Mastering Blackjack: Card Counting in 4 Steps

20 September 2023

Blackjack is a highly popular casino table game, and if you’re familiar with it already, you’ve probably heard of card counting and the ways in which it can help you achieve those big wins! Once you’ve got an effective strategy together, you can (realistically) gain an advantage over the house of somewhere between one and two percent. Want to know how it’s done? Take a look at our quick guide below!

blackjack counting

 #1. Learning the Basic Strategy

If you’re interested in winning money by counting cards, you need to be on top of your decision-making skills. Blackjack is actually quite different from other casino games, because it requires the player to constantly make decisions, of which ‘hit or stand?’ is the most well known. These decisions are the key to beating the dealer, and as such, in order to come out on top you need to be able to make the best decisions based on facts and probabilities at any given moment.

To give a quick example: many beginner players will choose to ‘hit’ on 12 vs 5 or 6, in the assumption that their gamble is a safe one. Actually, when you look at the real mathematical probability, this is the wrong choice: you have a thirty percent chance of then drawing a ten, and thus going bust and losing your cash. On top of this, the dealer’s probability of going bust would also have been quite high.

Going ahead with a badly thought out strategy, and not being away of basic probability, is always going to lead to disaster, and will make card counting totally pointless. Get yourself a guide to basic strategy, learn it well, and then approach card counting as the next logical step.


#2. Do Your Homework

One thing is for sure: you need to be able to memorize the strategy before you go out in the field, and try it for real. You also need to have gotten your head around the theory the strategy is based on, in order to have the flexibility real life situations often demand. Certain card counting systems are pretty easy to learn, and simple to replicate – Hi-Lo is a great example, and in this system, cards are given the following values:

Card valueCount value
2, 3, 4, 5, 6+1
7, 8, 90
10, J, Q, K, A-1

As each card gets dealt at the Blackjack table, you need to keep a running count. Remember: high totals are good for you (the player), as it means that the shoe still contains plenty of aces, picture cards and 10s… and that means the following outcomes are far more likely to come out:

● The player receives a blackjack deal: paid out at 3 to 2.
● The dealer finds themselves going bust, which means the player wins by default, so long as they also have not gone bust.
● A double down bet is the winner, because when a 10 or picture card is desirable, a basic strategy demands this option is taken.

When the card count is high, the most sensible option for the player is to increase the bet size, as this is when the player has a higher probability of winning. Of course, the opposite is also true: when it’s low, keep those bets reined in.

There is plenty of material online taken these ideas much further, and also dozens of books on the subject, all of which are designed to give you that priceless competitive edge at the Blackjack table.


#3. Practice, Practice and Practice Some More…

As with any new skill, practice is the key to success. Thankfully, card counting is a fun and easy skill to practice. The most effective way is to deal your way through a standard deck of 52 cards, mentally keeping count as you do so. By the time you get to the end, you should have gotten to 0 – if you haven’t, you’ve lost count along the way! Repeat until you can do it flawlessly each time. Before long, it will become second nature. Once you’ve gotten the hang of one deck, though, it’s time to mix it up; after all, casinos tend to use multiple decks in Blackjack, to avoid shuffling too often. Add another deck of cards… and then another… until you’re able to count successfully to zero with eight decks.

Of course, if you’re practicing alone, you aren’t going to able to replicate that unique casino environment. When the time comes, you cards won’t be in your hands, and going by at your pace. On top of this, there will be plenty of distractions – the noise, the lights, the other players… it really will take plenty of focus and concentration to succeed. However, you can ‘practice’ in real casino situations, too; just place small, comfortable bets at first, and gradually work your way up to big money once you’ve mastered the art and feel ready to join the high rollers!


#4. Don’t Get Caught: Team Up!

Contrary to popular belief, there are no explicit laws against card counting. Despite this, casinos are keen to stamp out card counters, and their staff are trained to spot them and refuse their custom. At the end of the day, if the casino believes your skills are going to cost them money, there’s no way they are going to allow you to gamble in their house.

In order not to give the game away, you have to behave like a regular gambler and avoid raising any suspicions. One great way to count cards without getting caught is to do it as part of a team. The movie ‘21’ was a great portrayal of a group of people card counting together, and if your friends want to replicate this (and are clever and trustworthy, and willing to put the effort in), you can organise yourselves to win big collectively.

The easiest way to do this is for one of the players in your team to bet the minimum at the table, count the cards, and signal when the count is especially high for the other member to swoop in, place a large bet and win at the key moment. This way, no eyebrows will be raised at unsubtle variations in bet sizes, and you can all take home plenty of cash to share!

Ocean's Eleven

Card counting takes some real dedication, time and effort. It’s a commitment that pays off in the long run, but only after perfect execution and a high level of skill is achieved. Even then, it’s no absolute guarantee of success – Blackjack is a high variance game, so don’t be disheartened by the losses everyone comes across along their way. So long as you bet responsibly, and quit while you’re ahead, you should be able to enjoy your playing and new skills without any trouble.

Good luck!