How to Count Cards in Blackjack

Last Updated on October 16, 2023

Learn Card Counting IconHow to Count Cards in Blackjack to Boost Your Winning Chances

Blackjack has long been one of the most played games at the casino tables. It is a skill-based game, so players must first learn the basics before playing it for real money. One good thing about blackjack is that its house edge is favorable. What’s more, you can tip the odds in your favor by counting cards. If you’ve heard of card counting in blackjack but you don’t know how it works, this guide is meant for you. You are going to learn everything you need to know about the art of card counting using the popular Hi-Lo strategy to improve your chances of beating the dealer.

What Does Card Counting Mean?

Contrary to what some people think, card counting is not about memorizing every card that is dealt. Simply put, card counting is a blackjack strategy that allows players to determine when the odds are in their favor by keeping a running count of all low and high valued cards dealt. According to the existing statistical evidence, players benefit more from high-value cards (10, Jack (J), Queen (Q), King (K), and Ace (A)) than low-value cards (2 to 6). The remaining cards (7, 8, and 9) are considered to be neutral and thus have no value when counting cards.

A Deck of Playing Cards

    A Deck of Playing Cards


With this information, players only need to know the ratio of high to low cards in the deck to determine the next move. This is possible through the Hi-Lo card counting technique we are going to explain in this guide. If there are more high-value cards remaining in the deck, the best move is to increase your bet. And if there are more undealt, low-value cards in the deck, the recommended action is to lower your bet.

Practice With Our Free Blackjack Card Counting Game:

First Things First – Learn Perfect Basic Blackjack Strategy

Before you can even begin counting cards in blackjack, it’s advisable to be acquainted with the perfect basic blackjack strategy. In simple terms, you need to know when to hit, stand, double down, split pairs, or surrender depending on what’s on the table. Well, card counting is not about memorizing cards, but you’ll have to remember the actions you should take based on your hand value and the dealer’s cards. The fact of the matter is that understanding the basics will put you in a more advantageous position than when playing blindly.

Let the Counting Begin – Assign a Tag to Every Card

Once you know how to play blackjack with some advantage, you can now make use of the Hi-Lo card counting strategy to boost your winning odds and beat the dealer. The first step is to learn how to assign tags or card values depending on the face value of each card dealt by the dealer. We have summarized the tags below for quick reference.

Playing Cards Card Value (Tag)
2, 3, 4, 5, 6 +1
7, 8, 9 0
10, J, Q, K, A -1

Keep a Running Count for Each Round

You’ll have to do some math to keep a running count as each card is dealt from the shoe. Whenever a new card is issued, you’ll either add 1, add 0, or subtract 1 depending on the value of that card. We will look at some simple examples to help you understand how to keep a running count.

Example 1

Let’s say a hand contains the cards 2, A, 8, and Q. We can then assign the tags as shown below.

2 (+1), A (-1), 8 (0), and Q (-1)

Here, the running count is 1-1+0-1 = -1

Example 2

Consider another blackjack hand with the cards 4, 5, 2, and 7. The card values would be as follows.

4 (+1), 5 (+1), 2 (+1), and 7 (0)

The running count for this hand would be 1+1+1+0 = +3

It’s as simple as that! Keep in mind that you have to count every time a new card is dealt, including the dealer’s hand. Furthermore, you need to keep a running count for each round and add the values up until the dealer shuffles the cards. You not only need to be fast but also accurate to get the best results in the end.

Calculate Your True Count

One thing we can’t afford to ignore is the fact that modern casinos use several decks of cards in blackjack. This makes it a bit harder for players to count cards using their heads. It would be much easier to use what you’ve learned so far to your advantage if you were playing the game of blackjack with a single deck of cards. But casinos don’t want you to win easily, so almost every blackjack game you can play at online casinos or at traditional casinos will have many card decks.

Thankfully, you can still count cards if you are aware of the number of decks remaining after a round. Card counters only need to convert their running count into a true count. The true count is calculated by dividing the running count by the number of remaining decks.

Let’s assume you have a running count of +7 and 2 decks remaining. Here, your true count is 7 ÷ 2 or 3.5, which is considered to be a 3 in the world of blackjack. As with the running count, the true count can be positive or negative. It’s what you need to decide whether to increase or lower your bet.

Increase Your Bet on Positive Counts

What makes card counting so useful in blackjack is that the running count and true count can tell you how much to wager next. Having a high or positive count means that more low-value cards have been dealt, so there more high-value cards remaining in the deck. This is the perfect scenario because the odds are on your side and the dealer is most likely to bust. There’s a good chance that the next card to be dealt is high-valued, so the wise thing to do is increase your wager.

Lower Your Bet on Negative Counts

Having a low or negative count means that the odds are against you. In other words, more high-value cards have been dealt, and a lot of smaller cards are yet to be dealt. This is not a favorable situation for the player because the dealer has better chances of getting a favorable hand. At this point, the recommended option is to lower your wager or not play at all. You don’t want to risk losing your hard-earned money knowing that your winning chances are extremely low.

How Card Counting Gives You an Advantage Over the Casino

Every gambler should know that all casino games have what is known as the house edge or casino advantage. This refers to the advantage the casino has over the player when playing a certain casino game. If you are experienced and well trained to play blackjack perfectly, it’s possible to lower the house edge to about or even less than 0.5%. This is quite impressive compared to what you get when playing casino games like slots. Now, if you combine a perfect basic strategy with card counting, you can play with a 1% advantage and win more than you would without a strategy.

Don’t Forget to Practice Regularly

As a good gambler, you must always look for ways to improve your betting skills. This is especially essential when it comes to blackjack and other skill-based casino games. Likewise, the card counting strategy requires practice for you to execute it flawlessly. You don’t want to have the wrong count at the end of a round because it can lead to potentially devastating consequences if you increase your bet at the wrong time. Moreover, the action is pretty fast at blackjack tables in brick-and-mortar casinos, so you need to train yourself to count swiftly.

The easiest way to practice card counting is to use an our above online blackjack trainer. This tool looks like a blackjack table and usually has a timer to keep track of your counting speed. The software deals the cards and your work is to keep a running count based on the face value of the dealt cards. There are no distractions here, so you can do a lot of practice in one session.

The second option is to practice with friends or other players outside the casino, but the process is likely to be slow because of disruptions. It’s up to you to decide which way to practice. The good news is both methods bear no risk of getting caught while you are still learning how to count cards.

Blackjack Card Caunting FAQ

Can I Count Cards When Playing Online Blackjack?

No you can not, Diving deep into the intricacies of blackjack has made me realize that while card counting offers a strategic advantage in brick-and-mortar casinos, it loses its charm in the digital space. Here’s why:

Digital Shuffling Mechanisms: A lion’s share of online blackjack platforms harnesses Random Number Generators (RNGs) to produce card sequences. This translates to an automatic reshuffle post every hand, eradicating the possibility of tracking card ratios – the essence of card counting.

Consistent Shuffles in Live Games: Even when you’re engrossed in a live online blackjack session, the card deck is reshuffled frequently, often before reaching the end. This rapid reshuffling obstructs card counters from exploiting a favorable count.

Deck Multiplicity: Venturing online, you’ll notice casinos employing several card decks simultaneously. Though card counting isn’t entirely ruled out in such scenarios, the regular online reshuffling diminishes any potential edge.

Limited Shoe Exploration: In conventional casinos, the deeper you delve into a shoe (especially with fewer decks), the more advantageous it is for a card counter. Online setups, particularly those with live dealers, introduce the cut card prematurely, thereby reducing the efficiency of card counting.

In essence, while land-based casinos present fruitful conditions for card counting, online platforms, armed with their unique defenses, neutralize this approach.

For those seeking to elevate their online blackjack game, consider these pointers:

  • Opt for games governed by player-friendly rules.
  • Consult a basic strategy guide.
  • Oversee your funds judiciously.
  • Intersperse gameplay with intervals to steer clear of exhaustion and rash choices.
  • Remember, at its heart, gambling is about relishing the moment. Approach it with caution and consciousness.

Is Card Counting in Blackjack Illegal?

You might ask, is card counting illegal? Can someone be prosecuted for using it at casinos to increase their chances of beating the dealer? Well, in states like Nevada, there are gambling laws prohibiting players from counting cards using mechanical or electronic devices. But, all over the world, there are no specific laws prohibiting players from using their arithmetic skills to count cards.

There’s nothing wrong with using your brain count cards, but the truth is that casinos don’t like it. You’ll probably be thrown out of the casino or blacklisted if they find you counting cards. You have to do it in such a way that no one notices what’s happening. To achieve this, most card counters work in groups whereby the most skilled people play while others count cards and signal the players.

My Thoughts on Card Counting

Las Vegas BlackjackBlackjack is an easy game to play and a great choice because you can make the odds favor you by counting cards. If it’s your favorite game, you first need to learn the basic strategy so you can make informed decisions. Once you do, you can train yourself here to use the Hi-Lo card counting strategy to have a good idea of when to bet more or less depending on the running count or true count. Above all, you need to practice as much as you can to sharpen your gaming and card counting skills.

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