Why counting cards in blackjack can tip the odds


A couple of years ago, actor Ben Affleck was ejected from a casino for counting cards, though he was not known to be a regular card counter. Card counting stories like this one are shared often because it highlights an unseemly approach to beating the house. Card counting is a strategy that determines whether the next advantage will be given to the player or the dealer. Counting cards will put the odds in your favour and for that reason, casinos frown upon it.

How is it done?

The method consists of a constant check of the cards that have been dealt and the cards that remain to be played. If a lot of low cards have been dealt, then the player concludes that a large number of face cards are left. The more face cards remain, the more likely it is that the player will win, because face cards increase the odds in blackjack.

A card counter assigns one point for low cards, zero for mid-range cards and scores negative points for high cards. As cards are divulged, the scores are added and tracked, otherwise known as the ‘count’.

Is this the only approach?

 No. To gain an edge blackjack players use other tactics as well. Extrapolation of the outcome can be done on the ‘high-low’ method by counting only aces from time to time, acquiring two possible values (one or 11) and by ‘shuffle-tracking’.

How much can this really change the odds?

Some of the best odds in casinos are found in blackjack. The house advantage can sometimes be very low, sometimes only 0.5 percent, where one can lose 50 cents on every wager of 100 dollars. Card counting shifts the odds so that the player can win by 0.5 percent. That may seem insignificant, but over time it can amount to substantial winnings.

Isn’t it illegal to count cards?

No, it is completely legal to count cards if a computer or some other form of tracking device is used. Counters also form teams and work in collaboration with one another. There are even organizations who treat their card counters as taxable employees.

Do casinos try to stop it?

Of course they do. The tactic hurts a casino’s bottom line, so they take great pains to uncover card counting.

  • By tracking the deck: Continuous reshuffling is one way to prevent the dealer from getting too deep in one deck. Increasing the number of decks also helps the casino. Nowadays, six or eight decks are used in blackjack. Shuffling ensures that the count must begin again and the odds increase. Certain casinos have machines that are used to constantly shuffle cards.
  • By changing the rules: Card counting is popular only because of the low advantage in blackjack, so if the casino changes the rules of the game, it takes the advantage away from the player and gives it back to the house.
  • By ejecting card counters: Many casinos use video monitor systems to find card counters and simply kick them out of the casino. Usually, measures are taken to make sure any individual who is found counting cards is not allowed to play at that casino ever again.

Are there any famous card counters?

While the Ancient Greeks were the very first card counters, it was the great number of successful counters back in the 1980s and 1990s that most people revere. The most acclaimed group of counters was the MIT blackjack team. These card counters discovered strategies which made them invincible. The MIT blackjack team was not only unbeatable but their methods remained undetectable for a very long time. Recently, their story has been made into a major motion picture.