Card Counting: The Complete Guide

Welcome to Blackjack Genie’s Counting Guide! All the information you need to become an Advantage Player is right here on Blackjack Genie. This isn’t Hollywood; you don’t have to be an MIT student to learn to count cards. Anyone can learn! The hard part isn’t obtaining the knowledge to do it, it’s the practice you will need to put in to execute that knowledge when you’re at the table.

Of course being an MIT student and really good at math probably helps, but really all you need to be able to do is focus and deal with an onslaught of distractions while making a few extremely simple calculations in your head. And when I say simple, I mean it: all you have to know how to do is add or subtract 1 from a running total.

It should also be mentioned that under no circumstances should you ever pay for a fancy system or coach to learn to count cards. In fact, you should be wary of anyone attempting to charge you to learn. After all, being an Advantage Player is about YOU making money, not someone else.

How do you do it? The Hi Lo System

There are several different card counting systems you can learn, some of them more complex than others. Here we will focus on the Hi Lo system. It’s super simple and good enough to give you enough edge over the house to make money.

The general idea of any counting system is to keep track of how many high-value cards are left in the shoe (“for those of you who don’t know, the shoe is the deck or group of decks where the dealer pulls the cards from.”). Once there are a certain number of high value cards remaining in the shoe, you increase your bet. Note: Everything revolves around the shoe, so when a new shoe is shuffled, we restart everything.

With the Hi Lo system, we divide the cards in a deck into three different groups, and assign a value to each one of those groups.

The groups are:

  • low cards (2, 3, 4, 5, & 6)
  • neutral cards (7, 8, 9)
  • and high cards (10, J, Q, K, A)
  • Suit doesn’t matter. We assign low cards to +1, neutral cards to 0, and high cards to -1.
    (See the chart below!)

    +1 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
    0 7, 8, 9
    -1 10, J, Q, K, A

    As the cards are being dealt on the table, we add these values together to keep a running total. Our running total is our indicator of what is left in the deck. We are hoping to get to a high positive number for our running count which indicates a surplus of high-value cards left in the deck. (High-value cards mean better chances to win!)

    It should be noted that you will almost always be playing with multiple decks. This leads us to what is called the true count. The true count is your running count divided by the number of decks left in the shoe. Most games are played with a 6 or 8-deck shoe, so you will have to estimate this number. For example if you’re about halfway through an 8-deck shoe, you have 4 decks left and lets say your running count is 8. You would divide 8 by 4 to get a true count of 2. You will calculate the true count at the end of each hand in order to determine whether or not to raise your bet.

    Taking Advantage of the High Count

    Ok, so now you understand how to count. But what do you do once the count is in your favor? And what is even considered in your favor? Unfortunately this is where a lot of explanations stop. But there are still a lot of variables that need to be worked out before you can sit down at a table and implement this. This is where experience and preference comes in. A good starting point for when to take action is when your true count hits 4 and above, then you increase your bet 10 fold. These variable will change as you get comfortable and discover what level of risk you like.

    Altering Basic Strategy

    If you’re hungry for even more action, and want to take counting to an even higher level, you can alter your basic strategy according to the true count. Here’s what this means, if the true count is hitting an extreme in either direction (positive or negative) that means the odds of getting dealt a high card or low card changes. This dictates a shift in what you should and shouldn’t be hitting on. For example, let’s say you have an extremely high true count, +8 for example, and your hand is at 16 vs a dealer’s 10 card. Regular Basic Strategy says to hit, however, since you have inside info (from counting!) that there are still many high cards left in the deck, you will likely opt to stand.

    Practice Your ASS Off!

    Now that you have all the pieces to the puzzle of what card counting is, and how it intertwines with your betting and your strategy, you have to bring it all together and practice it until it’s muscle memory. But obviously we don’t want to be practicing at the table, because that will turn out to be very costly practice. Get yourself a fresh deck of cards, and get ready to count.

    There are two at-home training exercises you should get rock solid on before you hit a casino. First, is an old tried and true drill to get your counting skills down. Flip through a deck and keep count as you go. Your running count should be 0 at the end of the deck. See how fast you can get.

    Once you’re breezing through the deck like a pro, then you’re ready to simulate a whole game. Deal a whole game with 4 players and a dealer. Play out each hand using Basic Strategy while also keeping count. This will be the most challenging (and beneficial!) practice that you can do. You are actually getting your brain used to focusing on all the several factors that are necessary to be a successful card counter. You’re practicing Basic Strategy, and finding any weak spots you have by playing 4 hands at once while also keeping count. Once you can do this exercise without losing track of your count, or forgetting any Basic Strategy, you are no doubt ready to hit the table!

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