Out on the Town

The Art Of Card Counting Explained

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No matter who you are, the main goal when visiting the casino is trying to make money by getting an edge over ‘the house’. Everyone knows this, including casino staff, which is why so much time, money and effort goes into stopping players from cheating to gain the upper hand. From loaded dies to complex poker signalling systems, crafty players have tried everything to try and cheat their way into winning more money.

One casino technique that often gets thrown in with well-known cheating techniques is card counting in Blackjack. Many believe that card counting is illegal and that those caught counting card will be asked to leave, roughed up or worse. The truth however is that card counting is neither illegal nor classed as cheating and pretty much anyone with basic arithmetic can give it a try.

Card counting has entered popular culture, with films like Rain Man, The Hangover and 21 depicting card counters as hyper intelligent or savant characters who require superhuman brain power to track individual cards that are dealt. The reality is that card counting is a lot simpler and requires an understanding of blackjack and the ability to add and subtract, rather than memorizing entire decks of cards.

The best way to become good at Blackjack card counting is through practice, learning how to play blackjack and expanding your blackjack strategy through experts such as Henry Tamburin PhD. It can be difficult trying to keep track of what is being played, especially if the dealer or other players are quick and there is a lot of splitting going on, but at the end of the day adding and subtracting one over and over again shouldn’t be too taxing on the brain.

Mastering Blackjack makes card counting much easier, but it is still a fairly basic concept that moderate Blackjack players should follow quite easily. In Blackjack, there are cards that are very useful to players, i.e. 10s, picture cards and Aces that make it easy to achieve Blackjack, or get fairly close. There are also cards that aren’t great, i.e. anything from between 2-6. This is because lower cards leaves the player with a difficult decision, as hitting again could either take them over 21 (‘bust’) or improve their situation slightly. These lower cards are useful to the dealer however, as the dealer is obliged to stick if they have anything above 17 on the table, but must hit if they are below this. This means they are looking for low cards to ensure they don’t go bust, whereas players want the dealer to go bust if they are still in the game in order to win. 7, 8 and 9 are classed as ‘neutral’ cards, as they can be either useful or useless depending on the hand.

By ‘tagging’ these sets of cards, it becomes clear that no matter how many decks are in play, there is an even number of ‘desirable’ cards, i.e. Aces, tens and pictures and ‘undesirable’ ones, i.e. 2,3,4,5 or 6. This is where the ‘science’ of card counting comes into play. As each card is taken out of play once it has been dealt, the number of cards in the deck, or ‘shoe’ grows smaller. If there is one 52 card deck for example, there are 20 ‘good’ cards (Ace, ten, picture remember), 20 ‘bad’ ones and 12 neutral ones. Now the task is to use simple maths to ‘add’ and ‘subtract’ cards from the deck, assigning +1 to low cards and -1 to high cards, with 0 given to neutral 7s, 8s and 9s.

As the game goes on, it should become easier to add and subtract the cards as you go, whilst concentrating on the game at the same time. If after a while you find that you are into minus figures, then you should be at a slight advantage as there are less ‘low’ cards left in the deck and you should technically win more. This isn’t fool proof as you are still relying on probability, but you should be able to sustain a higher winning percentage than the dealer over time.

As mentioned earlier, card counting is neither cheating nor illegal, but casinos really don’t like it as it’s a practically unenforceable way of beating the house. Winning too much, getting caught making notes, signalling or even something as basic as counting under your breath may wind up with you being asked to leave and in the world of the casino, managers and dealers don’t need any grounds to ask you to stop; they are 100% in charge.


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