Beating the Edge – How Do You Count Cards?

Now before we start on this subject, let’s be straight counting cards is not illegal, dodgy or in any way cheating.  It’s simply using your brain and thinking about your gambling.   It might appear that using your brain is illegal in many casinos however I can assure you it’s just that most people gamble like that!

You also don’t need to be a genius to count cards, no photographic memory or have a hidden computer device on your person.  Counting cards simply helps you assess the situation in a game and moves that house edge or advantage over to the player slightly.

The idea is basically if you have an idea of the number of high/low cards left to be dealt in a deck then you have a significant advantage when betting.  To do this there are many different counting systems that you can use – this is the most basic one which I’m sure that The Count from Sesame Street would have approved of.

The Hi-Lo Counting System

This system is called Hi-Lo and is often used a starting system for beginners.  Here’s how it works – every card is assigned a value as below.

    2, 3, 4,5, 6 (all low cards) = +1
    7,8,9 (neutral cards) = 0
    10, Jack, Queen, King, Aces (High Cards) = -1

All you have to do is using basic mathematics just keep a running total in your head.  You count each and every card that appears and add or subtract to the total as needed.  This is known as keeping a running count.   This information is vital for instance when the count is negative the deck has many low cards and therefore favors  the dealer.  When the count is running positive then the deck contains a lot of high cards and therefore favors the player.

When you think about it, the system is quite simple – every low card adds one to the total and means there is one less low card in the pack.  Conversely when you draw a high card the total falls – so a low or negative running score means that the high cards are in short supply.

So to summarize:

a high positive count favors the player – i.e. more high cards to be dealt.

a negative count favors the house – i.e. more low cards to be dealt.

If you’ve kept count properly the final total should be zero when the entire deck has been dealt.

This is of course pretty simple, however there is one small complication that may have occurred to you.  Card counters need a slightly more accurate assessment to hold a real advantage – they need to know the True Count. This refers to the problem that many card games like Blackjack are played with multiple decks.  The true count is therefore the running count divided by the number of decks still left to be played.

This helps balance out the problem of penetration in a card game.  This is nothing rude, but simply that the running count is more significant the more cards have been played.  The deeper into the game the more significant the number.  You reach 100% penetration when you’ve dealt all the cards in the deck.  Unfortunately no casino I’ve ever visited will ever get even close to dealing out all the cards – it would be just too risky for them!  Suffice it to say a positive score of 5 or 6 wouldn’t be that important at the beginning of a game but it would be very significant with only one or two decks left to deal !!

It’s not actually that hard to do if you practice, you can try it out in Dublinbets free Blackjack game.   Just use the free game and you’ll be connected to the casino, try and keep an eye out when they change the decks and then practice keeping a running count.  After a bit of practice try it when there’s a lot of people playing – Friday and Saturday nights are usually busy and the Blackjack tables will be pretty full.

Don’t try it in computer controlled Blackjack games – it simply doesn’t work as you’re not using real decks.

Now this is a very basic counting system and I’ll cover some more in further posts.  But you can see that this does give you some advantage over an ordinary player even with this simple method.  It is estimated that a good card counter has an edge of between .5% and 1.5%.  Ok it’s  not a huge advantage but with ordinary luck and a decent bank roll to play out fluctuations – such a counter should win in the long run.   Their basic tactic is to bet more heavily when the cards favor them (i.e. a high positive running count) and bet more conservatively when a low count is evident (meaning there are many more low cards than high cards to be dealt.)

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  1. admin May 3, 2012
  2. joanne May 23, 2011