How to Count Cards in Blackjack Ultimate Guide

After a blackjack player has mastered the basic strategy, they can then start trying to read and count cards to improve their odds of getting blackjack, beating the dealer, and reducing their losses. Any blackjack player who still hasn’t learned about basic strategy should read more about it on our page on basic and advanced blackjack strategies.

How to Count Cards in Blackjack

After learning and mastering basic strategy, blackjack players should then consider learning how to count cards in blackjack to be able to make more educated guesses on whether they can get blackjack, beat the dealer, or not. Basic card reading strategies use a simple tally system to keep track of all the cards drawn in a game. More advanced counting strategies use complex point values to have a more accurate count of the cards.

How Does Card Counting Work?

Card counting can help players know when to increase their bets and win real money in blackjack by taking advantage of certain situations. Players must learn to change their plays according to the count which essentially increases bets when there’s a higher chance of drawing high-value cards and beating the dealer and decreases bets when the chances of drawing high-value cards are low.

Card Counting in Blackjack

Basically, card counting works as how it is written below:

  • Assign a value to each card (+1, 0, or -1).
  • Keep track of the value of the cards drawn.
  • Add the cards’ values to determine the value of the remaining cards in the deck or get the running count.
  • Bet according to the card count, depending on the counting strategy used.

Because players assign a value to each card, they’ll need to keep the value they assigned in mind to not be confused about whether they’ll bet high or not. Using a system like the Hi-Lo system requires players to assign a -1 to high cards and a +1 to low cards.

How to Count Cards: A Basic Card Counting Strategy

Counting Cards with the Hi-Lo System

The HI-Lo system breaks the blackjack cards into three camps, high cards, neutral cards, and low cards. Players can count the cards according to the values below:

Card ValueCard TypesAssigned Value
High Cards10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace-1
Neutral Cards7, 8, 90
Low Cards2, 3, 4, 5, 61

The high cards’ value is -1 to indicate that the more high cards are drawn, the lesser the player’s advantage over the dealer. It’s easier to understand it this way instead of assigning a positive value to them since the players might assume that they have the advantage when they don’t. When the running count is negative, it’s advisable to bet low to limit any potential losses. When the count is positive, betting high is advisable since there is a higher chance of being dealt high hands, even a blackjack when dealt a 10 and an Ace.

The Hi-Lo strategy is a balanced counting system since the starting value of a deck is 0. Starting from 0 allows players to easily keep track of the running count and then the true count.

What is the Running Count in Blackjack?

When counting cards, the player must calculate the running total of all cards played, including the player’s own cards, other players’ cards, and the dealer’s cards. The running count is the running total of all cards played in a game. When using a beginner-friendly card-counting strategy, players will start the running count at 0 once the dealer introduces a new shoe. Counting cards in an ongoing game is futile.

The card counter must keep track of the cards dealt around the table, so getting familiar with how the dealer deals with the cards in a particular blackjack game should keep the player from getting confused with a pattern. Different blackjack games in casinos will have different rules that can affect how a player counts cards.

Keeping track of the running count using the Hi-Lo strategy means assigning the appropriate values to the cards and then calculating the count according to the cards dealt so far. In a single-deck game, calculating the running count essentially means also keeping count of the true count. However, there are a few additional steps to get the true count when playing multi-deck games.

What is the ‘True Count’ in Blackjack?

While the running count is the total of all cards played in the game, the true count is the result of dividing the count by the number of decks remaining in the game. The formula is as follows:

True count = running count / remaining decks in the shoe

Keeping track of the true count is necessary to keep track of the cards dealt in a game because traditional and online casinos add decks to a game to make card counting more complicated. Without the true count, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of the cards dealt. Converting the running count into the true count makes it simpler to keep track of the cards.

How Much to Bet When Counting Cards?

Counting cards are meant to help players determine how much they’ll bet to increase their profits. This will depend on certain factors, including the following;

  • Bankroll size.
  • Player’s willingness to take risks.
  • Blackjack game rules.
  • Betting strategies used.

Many blackjack players used certain patterns when counting cards, but many casinos are aware of such patterns, and using them will only make it obvious that a player is an advantage player. Once you’re caught as an advantage player, the casino can ban you from the table, all card games, or the casino altogether.

Determining how much to bet can be tricky when also trying not to get caught, but the basics must go first. Below is a simple equation to determine how much to bet:

Bet amount = True count – 1 betting unit

When playing a single-deck game, if the true count is 4 and the betting unit is worth $10, then the amount of the bet is $30. When using the Hi-Lo system, whenever the resulting bet amount is 0 or goes into the negative, the player goes back to betting their initial stake. Setting the initial stake as the 1 betting unit will make computation easier.

The common computation is a basic system that beginners can practice with since they can stay within their betting limits. The pattern is simple, so it’s advisable to learn about blackjack deviations to vary bets from time to time to keep the house from thinking that you’re counting cards and to deviate from basic strategy when necessary to act like a clueless beginner at times.

Advanced Card Counting Strategies

Once a blackjack player has mastered the Hi-Lo system, card counters can test more advanced systems to further improve their odds and even potentially keep the casino from easily catching on.

Advanced Card Counting Strategies

Omega II

The Omega II system is a balanced system, like the Hi-Lo system, which means that the running count starts from 0. This system was developed by Bryce Carlson who wrote about it in a book on card counting in 1992. In this system, card counters assign the following values to the cards: 

Card TypesAssigned Value
2, 3, 71
4, 5, 62
9-1
10, Jack, Queen, King-2
8, Ace0

The system is similar to the Hi-Lo, but with a few more different values. Here, the 10s are even more important while the 4, 5, and 6s are singled out as very bad cards for the player. The more 4, 5, and 6s in the deck, the higher the chances of a player busting.

Wong Halves

The Wong Halves is a balanced system, which means that the running count starts from 0. The system was created by Standford Wong and this particular system is rather more advanced because of the assigned values. However, counters can assign values differently to simplify the system.

Card TypesAssigned ValueAlternative Value
3, 4, 612
2, 70.51
51.53
800
9-0.5-1
10, Ace, Jack, Queen, King-1-2

Counting cards using decimal values can be confusing, so doubling the values can make it easier to read and count the cards. 

Which Strategy is the Best?

When learning more about counting cards, players will likely encounter a lot more different card counting strategies apart from the Hi-Lo, Omega II, and Wong Halves. Among them are the following:

  • Hi-Opt I
  • Hi-Opt II
  • KO
  • Red Seven
  • Zen Count

Some of these strategies are easier than others while others are significantly harder to master. If you’re a beginner, the best strategy for you is the Hi-Lo strategy. If you’ve already mastered Hi-Lo, then you’ll need to first master another system before switching and using it exclusively while claiming that it’s the best strategy.

The best card-counting strategy is the one that a card counter has already mastered.

How to Pick the Right Card Counting Strategy?

Choosing the right card-counting strategy can be difficult, especially with there being a lot of different strategies out there. The table below can provide some insight on which strategy to choose, but a card counter must also learn a few terms first to start understanding the table.

Count Strategy2345678910AceBCPEICBal?
Hi-Lo11111000-1-1.97.51.76Yes
K-O11111100-1-1.98.55.78No
Hi-Opt I01111000-10.88.61.85Yes
Hi-Opt II11221100-20.91.67.91Yes
Halves.5111.51.50-0.5-1-1.99.56.72Yes
Omega II1122210-1-20.92.67.85Yes
Red Seven111110/100-1-1.98.54.78No
Zen11222100-2-1.96.63.85Yes

Betting Correlation (BC) – BC is a measure of how effective a strategy is at predicting valuable betting situations. A high BC means that the strategy’s count tags closely approximate the effect of the removal of each card. BC is used to calculate the total value of all undealt cards and a positive value offers a positive return.

Playing Efficiency (PE) – PE is a measure of how effective a strategy is at determining correct playing variations or blackjack deviations. The higher the PE value, the better.

Insurance Correlation (IC) – IC is a measure of how effective a strategy is at predicting when to buy insurance. This is the least important factor because we do not recommend buying insurance for any reason.

Balanced or Unbalanced (bal?) – bal? means whether a strategy is balanced or not. A balanced strategy starts the count with 0 as the base while an unbalanced strategy does not. In a balanced count, counters must convert the running count to the true count while in an unbalanced strategy, the player does not.

Need Help?

All this might still be confusing to you. No worries, focusing more on your personal experience with a particular strategy is still enough as a deciding factor on what to use when playing blackjack in an online casino for real money. There’s no problem with sticking to Hi-Lo when you’re already used to it.

Tips for Mastering Card Counting

Card counting might seem difficult but it can become simple. Aspiring card counters should practice the following tips to be able to maters card counting:

  • Practice using a single deck of cards and keeping a running count through the cards.
  • Remove one card and start counting.
  • Time yourself counting cards. The more cards you can count accurately in a certain period of time, the more your card-counting skills will improve.

Through continuous practice, you will be able to automatically count cards using the right values. This is a good approach when trying out other card-counting strategies and mastering counting them. Of course, you must first master blackjack basic strategy to know how to play your hands. Knowing how to count cards without knowing how to play is just asking to lose money.

FAQs

The idea of counting cards is not to count the numbers of each card but to know when the remaining deck has a lot of high cards or not.

1. Give each card a numerical value.
2. Using the values of the cards dealt, keep a “Running Count.”
3. Calculate the “real count” or count per deck using this information.
4. Adjust your wagers as the real count increases.

No. Card counting is not illegal, but the casino can ban you from the table, other card games, or the casino altogether if you’re caught. Playing online in a live casino online in the Philippines should be safe for aspiring and veteran counters since the pit boss can’t exactly monitor you.

Counting cards has a learning curve that might be difficult to overcome. The difficulty will also depend on the card-counting strategy used. You can improve by constantly practicing.

How long before you master card counting depends largely on you. If you constantly practice, you’ll gradually improve. An estimate of 100-200 hours of at-home practice should be enough to give players a chance to beat the house.

Yes. Mastering basic strategy and using certain betting systems should be enough to lower the house’s edge and improve your odds of winning. Learning how to count cards will further improve your chances of winning, but it isn’t completely necessary.

Conclusion

Card counting is an extremely useful strategy to improve your odds of winning, but it can be difficult to master. However, rookie blackjack players cannot and should not try learning card counting without first mastering basic strategy since they’ll need to know how to play their cards to then know how to win in blackjack.

When trying to count cards for real money, it’s advisable to play online blackjack in a reputable live casino in the Philippines like 6D Casino. Registering in less reputable casinos can be dangerous when the casino is operated by scammers and some other casinos might even have a bad selection of blackjack games in the casino games list.

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