A Word on Counting Cards

Your average person learned everything they know about blackjack from watching Rain Man. They learned that you can make money at a casino by hitting the blackjack table and counting cards. They learned that you need to be a math wiz or a savant to count cards. And finally, they learned that if you count cards properly you can get rich quick and walk out of the casino overflowing with cash.

Of course, none of that is true. I don’t blame Rain Man. That scene played out like most card-counting scenes in the movies and like most movies, the drama of the scene is more important than realism. Real card counting, however, doesn’t take a genius, but it takes considerably more time to make money. Instead of making millions in one night, it would be more realistic for that to happen in a year or a few years of consistent play.

Before I explain card counting, let me say this: I do not endorse card counting. Though it is not illegal, the casinos don’t appreciate it and if you are caught counting cards you will be asked to leave and may even be banned from that chain of casinos. In the old days of Vegas, worse things happened to you than that. Counting cards isn’t cheating, but it’s still frowned upon by the casinos, who don’t like the advantage it gives players. You should also note that it is not possible to count cards online, due to the random number generator acting as if the deck is shuffled after each card is dealt.

So what is card counting? Card counting, when done, should be done in conjunction with blackjack basic strategy. Where the counting comes in is in determining how many 10-value cards are remaining in the decks. Tens are more advantageous for the players than lower cards because more tens produce more blackjacks (which usually pay out 3:2). Therefore, a deck (or decks) rich in tens is good for the player and one that is low on tens is bad for the player. A card counter will usually bet high when there are a lot of tens in play and bet low when there are not.

That sounds complicated, right? So why don’t you need to be a math genius? For one thing, you’re not really keeping an accurate count of the cards that are played. That would require a math wiz. Instead of keeping track of all of the cards that are played and comparing that to the cards in the deck to determine which cards have not been played, card counters usually use a simple plus/minus system.

Instead of keeping track of every card that is played (2, 3, 4, etc.), card counters only track whether a card was high or low. High cards are tens and low cards are everything else. Though I’m not going to go into detail here about how to count cards, the basics are this: Simple card counting systems use a plus and minus one ratio. In this system, high cards are given a value of -1 and low cards are given a value of +1. As cards are dealt to the players and the dealer, the player adds or subtracts from the count accordingly. When the count gets high, there are a lot of tens left to play and the players will bet higher. When the count is low, they bet lower because there aren’t many tens left.

Sorry if I ruined that iconic scene from Rain Man for you. If it helps, the movie was right about one thing: K-Mart sucks.

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