There’s a reason why blackjack is one of the most popular games in the casino – the house edge is fairly low even if you just play by instinct, but if you employ basic strategy, then the edge gets cut lower and lower until it almost breaks even. Playing like this, even an average player has a good chance of leaving the table up if they have a little bit of luck to go with their strategy. But if you really want to have an advantage at the blackjack table, you need to get your head around card counting. Card counting swings the balance so that it’s the player who has the advantage and it’s for that reason that a lot of casinos tend to get funny about it.
Whilst not illegal, the advantage it gives the player is considerable and can be costly to the casino. There are plenty of different systems out there and picking the one you find works for you is key but, before we get into that, let’s have a look at how card counting works.
How does card counting work?
Despite the name, you don’t DIRECTLY count cards as you go. It was first raised to public prominence by Edward Thorp, in his 1962 book Beat the Dealer, a book that details various systems and strategies in order to best the dealer at blackjack. The methods employed by Thorp sadly won’t be of much use today – the casinos have taken steps to ensure that things like dealing to the last card and only using a single deck, have been strictly limited in order to prevent these techniques from running rampant through the casino.
But the core idea that Thorp came up with is based on something of a mathematical certainty. As you see all of the cards that are dealt for each hand, as long as the deck isn’t shuffled after every single hand, you have some previously revealed information on which to base your future assumptions. While Thorp’s initial system was somewhat over-complicated for your average gambler, there have since been many refinements to the art that help players keep an edge in casinos, though at the core of all of them the idea is to count up or down based on what’s come out in order to predict what’ll be next.
The different systems of Card Counting
- The Ten-Count system, pioneered by Edward Thorp himself, has fallen out of favour owing to its primary use being for single deck games and the casinos moving to more multiple deck orientated play. All you have to do in this system is add +4 to the count for every card with a value from 1-9 (this system counts the ace as a 1) and then -9 for any cards that are a ten, jack, queen or king. While the system is still useful, it’s a little unwieldy for most players and has led to other techniques now being preferred.
- The Hi-Lo System, the most popular system with players, is a direct successor to the Ten-Count system with a very similar process in place. The core of the system is that you add +1 for every card you see between 2 and 6, minus 1 for every card from 10-A. The 7, 8 and 9 value cards are valued at zero. This helps to keep the maths fairly simple while giving you a reasonably good insight into what’s happening in the deck.
- The Omega II system, getting into the more advanced options, is more complex than the other systems we’ve talked about so far but with a much clearer track of how the deck’s count is looking. The system is multi-level though, making the tracking quite awkward if you don’t keep your wits about you. In the Omega II system the cards 2, 3 and 7 have a value of +1, while 4, 5 and 6 are worth +2; the 9 is equal to -1 while 10 and the face cards king, queen, jack are marked with -2; the aces and the eights are counted as 0. As you can see, this is a bit more complicated than the earlier systems though not quite as complicated as counting each individual card. But the added complexity leads to a better understanding of the deck’s count.
There is, of course, a wider range of methods available to you with card counting, some more complex, some more rudimentary, but all with the same core principles as the methods employed here. If you’re hoping to make a killing at the blackjack tables, you owe it to yourself to start learning to card count. Just don’t get caught! And if you feel like playing a few hands of blackjack, why not drop by Betfair casino and see how your luck fares!