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Learn to Count Cards In Blackjack

No matter how well you play Blackjack, no matter how accurately you follow the proper basic strategy, the casinos will always have a built-in edge against you. That edge might be quite small if you play in a competitive market like Las Vegas or it might be huge if you play only in areas like Puerto Rico. In either case, you will ultimately lose all the money you care to risk at the game (assuming you continue to play indefinitely) if you do not learn how to count cards. Yes, there are other ways to get an edge over the casino at Blackjack and we’ll discuss those ways someday, but the easiest is card counting. You heard me right — the easiest, by far, is card counting.

Most people think it’s amazing that I can memorize the cards as they’re played from a six-deck shoe. Well, that WOULD be amazing! But that’s not what I do. If I could memorize six decks of cards and remember what’s been played and what remains to be played, I’d be retired. Sorry, there may be a real “Rainman” out there, but I’m not he. (him?).

Card counting is simple. Not easy, but simple. Each card is assigned a point value and all a counter does is add the points up to determine what we call the ‘running’ count. For most of you who play a multi-deck game (that’s 2 or more decks), I’d recommend you learn the ‘High/Low’ or plus/minus counting method. The point values for each card are as follows:

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


The first thing to point out is that 3 of the cards don’t figure into the calculation at all; the 7, 8 and 9. For counting purposes, they don’t exist. The ‘little’ cards counted as plus 1. Let’s hink about the dealer for a moment. A Blackjack dealer MUST hit a hand of 12 through 16; s/he has no choice in the matter. Well, a 5 helps the dealer at lot since it makes a hand of 12-16 into a hand of 17-21. So, all the little cards are ‘bad’ for the player and we’d like to get rid of them. The tens and aces are good for the player because they give us 20s and, more importantly, ‘Blackjacks’ or ‘naturals’. Now, I know what you’re thinking; the dealer can get a natural just like us. But remember that when the dealer gets a natural, s/he wins just our bet. But when we get a natural, we get paid a bonus. Consequently, while we’ll each get an equal number of naturals, the player will ultimately make more money. So, as the cards come out, we’re glad as players to get naturals and 20s and other hands like that, but it also means that fewer such hands are available in the cards which remain in the deck(s). An extreme example would be a double-deck game where all 8 aces came out on the first round. Until those cards are shuffled again, it is impossible for us to get a natural. See how that works? As ‘big’ cards are played, it leaves fewer in the remaining decks.

To begin learning how to count, pick up a deck of cards, shuffle them well and turn them over one at a time. Recite the point value for that card. For example, if it’s a 2, then say “one”. Don’t say “plus 1”, since the number 1 is considered to be positive. If the next card is a 7, say nothing, since it has no value. If the third card is a Queen, say “m-one”, rather than “minus one” so that you save a syllable. Do not attempt to keep track of the cards, just learn each card’s point value. Go through as often as necessary until you have it all down pat.

Once you have each card’s point value memorized, you may begin learning how to count. It’s simple. Just turn the cards over one at a time and add them algebraically. For example, a 2 (point value of 1) and a Queen (point value of m-one) add up to zero. A 2 followed by a 5 add up to 2 — now comes a King, so the count is 1. See how we get that?

The Cards: 2 5 K 7 5 A
What I’m thinking: 1 2 1 1 2 1


This is called the running count.

So, how’s it going? Do you see how simple it is to learn card-counting? (If you haven’t visited part 1 of this lesson, please do so before continuing here.)

The biggest problem you will encounter as a ‘new’ counter is fast dealers. Some take great pride in whipping the cards around their table and, at least in the beginning, that will be a problem for you. You’ll lose count, especially when the cocktail server comes by or when a new player comes to the table or if anyone speaks to you. Practice is all it takes to overcome this problem.

By now, you should be able to count down a deck by flipping over one card at a time and adding them algebraically so that when you’ve gone through the whole deck the count is zero. The real trick of counting is to start turning the cards over two at a time. By learning to count in pairs, you’ll find that a lot of time is saved simply because so many pairs are canceled out to zero. For instance, a Queen and a 5 are -1 and +1 or zero. Two 7s are zero. An 8 and a 9 are zero.

So, here’s what you do Start turning over pairs and recite the value of that pair; don’t try to keep the running count, just get used to adding up the net value of pairs. After a day or two of practice (you should practice counting at least an hour a day), you’ll know the value of all the pairs and then you may begin going through a deck two cards at a time while keeping the running count. But, before you do that, remove 3 cards from the deck without looking at them. Once you’ve finished counting down the deck, check your accuracy by looking at those last 3 cards. By doing this, you’ll avoid fooling yourself if you’re incorrect in the count.

To go even faster (once you’re doing a running count by pairs well), hold the deck in one hand, face up, and count the pairs by sliding the cards off with your other hand. By using this method, you’ll soon get to the required speed of 20 seconds or less to count down one deck. Yes, I said one deck in under 20 seconds…accurately! That’s what it takes to keep up with a fast dealer. I don’t want to brag, but I do it in under 11 seconds and I’ve yet to meet the dealer who can lay out the cards faster than I can count them.

Wait! We’re not finished yet. Once you’ve mastered one deck, then start counting down 2, then 4 and work your way up to 6 decks. Yep, 6 decks. Take 3 cards out, set the decks into 5 or 6 piles in front of you and go at it. A good time is 2 minutes.

Told you this was simple. Not easy, but simple.


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