Card Counting – How does it work at Blackjack?

Card counting is a strategy used in Blackjack to help you gain a small advantage in the game. Edward R Thorp is considered the developer of the Blackjack Card Counting Strategy, because he discovered the principles of card counting and published this method in 1962 in his book "Beat the Dealer". The book then launched a revolution in Blackjack, but it also helped the casinos to expose card counters at the same time. Card counting is not illegal, but casinos will definitely ask a player to leave if they find that such a system is used. Many people may remember the movie Rain Man, in which Dustin Hoffman could remember all the cards that came out of the card sled. However, this has given a false impression of what card counting really is. Also, the concept of card counting is misleading because in this system, you only need to remember the ratio of high to low cards in the card stack.

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How does card counting work in Blackjack?

The concept of card counting is simple, but it is often misunderstood: the casual player thinks that card counting involves the recollection of each card that has been played, which is almost impossible for most players. Actually, card counting involves tracking the number of cards that are not played by memorising the ratio of low cards (2 to 7) to high cards (Aces and 10s) that have already been played.

Simply put, if more low cards than 10 cards were played, then we know that there is a proportionally higher number of high cards in the card stack. So if there are more high cards in the pile, you have a bigger advantage over the casino. But why does this mean you have a bigger chance of beating the Casino? Well, a larger proportion of high value cards gives a lot more options for a Blackjack, 20s value cards, and it is much more likely that the dealer loses when he has to face a third card.

Does card counting really work?

What distinguishes Blackjack from all other Casino games is that the house advantage is not always fixed. The chances of a natural Blackjack are therefore dependent on the cards that have already been played and those cards that are still in the pile. For example, if an Ace was won at the first round, the odds of getting another Ace are very low.

In Blackjack, the probability of winning depends on the mix of the cards that are still in the card stack. If the majority of non-played cards are, for example, high value cards, this is positive and an advantageous situation for you. Thus, if the deck of cards has a large number of tens and Aces, this increases the chances of you getting a faultless hand (17 or higher) or a natural Blackjack. Even if the dealer is likely to get a good hand when the deck is positive, you will receive a 3: 2 pay-out for a natural Blackjack. Therefore, card counters increase the size of their bets when the card stack is rich in high cards.

If, on the other hand, the majority of the remaining cards in the stack are low value cards, this is negative and favours the dealer. Card counters therefore generally lower their bets when the card stack or count is negative.

Different variants of card counting

The concept of card counting is straightforward since each card is assigned a point value and the card counter merely has to add or subtract the points of a running count to determine whether the card stack is positive or negative. There are many different variants of card counting used by the players. Some are more complex than others, but they are all used to keep track of high and low cards in the card stack.

The assigned values of the cards determine whether a counting system is symmetrical or unbalanced. A balanced card counting method like the popular Hi / Lo evaluates a complete 52 card stack as zero. If you use a balanced counting system, then you must make a running count of the cards as they are played. However, to obtain the exact number, the total of the running count must then be divided by the number of the unplayed card piles.

With an unbalanced variant such as Speed Count or Knock Out (KO), the sum of the 52 cards does not add up to zero. Instead of using zero as the starting point, you start with a predetermined number, which tells you if the card game is positive or negative,. The advantage of using an unbalanced variant is that it is easier because you do not have to estimate the remaining stacks and determine the true number. Hi / Lo is one of the most precise variants as it is a balanced system.

This means that when you have counted all the cards, you have a count of 0 at the end. If the count is negative, there are more low cards in the stack, and if the count is positive, there are more high cards. Red Seven, KISS and Knock Out are also known as unbalanced variants, because if you count an entire card game, you receive a count that is not equal to zero. However, these methods are still very effective.

Card counting at online casinos

After most people have heard about card counting, you may wonder if you can use this strategy at online casinos. Certain conditions must be fulfilled in order to actually make the counting of cards possible at online casinos. First of all, card counting was developed on the basis of the fact that the cards used were not immediately placed in the card stack. In the casinos, the cards are therefore not shuffled after each round, whilst in Online Blackjack, all cards are re-shuffled after each hand, which is why card counting is useless for online Blackjack.

However, there is a solution as online casinos have introduced the Live Dealer Blackjack game. The reason why it is called Live is that a real dealer distributes real cards to the online gamers. Players can see the dealer in action, interact with him / her, and watch the other players at the table. The most important thing is that in the case of live Blackjack, the cards are not mixed after each hand. This is why card counting can actually be used at online casinos, but not all variations of Blackjack are profitable.

Advantages and disadvantages of card counting

The only situation where card counting has no benefit to you is when the dealer uses a dealing machine or when playing Online Blackjack (when a fresh card game is used for each hand).

The first drawback of card counting is that it is not the ultimate Blackjack strategy; it won’t give you a 20% advantage over the house. Instead, most good card counters will only get an advantage of 0.5% or 1% against the casino. With such a small advantage, card counters and the winnings also suffer some losses.

Another drawback that should be noted when you want to use card counting is that the casinos now use several card piles for Blackjack. This not only makes card counting more difficult, it also reduces the advantages when applied correctly. Several card piles also mean that the percentage of high cards to low cards in the pile is almost identical, as would be the case with only one card pile. This makes the use of card counting much lower than in the past.

Is card counting legal?

Card counting is not punishable under German law, unless you use banned devices to count the cards. This means that the gain in a card game, which by using a mental strategy or skilful use of the information, will not be a problem. You cannot be prevented from counting the cards in your head!

However, the problems begin when a casino looks at card counting as Blackjack fraud and believes that a player uses this system because a casino has the right to refuse any service to its customers. Such a decision could even arise from the fact that your winning streak is so long that a casino starts losing money. In this situation, you can be thrown out of the casino as well as being placed on the blacklist of other casinos.


There are many players who use card counting and making money, but you must be realistic about the results. Card counting will only give you an advantage of 1 to 2% over the house. However, this advantage will also only occur in the long run and the results can vary greatly during a single game. If the card game is positive, the dealer also has the same high chance of the high cards as the player. However, any advantage you can get against the casino is worth the effort; it will be much more fun to play.

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