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Blackjack Card Counting Guide 2020 - Gain An Edge Over the Casino

Blackjack Card Counting Guide 2020 - Gain An Edge Over the Casino

Blackjack is one of the most popular table games found both at brick and mortar casinos as well as real money online casinos. Why? Well, many gamblers not only love the game because of its simple rules but also due to the fact that they can use strategy too! And other than basic and advanced strategy, many gamblers also like to employ Blackjack card counting to gain a bit more edge over the casino. If you’d like to learn all about card counting, go ahead and read through our guide. 

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What is Card Counting?

card countingBlackjack card counting is truly unique and strategic concept. The strategy is sneakily employed by players who try to gain an edge over the house by keeping track of the cards that are dealt out during the table game. This is done in order to determine when the deck in the shoe favors the dealer and when it will reward the player if taken advantage of.


A few basic Blackjack Card Counting facts:

  •   There several ways to count cards in Blackjack;
  •   Players can get an edge of about 0.5% to 1% when counting cards at the casino;
  •   Ideally, you’ll need to have a large bankroll to use this strategy;
  •   Card counting is not illegal but can get you thrown out of the casino.

Blackjack Card Counting is Not as Difficult as You Think

Fundamentally, counting cards is not as difficult as you might think. And whilst a photographic memory can certainly be advantageous to have, it’s not completely necessary to have at the same time. A common misconception is that card counters need to remember every single card that’s dealt out. However, this is not the case. All you need to do is adopt one of the card counting systems available and practice.

Famous Card Counters

If you’re thinking about using card counting as part of your technique, you’re probably wondering whether or not there have been any successful card counters over the years. Here we go through the famous card counters that have managed to secure the bounty over the years while playing a game of Blackjack.

Edward Thorp

Edward Thorp is known by many gamblers across the globe as the father of Blackjack card counting. The card counter is perhaps most well-known as the author of the book “Beat the Dealer” which was published in 1962. His book is tremendously famous due to the fact that it proved that the table game, Blackjack, is mathematically beatable. Before the card counting genius published his book, he tested the theories at land-based casinos in both Vegas and Reno which alerted the attention of casino security officials because he began winning a substantial amount of money at Blackjack tables.

MIT Blackjack Team

The MIT Blackjack Team is hands-down the most famous card counting team that has ever graced the gambling world. It’s known as the MIT team due to the fact that it predominantly consists of a group of students and ex-students from MIT, Harvard, and other institutions. Originally managed by Bill Kaplan, the 1980s team managed to make their riches by employing card counting techniques and advanced Blackjack strategies.

As shown by the famous MIT card counting team, successful card counters have to be skilled at more than just tracking the running count, as it’s just a matter of time before a solo counter is flagged by a casino and barred from playing there again. Fundamentally, the MIT team proved that card counters can more easily avoid detection by working as a group to distract casino employees and setting up situations for one member of the group to really make very large bets when it is advantageous to do so, avoiding detection when he or she might otherwise be discovered.

Ken Utson

famous card countersKen Utson is another well-known card counter in the gambling community. Prior to his death in ’87, the counter made multiple television appearances which showed off his gambling adventures. In the 70s, Utson formed numerous card counting teams that frequented several land-based casinos across the globe. Despite the fact that he was not the man who invented team play, he is definitely responsible for making it trendier. Utson is also the one who influenced casinos to adjust the rules of their Blackjack games in order to help increase the casino’s house edge.

Due to his astounding success, Utson was banned from several casinos who knew what he was doing to win the game. In 1979, he decided to file a lawsuit against a casino in Atlantic City because of this. Utson’s argument in respect to his lawsuit was that the casino did not have any right to ban players just for using their card counting skills. As the lawsuit concluded, the courts sided with Ken Utson and till this day Atlantic City Casinos aren’t allowed to bar counters from entering their premises.

Stanford Wong

John Ferguson, who goes by the pen name Standford Wong, is another legend in the gambling community. He is the author of many gambling books on Blackjack, Pai Gow Poker, gambling in general and more. Over the years, Wong also devised several card counting systems. As is expected, one emerged as more popular than the others. The system is known as “Wonging” which is super simple and can aid many to increase their profits. Yet, it does actually carry a massive risk.

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The Most Popular Card Counting System Out There – The Hi-Lo System

If you’re looking to learn how to count cards in a game of Blackjack using a simple and straightforward method, the Hi-Lo System might just be for you. Among the many card counting systems out there, the Hi-Lo system is definitely the most widely used one out there.

The Hi-Lo System

The Hi-Lo system is basically a technique which is used to assess the running count in which each and every card has a specific value assigned to it. Basically, the system is used to decipher when the ratio of low-value and high-value cards present in the blackjack decks is unbalanced.

Generally speaking, a deck of high-value cards can be very profitable for the player. Having high-value cards likes Aces and Tens will increase the chance of any blackjacks being dealt and hands with a total value of 20 points.

Determining the True Count

blackjack card countingMost card counting systems assign a value to one set of cards (usually -1 for ten value cards and aces) and another value to the other set (+1 for 2,3,4,5, and 6). As the cards are dealt the counter will tally up a running count for each card, either adding one if it’s a low card or subtracting one if it’s a 10 or an ace; all other cards count as zero and are ignored.

The running count is the indicator of whether the counter has an advantage or not. If the running count is +10 it means that many more low cards have been dealt, leaving lots of tens and aces to come (which is good for the player); a running count of -8 would mean lots of tens and aces have already been dealt with more low cards lurking, which is bad for the player.

Card Counting Values for the Hi-Lo System

When using the Hi-Lo card counting system during a game of Blackjack, it is crucial to take the card values into account. The following card values pertain to the different value of cards present in the game:

• 10- Ace = -1
• 7-9 = 0
• 2-6 = + 1

How to Count Cards in Blackjack the Hi-Lo Way

Provided that you’ve never counted cards in your life, you might just want to learn how by following a few basic steps that are outlined below.


4 Things to remember about counting cards in Blackjack:

  •   Assign a value to every card;
  •   Start your count once they have been all shuffled and add tags to values to each one that’s pulled from the deck;
  •   Decrease your bet when your count is negative;
  •   Increase your bet when your count is positive.

1) Assign a value to every card

The first thing you’ll have to do when you start off counting cards is to assign a value or tag to each and every card in the deck. Typically, the values of the cards when using the Hi-Lo method are always the same for simplicity’s sake. Have a look at the following below.


Value Assigned

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

2) Start your count once they have been all shuffled and add tags to values to each one that’s pulled from the deck

Once you’ve added values to your cards, you should start keeping track of the cards that the dealer is giving out. Naturally, the count after the cards have been dealt out by the dealer always starts from 0. Every card that’s dealt out including your opponents' cards that are present in his/her hand is given a value.


Let’s assume that the first player has 3 cards in his or her hand made up of a 9, a 3 and an 8 tallying up to 20 and stands. The counter would add 0 for the 9 card, +1 for the 3 card and 0 for the 8 card. Hence, the total count will be +1 (eg. 0 + 0 +1= +1).

The counter will then continue to count the cards present in each of the player’s hands as well as the dealer’s hand too in order to get the final score.

3) Decrease your bet when your count is negative

Provided that the count is negative (eg -3), you will need to decrease your total bet. Remember the casino’s edge, in this case, will be at its highest and your chance of winning the hand will totally depend on luck at this point.

4) Increase your bet when your running count is positive

If the final count is positive, you can go ahead and increase your bet. The higher the positive count is, the greater the chance you’ll have of winning. In this case, the casino will have less of an edge so you might as well take advantage of it.

Other Popular Card Counting Systems

Although many newbie card counters will probably start off by learning the simpler methods, such as the Hi-Lo card counting method, there are other card counting systems that are sometimes employed by more seasoned gamblers. These include the Wonging, Omega II, Zen Count and several others that have been developed over the years.


Wonging is a card counting technique which was invented by Stanford Wong which attempts to build on the popular system of playing low stakes while keeping track of any cards counted. The main idea behind this card counting technique is that a player must observe the table while counting and only join at the blackjack table when the time proves to be right. The rationale behind this is that players can save a lot of money in this way by dipping in and out of games. However, this system is definitely known to attract more attention.

Omega II

The Omega II Blackjack card counting system is a more advanced one that was popular in the 90s. Like most systems out there that are based on the Hi-Lo system, this one is a multi-level one which is more effective when used with an additional side count of aces. There are some cards which are worth 2 points and some that are worth 1.

The Zen Card Counting System

Arnold Snyder’s Zen card counting system may not be as well-known as the Hi-Lo system, but anyone who has read the popular book called ‘Blackbelt in Blackjack’ will surely be familiar with the concept. Just like other card counting systems, the Zen system fundamentally relies on keeping track of the running count throughout the game by adding up the numerical values that have been assigned to each card. This can be done by keeping track of each card as it’s dealt out. When using the Zen system, it’s predominantly importance to remember that a running count of (+2,+3,+4) will mean that you’ll have to increase your betting amount and a negative running count (-1,-2 -3) will require you to bet the minimum amount allowed at the table in order to be profitable.

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6 Counting Cards Tips to Factor in Before Heading to the Casino

1) Apply Basic Strategy when Counting Cards

While counting cards, it’s important to apply basic Blackjack strategy. If you’d like to learn all about this strategy, we highly urge you to read our Blackjack strategy page where you’ll find a strategy chart and a fantastic explanation about how the strategy works. 

2) Choose the Right Card Counting Method for You

It’s always important to use the right card counting method for you. Among the most popular ones are the Hi-Lo System and the True Count System. If you opt to use one of these methods, you’ll be able to get plenty of information on the two methods.

3) Don’t start by betting big stakes

One thing you should never do when you start playing Blackjack is to start off your game by betting big stakes. Why? Well, at the beginning of your game, you’ll have no way of knowing which cards will be dealt. So wait for a few hands to be dealt out, then you’ll definitely have a better idea of the deck is rich in high-value cards or not.

4) Take Your Bankroll into Consideration When Using Card Counting

First and foremost, we’d like to say that you should always take your bankroll into consideration when playing any Blackjack game. Yet, this is especially the case when it comes to card counting in Blackjack. Ideally, you should always aim to have the largest bankroll possible and try to spread it out as much as possible. Also as we’ve said before when you’re card counting increase your wager when you’ve got a positive count and decrease it when it’s a negative count.

5) Cleverly Conceal Your Ability to Count Cards

Don’t forget to conceal your ability to count cards to those around you or you’ll risk getting kicked out! So remember to keep things on the down low by not being too obvious.

6) Keep Your Expectations Realistic

Just because you’re employing a counting cards strategy, it doesn’t mean that you’re definitely going to win. While the strategy will give you a profound advantage over the rest, you will also need to keep yourself level-headed in order to win. So don’t go getting angry when you’ve got a low-value count.

Blackjack Card Counting Myths

Blackjack Card Counting is a fair and reliable strategy for beating the casino at its own game. And although it is a genuine one at that, there are still many card counting myths out there that often influence people’s decision to use the strategy or not. Below are just a few of the most popular myths out there.

 All Card Counters are Math Geniuses

One of the most prominent myths in card counting is that all counters are math geniuses which are absolutely not true. Despite the fact that it could possibly help to be a Math genius, card counting isn’t all that complicated. Fundamentally, all you need to know is how the value of each card and how to count.

 Card Counting is Illegal

Another popular myth is that counting cards at Blackjack is illegal, which is completely false. As long as counters don’t use electronic devices, it’s completely legal for them to count cards. The reason many casinos ask them to leave (and sometimes escort them firmly out the door) is that casinos have the right to ask anyone to leave what is their private property.

 You Should Always Place Large Bets When Card Counting

The Achilles heel of card counting is that to make money a counter must vary their bet sizes significantly when the count is in their favor, and that’s an easy tip-off for casinos, which now have software in place that analyzes the play of Blackjack online players and cannot just flag them as a counter but even identify what card counting system they’re using.

 Playing as a Team is Always Best

Playing as a group also helps smooth out the inevitable variance of winning and losing streaks. Contrary to popular belief, card counting just signals you when the odds are in your favor but doesn’t guarantee a win, so you’ll still run into big losing streaks that playing as a team can help you pull through.

Practice Your Technique with Our Card Counting Trainer

Now that you’ve read through all the different methods that can be used to count cards, the next step is for you to start practicing how to count cards yourself before heading to a real money online casino. While there are several mobile apps you can use to train yourself in Blackjack card counting, you can always use our magnificent trainer as long as you’re connected to the internet. Head to our Card Counting Trainer page to find out all about how it works and how to use it.

Card Counting in Blackjack FAQs

  What is counting cards in Blackjack? 

Card Counting in Blackjack is basically a strategy that’s employed when playing the table game in order to determine whether or not the next hand will give a positive advantage to the player or the dealer. When this is determined, a player who’s counting cards can then select when to place his/her bet at the casino.

  Is the Hi-Lo system the only Blackjack card counting strategy?  

No, it’s not. While the original Blackjack card counting system was developed by Edward Thorpe, there are many other systems which have been developed since then. These include the K-O, KISS count, Hi-Opt I, Hi-Opt II, Halves, Omega II, Red Seven and the Zen.  

  Is counting cards in blackjack illegal? 

Counting cards may be frowned upon at brick and mortar casinos, however, it is not actually illegal. Essentially, you can count cards if you want to, but you should always aim to go undetected when doing so. Otherwise, you might just be picked up by the bodyguards and thrown out of the casino. 

  How much of an edge does card counting give you? 

By employing a Blackjack card counting strategy you can expect to gain a 0.5% or 1% advantage over the house. The edge you’ll be able to get varies purely due to the fact that Blackjack games have different rules which alter the house edge by a small percentage. 

  Why is it important to have a rich deck of cards when counting cards?

A deck that’s rich in ten value cards is very good for the player, as it means the dealer is more likely to bust plus the player has a better chance of being dealt a blackjack. If the deck contains lots of low cards it's typically bad for the player, as the dealer busts less on his 12-16 hands plus the odds of being dealt a blackjack decrease.

  Can you win at Blackjack without counting cards? 

Yes, you can win at Blackjack without counting cards. Although Blackjack is largely dependent on strategy, it is also based on luck too. So fundamentally, you might win at the game without even applying any sort of strategy whatsoever. However, we always recommend at least using basic Blackjack strategy to better your chances of winning at the game. 

  How can I avoid detection when counting cards? 

Avoiding detection is part and parcel with using Blackjack card counting as one of your strategies when playing online Blackjack. And although it might seem like it can be done really easily, it can, in fact, prove to be quite tough to avoid those pesky casino staff who roam about the casino. Essentially, if you’d like to avoid detection, our experts recommend working within a team rather than on your own in order to bamboozle their staff. Other than this, you will obviously need to try to be as sneaky and less obvious as possible when spreading your bet especially when the count proves to be favorable. 

  Who are the most famous card counters of all time? 

The most famous card counters of all time are Edward Thorp, Stanford Wong, The Four Horseman, Ken Uston, Tommy Hyland and the MIT Blackjack team. 

  Is there a card counting app I can use? 

Provided that you’d like to practice counting cards on your mobile, there are several apps you can actually use. A few of our absolute favorites include ‘Card Counter Free’, ‘Blackjack 21 Professional Simulator’, ‘Blackjack MH’, ‘Card Counting Practice’ and ‘Blackjack Card Counting’. 

  Are there any good counting cards books I can read? 

Yes, there’s a plethora of Blackjack counting cards books which can effectively guide you in learning how to employ this particular strategy whilst playing the beloved table game. Among our top picks is the ‘Blackjack Bluebook II’, ‘Beat the Dealer: A Winning Strategy’, ‘Bringing Down the House’ and ‘Modern Card Counting’.

  Which is the best card counting movie to watch? 

If you’re looking for inspiration to start counting cards, there are many epic card counting movies to watch will beckon you to start doing it yourself. Among our favorites are ‘Rain Man’, ‘21’, ‘Breaking Vegas’, ‘The Last Casino’, ‘The Hot Shoe’,  ‘High Rollers’ and ‘Stacy’s Knights’.

Use Card Counting as Part of Your Strategy & Better Your Chances of Winning!

Yes, folks, card counting can truly help you improve your game provided that you know how to implement it and implement it well at that. Basically, as we’ve already mentioned in our article above, all you have to do is pick your desired method of counting cards, use it and get ready to crush your dealer in a wonderful and exciting game of Blackjack. Our experts wish you the best of luck in your card counting endeavor and hope you win some cash at the end of your game. Should you wish to play online, we highly recommend our list of Best Blackjack Casinos above.

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