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Blackjack pro tips: Strategising your wins through card counting!

One of the misconceptions that newbies have when it comes to blackjack is thinking that it is a game that relies solely on chances. While it is easy to see why they would make this assumption, high rollers know that there is more to blackjack than meets the eye. It is a game that can be won through cleverly executed strategies like card counting! 

Here at Casino Days India, you will discover how blackjack works, how to count cards and the different card counting systems that you can use. 

History of card counting

Card counting is one of the oldest tricks up a gambler’s sleeve when it comes to blackjack. This strategy was founded by Ed Thorp, but he wasn’t actually the first to count cards in blackjack in an attempt to outsmart the dealer. However, he was the first player to successfully find a system that works with this strategy and therefore became the father of modern card counting. 

One of the first card counting gamblers was a nuclear physicist for Rand Corporation named Jesse Marcum. He figured out that there is a mathematical way to beat the dealer in 1949. When this strategy somehow worked for him, he quit his job to become a professional gambler. 

In 1957, a book about blackjack strategies called Playing Blackjack to Win by Roger Baldwin, Herbert Maisel, Wilbert Cantey and James E. Macdermott was published and it included ways on how to count cards. Ed Thorp later published a book with an improved version of this strategy in 1962 in his book Beat the Dealer. 

What is card counting? 

Card counting is one of the few card game tricks that are based on math. Using this strategy can help determine who would have the advantage in the game between the dealer and the player. 

This strategy aims to keep count of the high and low-value cards in the game to try to minimize the house edge that the casino has over the game. 

How does card counting work? 

Card counting in blackjack works by keeping a running count on the cards being dealt in the table. The most basic system of card counting often involves assigning a value of positive, negative and zero to each of the cards in the table. 

When a low card with a ranking of 2 to 6 lands on the table, it usually means that the high cards are still in the remaining set. For this reason, card counting strategy systems usually assign a positive 1 value to cards valued 2 to 6. 

Meanwhile, high ranking cards from 10 to Ace are given the value of negative 1 since having this dealt on the table means that there are fewer high ranking cards in the remaining set. The values of cards ranking 7 to 9 don’t affect the count so they are given a value of zero. 

If you end a round with a positive value, this means that the odds are in your favour and you should bet higher. However, if the running count is negative, the advantage is on the side of the casino, which means that you should bet low. 

How to count cards for beginners 

Now that you are familiar with the logic behind card counting, it is time to see how it actually works and how you can use it in your game. Take a look at how to count cards in blackjack below: 

Step 1: Assign a value for each card 

For this strategy to work, you have to familiarise yourself with the card values assigned to each card first before the game begins. Since card values with a low ranking like 2 to 6 make it hard for you to reach 21 in blackjack, they are given the value of +1. 

Meanwhile, since high-ranking cards from 10 to Ace can make 21 more easily attainable, they have a value of -1. As for the rest of the cards, which is 7 to 9, they have a value of zero since they don’t affect the house edge. 

Step 2: Keep a running count 

As the cards are dealt throughout the game, calculate the sum of the assigned values for every hand dealt on the table. Take the following hands as an example: 

  • Dealer – 5 (+1); 3 (+1)
  • Player 1 – Ace (-1); Queen (-1)
  • Player 2 – Jack (-1); 8 (0)

As the game progresses, you should try to add each hand value to your running count and see if the result would be negative or positive. If you manage to end up with a negative value, this means that the odds are against you since there is a higher number of low cards on the remaining set. 

Meanwhile, a positive running count means that you should increase your bet since the odds are in your favour. The value of the example above is -1, which means it is in favour of the house edge. 

Step 3: Calculate the true count 

The true count is the total value of a running count adjusted to how many decks remain to be dealt on the shoe (usually there are 6 decks in a game). You can get the value of your true count by dividing the running count by the remaining decks. 

For example, if you have a running count of +9 while three decks remain on the table, you can divide +9 to 3 to get the true count of +3. 

Step 4: Increase your true count! 

An increased number of true counts means that you have the upper hand in the game, therefore you should increase your bets. However, before you do this, you need to decide on a betting unit first. 

Once you have your betting unit, it’s time to strategize whether you should increase or decrease your bets. To do this, you must add up your betting units depending on how much true count you have. 

For example, you have a betting unit of $20 and a true count of +9. Your bet should be $20 * (1 betting unit +9 betting unit) = 200. If it so happens that your true count is negative or zero, remain betting with only one betting unit. 

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