Card Counting is the art is keeping track of cards that have been dealt, with the aim to increase the odds in favour of the player.
The most common game for Card Counting to be used is in Blackjack, especially when more than one shoe – deck of cards – is used.
How advantageous is Card Counting?
In short, not very.
It has featured in a number of films over the years and several of them make it look like it is a sure-fire way to win. Let’s face it though – if that was the case, people would be doing it all the time and casinos would either have made changes to counter-act it or they would have gone bust by now.
Yes, it can help you make decisions in a hand if you know if there is an above average or below average number of cards with the value of 10, Aces or low value cards.
However, the edge it gives the player over the house is miniscule -around 0.5% to 1.5% – and many players don’t feel that it is worth the effort.
Added to this that in land-based casinos Card Counting is more than frowned upon and could get you removed from a casino and it is important to weigh up the pros and cons of doing it.
How is Card Counting done?
If you still feel the need to try your hand at Card Counting, then read on!
Firstly, before you even think about Card Counting, you need to be comfortable with the basic strategy of Blackjack.
Study it and restudy it until you are 100% certain that you have got it nailed down. The very small edge that you may get if you master card counting will be more than off-set if you don’t follow the optimal strategy.
The main principal behind Card Counting is that a shoe of cards which has an above average number of 10’s – so 10, Jack, Queen and King – is better for the player, whilst a shoe of cards that has an above average number of low cards – Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 – is better for the Dealer.
When you know the shoes have a higher than average number of 10’s, the aim is to bet bigger as you have a better chance of winning, the same goes the other way – reduce bets or stop altogether and wait for the next shoe if you know that there are a high number of lower value cards.
The optimal strategy can be adjusted slightly when there are a lot of 10’s available, for example Doubling more often if a 10 will help your hand versus a poor Dealer card. There are several different ways Players go about card counting, as we mentioned before though casinos will frown upon it, so you need to ensure you don’t make it obvious that you are counting.
Each strategy will assign a value to a card.
The most common is to start with a value of 0 and add 1 point for every 10 dealt – so 10, Jack, Queen and King – and remove 1 point for every 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. The running count will determine how you play a hand – a total higher than 0 will show that there are fewer 10’s left and more lower cards which gives the Dealer a better chance of hitting a hand. In this case, you should consider reducing your bets – the higher the total, the better it is for the Dealer.
On the flip side, the lower the value the more likely it is you will hit a 10 and therefore the better it is for the Player.
Blackjack is a game like most others, the more information you have about the shoe in play, the better as you can start to turn the edge your way as opposed to the Casino. As mentioned above however, the difference in house edge of anywhere between 0.5% and 1.5% isn’t going to make the difference between you winning a large amount and losing, but it certainly helps.
Let’s take a look at all options available to you and see what you should do when there are a lot of 10’s available and why.
Stand: As a Player, you can choose to stand on totals from 12 to 16, which the Dealer cannot do. When there are a lot of 10’s left in the shoe, the chances of busting increase and therefore it is recommended that you play more conservative and Stand when there is a chance of Busting more often.
Insurance: Whereas Insurance would normally be considered a bad bet, if there are a higher than average number of 10’s available, it is worth considering. On average, a 10 will be drawn from the shoe around 30.8% of the time. If this is increases to 33.33 – so 1 in 3 cards have a value of 10, then the edge the house has is removed from the bet. Anything above 33.33% puts the bet in the Players favour as the potential returns outweigh the potential losses.
Doubling: A high majority of the time a player Doubles, they would like a 10. If there are a high number of 10’s in the shoe, it follows that their chance of hitting one increase and therefore you should look to maximise your bets, including Doubling where your total is higher than the Dealers and there is no chance of Busting – so for example a total of 9 versus the Dealers 8.
Surrender: If there are a lot of 10’s available and it would lead to you Busting, then a viable alternative when available is to Surrender. Yes, you lose half your stake with no chance of winning the hand, but the odds are higher than average that you will Bust anyway so by Surrendering you at least get half of your stake back as opposed to losing the lot.
Splitting: Splitting would normally happen when you have a reasonable size card and the Dealer has a low card. Again, it is all about maximizing your bets when the Dealer has a 5 or 6, in a shoe with above average 10’s, you can also look to Split against the Dealers 3 and 4 as there is a higher chance they will bust and you still have a chance of getting a good total as well.