Card Counting

Hollywood has made sure we’ve all seen or read stories about incredible blackjack wins in Vegas casinos using a system called card counting. But, does anyone really know what card counting really is? Movies and books can make it look easy, but if we’re being honest, it’s a pretty complex system that requires perfect knowledge of the game.

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Card counting is the only strategy that works in blackjack. Forget all about Fibonacci, Martingale or positive and negative progression systems – although they might be profitable in the short run, becoming a good card counter is the way to go if you want to be really successful in blackjack.

What’s Card Counting?

Card counting is a complex blackjack strategy and a form of advantage gambling whose goal is to significantly reduce the house edge and give the player advantage over the casino, which is often quite big.

The system allows players to bet more with a less risk and tries to minimize losses during an unfavorable count, while also giving players the ability to change their decisions depending on the card count. Most variations of card counting in blackjack are centered on the theory that big cards favor the player, while low cards are more favorable for the dealer. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but that’s the basic theory of card counting.

Friends having fun in the casino

Card counting was invented by legendary mathematician and blackjack player Edward O. Thorp. His book Beat the Dealer from 1962 is considered the Holy Grail for card counters, although most of the techniques can no longer be used in casinos, who have taken serious counter-measures to cut their losses.

Even before Thorp’s card counting guide, there were players ‘robbing’ casinos across the country. Jess Marcum was a gambler who is credited with the invention of the first point-count system, while in 1957, a group known by casino owners as the Four Horsemen (Wilbert Cantey, Roger Baldwin, James McDermott, and Herbert Maisel) published the first blackjack strategy and devised the first rudimentary card counting system with the help of mechanical calculators.

Since then, the system progressed, with many legendary card counting teams formed with one goal in mind – to beat the casinos at their own game.

How Does it Work?

As we already mentioned, when using card counting, high cards benefit the player, while low cards are more beneficial to the dealer. A high concentration of 10s in the shoe gives the player better chances of hitting a blackjack and winning the hand unless the round comes to a push. It also makes splitting hands and the insurance side bet more profitable.

The way low cards benefit the dealer lies in the fact that they have to hit stiff hands (under 17), so a high card would put them over 21. Low cards, on the other hand, give them a much better chance of winning the round.

High cards benefit the player

Most people think that they need to be savants to count cards, but it’s not like that at all. Although it does require perfect knowledge of the game and system, players rarely use a mental tally in card counting (e.g. tracking and memorizing cards). Instead, they use a point score system which estimates the value of the cards. They will then track the sum total of the values (running count) which helps them determine what their next move is.


Card counting assigns a positive, negative or zero value to the cards dealt. Low cards raise the running count as they leave more 10s in the deck, while high cards work the opposite way. Values with 7-9 don’t affect the running count and have zero value.

The aim of card counting is to assign point values to a card’s EOR (Effect of Removal). Just like the term explains, EOR is the effect a removed card from play has on the house edge. Thanks to it, players can ‘recalculate’ the house edge depending on the remaining cards in the deck.

Of course, the card counting system uses various techniques that have developed over the years due to the fact that casinos have already been able to counter some of them.

Card Counting Techniques

The Hi-Lo system is based on the theory of betting a higher amount when the deck is favorable, meaning it has a high concentration of 10s left. The system is one of the easiest ways to count cards and also one of the most profitable. By determining the ratio of high and low cards left in the shoe, a player can easily adjust his bets depending on the situation. If, as we mentioned, there are many high cards left in the deck, the situation can be quite profitable.

Hi-Lo system
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The true count system in card counting is based on the count of the remaining cards in the deck rather than the high-low ratio. The closer you get to the bottom of the deck, the more accurate your count will be. So, but dividing the running count with a rough number of the decks left in the shoe, you’ll come to the so-called ‘true count’ many players use today.

True counting is a bit more complex as it requires visual identification of remaining decks, but the more you practice, the easier it will become. Once you’re comfortable telling how many decks are left in the shoe, you can use this system as an accurate and profitable way of counting cards.

The first two systems described are pretty easy compared to Wonging or some of the many other complex card counting systems. Wonging was named after John Ferguson, a gambler who wrote several books on blackjack under the pseudonym Stanford Wong. The Wonging technique requires players to observe the table while others play and jump into action when the deck is ‘hot’ (favorable for the player).

The main benefit of this technique is that it will keep your bankroll in check since you’re not spending any money until there’s money to be won. However, nearly every casino has floor managers nowadays who will easily spot ‘Wongers’ and most don’t even allow players to enter in the middle of the game anymore. When it can be used, wonging can be quite profitable.

How Casinos Counteract Card Counting

The main goal of casinos is to make money, so you can bet they use numerous advanced technological devices which can spot card counters from a mile away. First and foremost, most casinos nowadays use sophisticated facial recognition cameras which scan every visitor in a casino, so if you were blacklisted at one casino, you will most likely be denied entry into another.

Furthermore, many casinos use microchips in the gambling chips which track information on the bets, so it’s really simple for them to collect information about every bet on any table. Finally, other techniques such as cutting cards and in-house card counting were invented by casinos in order to ‘fight’ card counters and keep their profits rising instead of declining.

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