Blackjack Card Counting Online Guide – Part 1

This is part 1 of a 3 part guide for counting cards in blackjack online. See the other parts of the guide below:

Part I | Part II | Part III

Counting Cards is Easy

When most people hear about “counting cards”, they think you need to be a genius who can memorize the order of an entire deck of cards in the blink of an eye. The truth is all you actually need to be able to keep in your head is one single number. We’ll call this number “the count”.

The count starts at 0, and each time the dealer turns up a card all you have to do is add 1 to the count if it’s a high card or subtract 1 if it’s a low card – that’s the only maths you need! You’re really just keeping track of the number of high cards that come out of the deck versus the number of low cards, and using this information to make your decisions. How your decisions are affected is also way simpler than people think, and is explained later in the guide.

There’s a system which is even simpler still, where you ignore both the highest and lowest card (Ace and Deuce) so you have less to focus on. The idea being since an Ace is high (+1 to the count) and a Deuce is low (-1 to the count) ignoring both of them will even out. This is less accurate since when an Ace is dealt, the count will be slightly out until a Deuce is dealt, and vice versa. It’s a great way to get into card counting for beginners, though.

Online is a great place to start giving card counting a go, since there are none of the distractions which are found at a live blackjack table. As with anything practice makes perfect, so don’t be disheartened if it takes you a few tries to get into the swing of it. Read through the rest of this guide and you’ll be impressing your less-informed friends with your card counting genius in no time!

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An Introduction to Card Counting in Blackjack

People have long been interested in the “phenomenon” that is counting cards and being able to beat the house at one of their own games. The infamous “MIT Blackack Team” of the 1980’s was the first public exposure of card counting. More recently, the 2008 movie “21” was all about a fictional account of a team who used these methods to win large sums of money from the casinos.

While movies and the media know some things about card counting, as usual, there are aspects of it that they glamorize, and other aspects that they neglect or just don’t understand. First off, counting cards won’t make you rich. You won’t ever be able to know what the next card off the deck will be, and you certainly won’t win every time. But you also don’t need a perfect memory to count cards, like the main character in “21” had. In fact, all it takes is some good techniques and basic math skills! You’re really just keeping track of the number of high cards that come out of the deck versus the number of low cards, and using this information to make your decisions.

For the longest time counting cards was only viable at real brick and mortar casinos. But now that online casinos are offering blackjack games with live dealers and real cards, the methods from this article will be useful online too.

William Hill Casino and Bet365 are two casinos who have branched out and are now offering live dealt games on their sites. It’s just like sitting at a real blackjack table. There is a live dealer who interacts with the players and deals the cards. All the players place their bets and make their decisions on their computer just like any other blackjack game. Winnings are paid to your balance just like regular online games. The cards are easy to read, both the software and the dealer make sure that the total is correct.

Why is Card Counting so popular for Blackjack, but not for other games?

As most players know, blackjack is typically the lowest house advantage game that casinos offer. By playing perfect basic strategy, the house edge is about 0.5-1%. Blackjack is also one of the few games offered where you can make strategic decisions such as bet sizing and when to stand, hit, double down, surrender, etc. Games such as Video Poker have a small house edge, but there usually isn’t a way to turn it into a player advantage. Other table games such as Caribbean Stud Poker allow the players to make many decisions to help their bottom line, but the house edge is far too great to ever overcome.

Blackjack has just the right qualities needed to make it beatable. The edge is tiny and you can make better decisions based on the information you gather by seeing what cards have already been dealt. Even if your better decisions only make a 2% improvement on your bottom line, at Blackjack this is enough to turn a 1% house advantage into a 1% player advantage! This may not sound like much, but imagine if every dollar the casino made at blackjack went into your pocket instead of theirs.

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How does card counting work?

Blackjack card counting operates on a very basic principle: there are cards that are more favorable to the player than the dealer, namely, face cards and aces. This is true for a couple of reasons.

First off, the player gets to decide when to stop taking cards, while the dealer must play by a fixed set of rules (usually hitting until they get 17-21 or they bust). When the dealer takes large cards, they are more likely to bust than if they take small cards. The player also has other beneficial options available such as splitting, doubling down and in some cases, surrendering.

Secondly, aces are much better for the player than the dealer. While an ace is helpful for either player, the player benefits more. When a dealer gets a blackjack, the player simply loses their bet. But when the player gets a blackjack, they get paid 50% more than normal (on a 3:2 blackjack payout). If the player and dealer took turns getting blackjacks, the player would come out way ahead in the end.

So aces and face cards are good for the player. How do you count cards so you know when there are more aces/tens left in the deck? The simplest strategy for counting cards is called the Hi-Lo count. For this we assign the good cards (10, J, Q, K, A) a value of -1 and the bad cards (2, 3, 4, 5, 6) a value of +1. As cards are dealt from the deck, you keep a running total of the value in our heads. Cards 7, 8 and 9 have no count value and are ignored. As you may have already noticed, there are an equal number of +1 and -1 value cards. Each deck or shoe starts, and ends, with a neutral value of 0.

For instance, if the first ten cards dealt are 4, 5, A, J, 3, 8, 9, 3, 2, K we could count in our heads like this:

Card Card Value Running Count
4 +1 +1
5 +1 +2
A -1 +1
J -1 0
3 +1 +1
8 0 +1
9 0 +1
3 +1 +2
2 +1 +3
K -1 +2

After this series of cards, we now have a “Running Count” of “+2”. This number means that so far there have been two fewer good cards dealt than bad cards. If this was a single deck game, we would know that out of the remaining 42 cards, ace/face cards now outnumber the rank 2-6 cards by two. The result is a favorable situation for the player. If instead the count was negative, it would be there are less good cards in the remainder of the deck, and thus unfavorable for the player.

This guide continues with part 2 – Blackjack Card Counting Online Part 2

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