Blackjack Card Counting


Blackjack Card Counting

Blackjack is one of the more popular casino games for two simple reasons. One, it is a challenge. Players who only want games of chance, gravitate to slots, craps, and roulette. Blackjack is different; you have to make real decisions, which should be based on logic more than on mere chance. The second reason players like Blackjack is that players can dramatically lower the house's edge with sound play.

Even moderately good play lowers the house's edge to 2% or less. Players who follow a card-counting system can lower the edge to near zero. Some claim they can reverse the edge so that it is fractionally in the player's favor.

Even if the house's edge is 2% you can play for a long time at low stakes and neither win nor lose a large sum of money. Over the long term, the house will win a few more hands than you. By counting cards you can make the game as close to an even match as possible, over the long term. At any given session, either you or the house could have an exceptional run of luck. Over the long term, the results adhere to the betting system you use.

Card counting gives the player the chance to keep track of the general balance of the deck or decks left in play. If there are more high cards left the player has the advantage. If there are more low cards left the house has the advantage.

There are good reasons why this is so. Players can split cards but the house can't. Players who aggressively split when the high cards predominate will win more money than the house will. The house gets even money for blackjack but the players get 3-2. Since blackjack can only be made with a high card, players get more blackjacks when high cards dominate the shoe. Finally, the house must hit on 16 or less. If there are more low than high cards in the deck, the house is more likely to not bust.

Click for information on history, how to play, strategy charts, terminology/glossary and blackjack table layout.

Counting in One-Deck Games

Blackjack used to be played with only one deck, until people learned to count all 52 cards to give themselves a decisive edge. Now land-based casinos use 6 or 8 decks making the older counting systems obsolete. Online casinos use the Random Number Generator which "shuffles" after each hand.

Nevertheless, it is still possible to count cards; only the systems have changed.

Because casinos know that there are players who can count cards in one-deck games, they offer such games with one simple change: they pay only 6-5 instead of 3-2 for blackjack. This one change makes these games non-profitable for even the best card counters.

Counting in Multi-Deck Games

There are four main systems for counting in the standard blackjack game. These standards apply to online blackjack also because the RNG produces basically multi-deck games.

Even if you feel that you can't learn to follow the cards well enough to benefit from counting, there is a system that will help you compete with the house better. There are also systems for players who are ready for the challenge of learning a truly complex betting system.

Blackjack Counting Systems


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Plus-Minus System - This is also called the high-low system. Each card has a value: the cards 2-6 are +1; 10-ace are -1; 7-9 are 0. You increase or decrease the card count as the cards appear. A positive score means 10-spot cards are due to come; a negative score portends well for lower numbered cards.

Players who use this system don't make decisions based on it until enough cards have been played from the shoe to make the score statistically reliable. Most players also wait until a score of at least +3 or -3 before making decisions based on this system.

Wizard System - This system is also called the ace-5 system. Aces have a value of -1; fives are +1. All other cards are zero.

KO System - This is the same as the high-low system except that the 7 also has a value of +1.

Hi-Opt 1 System - In this system the 2 and the ace have a value of zero. All other numbers are valued as in the hi-lo system.

Complex systems - There are three more complex systems. In those systems some numbers are valued 2 in addition to the standard zero, +1, and -1.

How Effective are the Systems?

The effectiveness of any counting system depends on the player's willingness to learn the system, practice it, and use it diligently. If you just want to play for fun, then these systems are probably not for you. If you relish the challenge of learning how to beat the house, and you have the patience to live through the bad streaks that defy the system, then a counting system can be a valuable tool you bring with you to the casino.

Posted by Denise Marie

Blackjack Resources

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