dealt calculate the running score in your head.
Suppose you played the first hand and were dealt 5,5 and the dealer’s upcard was a 10. The two fives in your hand are worth +1 each and the 10 is -1. The new count would be +1 as a result.
Step 2: Calculate the ‘true count’ - As play progresses keep track of the count in your head. To calculate the true count simply divide your count by the number of decks left in the shoe. You don’t have to be completely accurate for this to be effective. If the count were +6 and you estimate there are three decks left in the shoe the true count would be +2.
Step 3: adjusting bets and strategy: Ideally experienced players will learn to adapt Basic Strategy according to the count. As the count is higher players are more inclined to stand, split, double and take insurance. There are many published guides to adapting your strategy based on the true count.
You will also want to adapt your bet sizes to the count. A negative count means that the game has become worse than average for the player in terms of house edge. During these times players should either bet the minimum or leave the table. As the count gets higher players will adapt their bet sizes, for example doubling their previous bet size each hand the count is positive. Be cautious about playing very rigidly when card counting, many casinos will watch for suspicious betting patterns in order to eject card counters.
Card counting and house edge
Using card counting effectively can give you a small advantage over the house. However there is still a great deal of luck involved in Blackjack, card counters can still experience losses as well as wins. Before you start trying to count make sure you understand the rules of the game and Basic Strategy; which will still be used for most decisions.
Good luck and happy counting!