Does card counting work? Yes. In the nine years I worked as a blackjack dealer, I saw a lot of hopeful schemes and ideas, and while many failed, some of them really worked. Card counting, in particular, has a proven track-record of making money for those who are willing to do it right.
Card counting is a little too involved to teach in a short article, but that’s okay. Before you learn the specific skills, you need to know what it will involve to really do it right, so you can decide if it is worth the effort. That’s what this article is about.
Card Counting 101
In the game of blackjack, card counting is a technique for “beating the house.” This means you make more money than you lose in the long run, but not necessarily on any given day. You beat the house by playing in such a way that the odds are in your favor. How do you get the odds in your favor?
You watch and wait. When the deck is “rich” enough in high-value cards (10,J,Q,K,A), the odds tilt slightly in favor of the player. This has been proven statistically, although how much the odds favor you depends on the “house rules,” meaning the exact rules of the game in that particular casino. The odds also depend on the number of decks that the dealer deals from, and how far into the “card shoe” (the holder that the cards are dealt from) the dealer deals before re-shuffling.
The basic idea is to monitor the cards as they come out, and when the deck has more high-value cards than normal in it, bet more. Bet less when the house has the edge, more when you have the edge, and the odds are in your favor. In other words, you should make money in the long run.
The above is a simple explanation, and you need to study a good counting book to make this work. You need to know “basic strategy,” meaning you need to know when to take a “hit” and when to “stand.” Your play has to be precise to really have the edge. You also need to practice at home for hours. It can be tough at first to keep track of all those cards flying out of that shoe, while the other players talk and waitresses interrupt you.
The “counting” part is essentially assigning a value to the cards and tracking them. This is done more easily at tables where the cards are dealt face up (except the dealer’s “hole card”). In one system. Aces and face cards are given a value of -1, two through six are valued at 1, and seven, eight and nine are considered neutral.
Watching the cards, you add and subtract their values, betting the table minimum all the while. When you arrive at a predetermined count, let’s say 7, you raise your bet. The high count means that there are a higher percentage of high-value cards left in the deck than normal. The odds are in your favor.
One card counter I dealt to for years would sit at the table for most of an evening, almost always betting the $2 minimum. He shifted chips from one hand to another, his own way of tracking the “plus or minus count.” When the shoe (five decks of cards in this case) was rich enough in high-value cards, he would suddenly be betting two hands at $20 each.
He made money, but not much. Do this well, and you may still only get a 1.5% edge on the casino. If, between your minimum bets and the others you average $8 per hand, and 75 hands per hour are dealt, you’ll make about $9 per hour. This assumes you can tolerate alternating losing and winning days and hours of concentration. Betting more brings that hourly rate up, of course, along with the risk of bigger losing days. Card counting is definitely not for everyone.
Card Counting Secrets