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Basic Blackjack Card Counting Strategy

Ever hear of card counting at blackjack? Are you like me and thought you must be a genius to do it or some type of Rain Man like Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie? Well, you’ll find it’s not as hard as you might have thought, and even counting 6 decks isn’t that much more difficult!

Learn Basic Strategy First

Card counting isn’t the place you want to start when it comes to blackjack. The first place is what’s called the Basic Strategy. This is a strategy that is always the proper play of the cards given the only knowledge being your two-card hand and the dealer’s upcard. For example, basic strategy is to always hit 16 against a dealer’s face card (unless surrender is offered which is rare but in which case surrender is proper) and you should always split 9s against an 8, which many people incorrectly stand.

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Basic strategy for just about all forms of regular blackjack you find in the casinos is the same. There can be small differences between games that have more or fewer decks or casinos that stand on soft 17 versus hit on soft 17 (a soft 17 is a 17 including an ace that can be hit with a face card and not bust) and bigger changes in games that allow you to double after you split cards, in which case you’d split pairs much more frequently. Any blackjack book should have a basic strategy section, and there are many online if you search.

Many people think that they know blackjack strategy but the truth is that if you’ve never specifically studied a basic strategy chart, you’re probably making numerous mistakes. Best way to learn is to make flash cards. There are also software programs and apps for your tablet or phone that will let you practice.

Make sure to learn Basic Strategy before starting the adventure in counting!

Having said that, I was asked for a card counting article and that’s what I’m going to give you. People have a lot of confusion as to what card counting is. Before I learned to count, I thought that card counting involved memorization. This isn’t the case.

Intro to Card Counting

Card counting is using a mental trick to record the discarded cards prior to them being shuffled back in so that you can have a predictive effect on the remaining cards to be dealt. If there are lots of face cards and aces this benefits the player. The primary obvious way is that there are more blackjacks which is a natural 21 consisting of an ace and a face card (Tens, being the same value as face cards, are included when I say face cards).

But if there are more blackjacks then the dealer will get more blackjacks as well as the player, right? So, where’s the advantage? The advantage is that when the player gets a blackjack he/she gets 3:2 odds so that a $100 bet will lose $100 to a dealer blackjack but will win $150 for a player blackjack. In theory, players should love to alternate blackjacks with the dealer all day long!

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Also, when there are more large-valued cards in the deck, it’s beneficial to the player when doubling down. In addition, when the dealer is showing a bust card like a 2-6, a deck full of face cards make a dealer bust more likely.

A deck full of smaller cards like 2-6 is a bad spot for the player. Many fewer blackjacks occur and double downs become less effective and the dealer busts more infrequently.

How Card Counting Works

So, you’re saying get to it, right?

Ok, take one deck of cards to start. Think in your head before you begin the number 0. Start taking the cards off the deck one-by-one. For each 2,3,4,5, or 6 you see mentally add +1 to the number you are thinking. For every 10,J,Q,K,A you see think -1. Don’t count 7,8, or 9. This is the most common form of card counting and it’s called the Hi/lo system.

So let’s say you have a full deck and start at the number 0. When you see a five and a six come out, you add 1 for each so now that number in your head is +2. The next card is a king. Subtract 1. Now the number in your head is +1. You keep doing that. If you start at the number zero and count the entire deck in this manner what number will you end up with? Not a trick question. You’ll end up at zero! You’re counting an equivalent number of cards as +1 as you are counting -1.

This means when you have a deck rich in aces and face cards you’ll have a large plus number, say +12. That would be a deck with many fewer small cards remaining and a higher percentage of large-value cards. You would want to bet higher amounts and you may make some changes in your strategy by doubling down more aggressively or making other changes. A big minus count means a heavy advantage for the house, you’d either want to reduce your bet or sit out the hand if possible. Also, you would hit more often. There are many changes one would make to both bet size and playing strategy depending on what level of expertise you wish to shoot for.

When it comes to counting multiple decks, say 6 deck games, the methodology is the same. Count +1 or -1. Even with 6 decks if you start at zero, you’ll end at zero. What you would want to do with the count is adjust it to a single deck count. This means dividing by the number of decks remaining. This is really jumping the gun, but what I’m trying to say is that 6 decks isn’t significantly harder than single deck. It’s just different.

Don’t think you can spend a couple hours brushing up on this and beating the casino. It takes many hours of practice and succeeding on your kitchen table is much different than in a casino with the distractions and the scrutiny. Card counting isn’t illegal but there’s always a bit of a cat and mouse game going on between players and the casinos so that the players are still welcome to play.

I’ll be contributing more on casino gambling as we go along. I hope you enjoyed this quick and dirty intro to blackjack card counting!

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