How Card Counting Works


There have been movies, documentaries, television programs, and newspaper and magazine articles about the gambling technique called “card counting”. While many people believe this strategy involves noting and memorizing every card that has made an appearance on the Blackjack table, in actuality it involves some attention from the player and basic counting skills.

Most Blackjack players know that a deck of cards containing a high proportion of “high” cards, meaning “tens” and Aces is going to work in their favor, while a deck full of the low cards, especially five and six values, is likely to make the “bust” more frequently. It wasn’t until 1962 however, when Dr. Edward Thorp published a book that examined the evolving make-up of a deck of cards as a game progressed that card counting was officially validated.

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What basic card counting does is track the make-up of the cards remaining in a deck. When a player is able to know whether or not the deck is a favorable one, they can play more aggressive and successful games against the dealer or “house”.

A player counts cards by assigning a set value to certain cards, usually a plus, minus or null value. By keeping a running total, the player can understand which direction the deck is heading – a player favorable or a dealer favorable one.

An example of card counting can be demonstrated in this way:

Assuming a game is played with a deck of fifty-two cards, a player can give cards two through six a +1 value, while Aces, Tens and face cards receive a -1, and seven, eight and nine receive a zero value. As the game progresses the player adds the figures from their hands, the dealer’s and any other players and obtains a total score. This score lets the player know where the deck stands as far as high cards and low cards are concerned.

There are several difficulties in relying on card counting as a means to success. First, while it is not illegal to count cards, many casinos are aware when a player is doing so and can ask them to leave whenever they desire.

Secondly, most casinos do not use only a single deck, but a “shoe” with up to six decks active at any time. Third, while card counting does increase a player’s chance for success, statistics indicate that most players working against a “shoe” or multiple decks only increases their rate of success by less than a single percentage point.

Finally, the entire process of card counting must be honed to perfection before taking it into the arena of live Blackjack. That is because the kind of attention and concentration required can usually slow down a player’s ability to play an effective game while tracking all of the cards.

Even in the face of difficulties thousands of gamblers have obtained significant measures of success at the Blackjack tables while using a card counting system. In fact many casinos have well developed security in place for handling card counters. This can include everything from surveillance, to shuffling decks when a player increases their standing wager, to facial recognition software intended to identify known card counting players or teams.