Blackjack has been ruling casinos for a long time now. For every table, the house is guaranteed to earn through a pre-calculated advantage. The best gamblers can break even after losing a high roll. However, the masters can earn thousands – or even millions – through blackjack card counting. This practice involves keeping a mental tally of the cards while the dealer deals the cards from the shoe. In actual casinos, the shoe isn’t shuffled until it reaches a certain capacity level. With that, card counters can anticipate the likelihood of drawing a high or low card.
Although the card counter can’t guess exactly what the next card will be, the manner of card counting still gives him or her added edge. It guides them on their next move – to hit or stand – to avoid getting busted or losing bigtime against the dealer.
The most popular method in card counting is Hi-Lo which we will discuss in this post. It’s the easiest and simplest way of counting cards but you can also explore other methods.
What is counting cards? The idea of card counting is reducing the house edge by mentally identifying the proportion of high and low cards compared to what’s been dealt and what’s still left on the shoe.
Not following? Let’s give you an example. If a card counter observes that there are more low-value cards left on the shoe, it means s/he is unlikely to have a blackjack. On the flipside, low-value cards are also advantageous, especially if they’ve been dealt with an ugly hand, say hard 14 or 16 (not pairs). Also, the presence of low-value cards means the dealer is more likely to get busted. There are also advantages with high-value cards.
So how much is your advantage in knowing how to count cards? Basically, you can increase your odds of winning by 1%. That sounds measly, but in blackjack, you’ll want to utilize every single advantage you can get over the dealer.
Is it illegal to count cards?
There’s no federal law prohibiting the practice of card counting given that you’ll only use your brain and not some shady counting device. However, the casino has the discretion to escort you out of the table when they notice that you’re ‘too good’ at the game. It sucks, but some dealers and pit bosses can spot a card counter, especially if they keep splitting 10s and winning every single time. It’s called a “back-off” and it’s a pride of any card counter to be done so (it proves they’re too good at blackjack.)
But is it illegal to count cards? Card counting isn’t cheating. It’s just a matter of wrapping your head around the concept of the game and finding its weak spot. However, a lot of pit bosses will toss you out of the game when they notice that you’re waiting for the shoe to get rich before making a large bet.
Imagine, a card counter bets typical $5 wagers on each hand and he suddenly puts out $200 and wins. Although casinos have the right to control who they want in their house, the action of being backed-off just shows that these establishments only want sucker players on their tables. Why? Because they want as much money as they can get.
Here’s an actual casino backing-off incident where Colin Jones, a card counter of 10 years, has been forced to quit playing. Worse, the pit boss asked him to play in a fixed bet only:
Hi-Lo card counting method
Now that you’re familiar with how blackjack card counting goes including counters’ reputation on casinos, we’re going to discuss the methods. The most popular is the Hi-Lo where the counting starts once a re-shuffled and fresh shoe is introduced to the table.
The concept is simple: you keep count of low and high-value cards’ population in the shoe. Each card will be assigned a point value of +1, 0 or -1. Here’s a chart:
Every time a card is dealt on the table, the card counter with add, do nothing, or subtract based on the point value. For example, you’ve been dealt with an Ace (-1) and 2 of hearts (+1). With this, your hand value is 0. You should do this value calculation for every hand on the table to come up with a “running count”.
This makes card counting a game of the quickest. You can’t borrow much time in an actual casino. You need to be focused and constant practice is a big must. That’s the only way on how to count cards.
You should update your running count every time new cards are dealt on the table. Do this until the card is reshuffled. Remember that whenever the running count goes higher, the advantage leans to the player but when it becomes lower and negative in value, the edge is in the house.
Usually, a single-deck game would be easy to card count. The above information is enough to give you a guided betting style. However, the challenge becomes higher as the number of decks increase.
Calculating the true count
Still, on the Hi-Lo method, we’re going to calculate the “true count” in case the casino uses multiple decks on the game. Actually, casinos use multiple decks as a way to dampen card counters’ chance of winning. But with a little more math, this blackjack counting hurdle is easy to get past too.
When computing for the true count, we’re going to use our running count. But is counting cards legal? Definitely, not.
Take note that a running count of +4 in an 8-deck game is way different than a +4 running count in a 1-deck or 4-deck table. Fret not; it’s so easy to get the true count. Just divide the running count with the number of decks remaining in the shoe.
So if we have a running count of +4 and there are only 4 decks remaining in the 8-deck table, our true count is 0. The advantage is in the house.
But what if I have a running count of +7 with 2 decks remaining? We consider our true count of to be +3. It would be -3 if your running count is -7.
Based on the results of this formula, you can change your betting and playing strategy. Again, the pit boss may notice once you start winning big and making abrupt playing deviations. Be ready to get backed-off once you’re making thousands of dollars.
So how do casinos spot a card counter?
Card counting all happens in the mind, but a pit boss can easily spot a card counter. A player that’s very focused on the game and bets erratically surely raises a red flag. If that same person plays a long time and never removes his or her eyes on the cards, the pit boss will soon toss the player out.
So why is counting cards illegal in the casino’s perspective? After all, gambling is a business. They don’t want to go broke.
But if you don’t want to get caught, you should know some hacks to trick the casino. First, don’t dress like a nerd card counter. Be a casual tourist who chats with the dealer and someone gets up to have some drinks. Also, try not to bet big money when the shoe is rich. Be a smart fly that never gets caught under the swatter of the casino.
The Uston SS Card Counting System
Although Hi-Lo is the most popular method of blackjack card counting, you can also explore the like of Uston SS Card Counting System. Instead of 3 values, you’ll be computing with 6 values. This is a more advanced method but deemed to be more accurate. Still, it’s all in the way you master the technique.
Here’s the point value for the cards:
|2, 4, 6||2|
|10, Aces, face cards||-2|
Since there are more card values, the biggest challenge here is memorization and quick calculation. It requires a lot of practice, and if you’re a newbie, I suggest that you start with Hi-Lo first before trying this method of how to count cards.
The SS stands for “Strongest, Simplest” but it’s not as solid as what the Hi-Lo means. Still, the process is the same with Hi-Lo. You subtract, add, or do nothing based on the cards dealt on the table. The Uston SS method also uses the same true count formula in case the table uses more than one deck.
However, the Uston SS method is an unbalanced system. This is the reason why many card counters shy away from this method, not to mention the challenge of counting based on six values. It’s best to start with balanced systems first before trying your hand on this one.
The KO card counting strategy
The KO or Knock-Out card counting system shares the same point values with that of Hi-Lo. However, 7 is considered to be a low-value card (bearing a positive value) instead of following Hi-Lo’s neutral rule for 7 cards.
Also, KO is an unbalanced system like the Uston SS method. If you’re blackjack counting a deck correctly, your end value should be a +4 using the KO system.
Remember, though, that counting doesn’t always start in zero with the KO system. Only if you’re playing with one deck that you’ll start fresh with no value. You need to use the IRC formula or Initial Running Count to know the value you’ll start counting on:
IRC = (number of decks -1) x -4
To make it simple, here’s the IRC for the number of decks you’re going to play on:
|NUMBER OF DECKS||INITIAL RUNNING
The KO indicates that when the running count is a high positive, it means that there are more low-value cards in the shoe and high-value cards if the running count is high-negative.
I know that KO is a mind-boggling method, but as a tip, train your mind to spot cards that cancel each other (a negative and positive card of the same number). This will make card counting easier and faster. Remember, you don’t have much time to calculate. Aside from that, you have to appear like a typical gambler when sitting on the casino table.
What is counting cards on the side? This method of card counting isn’t a full-fledged system. Side counting only consists of taking a mental tally of Aces, face cards, or a specific card. This is usually combined with Hi-Lo as side counting doesn’t serve many purposes when used as a lone method.
When the Hi-Lo and side counting comes as second nature to you, it’s time to advance to the SS Uston method. Still, the preference depends on your technique. A lot of gamblers can earn a decent profit using Hi-Lo alone.
What should I do if I get backed off?
Don’t worry, holy roller, getting backed off also has advantages to it. It enhances your skills as a card counter, both in the methods and not getting detected. Playing the cat and mouse game with pit bosses is almost a normal thing, but it’s worth it than not having to play the game completely.
So when you get backed off, try not to escalate the situation. Besides, you already know that it can happen at some point when you start card counting. Always talk in a calm and polite manner. Don’t try to make the pit boss angrier or you’ll get banned in the house indefinitely. Don’t ask why is counting cards illegal, just make your way out.
Remember, no matter what you say, nothing can change the casinos’ stand against card counters. Just go to a different casino or go back to the same place in a different shift. Although their surveillance cameras would surely get a shot of you, it’s better than an actual pit boss who will ask the dealer to push you out of the table.
Blackjack card counting is tricky and challenging. But if done right, you can start bringing the house down.