What Is Counting Cards In Blackjack?

Card counting has been around since the 1950s. But wasn’t popularised as a method of beating the Blackjack table until the 1960s. Right about the time when a mathematics professor by the name of Dr. Edward O. Thorp published a book called ‘Beat the Dealer’.

The book highlighted that it was possible for a clever player to actually gain a greater advantage over the casino at blackjack. It is one of the most popular ways to win at the game and many people swear by it. Though if you are actually going to use it as a strategy be prepared to get thrown out of the casino if you are caught!

Simply put, card counting is a counting system used to keep track of the ratio of high to low cards in a deck. This is now used as the basis for most card counting strategies used in blackjack today. More recently the system was used and improved upon by the famous MIT blackjack card counting team. They took many of the top Vegas casinos for millions and had their exploits turned into the major motion film, 21, starring Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, and Kevin Spacey.

The Advantage

The player knows he has an advantage when a deck has a shortage of cards valued: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

The Disadvantage

The player is at a disadvantage when a deck has a shortage of cards valued: 9, 10, Ace

When you card count you can tell when the deck is rich in 9’s, 10’s, and Aces. As a result, you can do one of the following things:

  • Bet more money when the deck is favorable to you.
  • Alter your strategy play to account for the favorability which will increase the odds of winning a particular hand.

How Does Card Counting Work?

A deck of cards has 52 cards in total. The deck is then divided into four distinct sections, each section having a specific value attached to the cards in that section.

Card Value Total
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, +1 20 (5 cards, 4 of each in a deck)
7, 8, 9 0 0
10, J, Q, K -1 -16 (4 cards, 4 of each in a deck)
Ace -1 -4 (4 Aces in a deck)

The breakdown of the deck of cards above clearly shows the four sections. Plus the value attached to the individual cards in each. If you added up all of the cards (-1, 0 or +1) they would balance perfectly to give you a starting point of 0.

When you count the cards in a hand and the cards out on the table end with a + value then you’re at an advantage. However, when you count them and you get minus value then you’re at a slight disadvantage.


The following cards are shown in the course of a hand

2 3 8 10 K Q 4 3 4 9

The first value is +1 for the 2 followed by +1 for the 3. You are now at +2. Next is the 8 which has 0 points. That is followed by -1 for the 10. You’re now at +1.

Both the King and the Queen are worth -1 each. You’re now at -1. With the 4’s and 3 all worth +1 and the 9 at 0 you finish with +2.

2 (+1) 3 (+1) 8 (0) 10 (-1) K (-1) Q (-1) 4 (+1) 3 (+1) 4 (+1) 9 (0)

Result: +2

This is a positive outcome for you, the player. Because of that, you now have a greater advantage than the house. Which makes it more likely that you will win this hand.

The only way that you will get good at this is by practice. We recommend that you do this on a ‘play for fun’ table which won’t cost you anything. You can also use a deck of cards and count them one by one as you turn them over. Practice makes perfect!

You can also check out this card counting video from expert Mike Aponte. He is a former member of the infamous MIT Blackjack Team and will take you through the complicated process of counting cards.

Now that you have all of your card counting ducks in a row, you can play for real. There are plenty of great online casinos, many of which have new customer welcome bonuses. We particularly like Mr Green Casino but ultimately, the choice is yours!