Card counting is a method of tracking the cards that are dealt in a game of blackjack and then using that knowledge to more accurately predict which cards might be dealt next.
Armed with that knowledge, the player can adjust their stakes to capitalise when the odds are in their favour and reduce losses when they are not. It does not require the player to be a mathematical genius or have a rain man like personality.
There is a common misconception that card counting is illegal which is not true, you can’t get into trouble for counting cards but you might get yourself banned. Casino staff know how to spot when someone is doing it, and if caught you will be asked to stop before being politely asked to leave.
This is not something they can do so easily online, but before we get into whether it is feasible or not let’s just run over exactly what card counting is.
What is Card Counting?
Blackjack is one of the only casino games based on dependent events, which means that what has happened in the past can effect what happens next; i.e if you have been dealt a 10 that means there is one less 10 in the shoe. This leaves the game open to exploitation because it is not solely based on luck.
Enter card counting.
The idea was born in the 50s but didn’t become more widely known until the mid 60s with the publication of Edwin O Thorp’s book, Beat the Dealer. It later became known worldwide after a group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, employed card counting systems to win millions, even having a film made about their exploits called 21 and starring Kevin Spacey before he was disgraced.
There are many different card counting systems these days, but the hi-lo system is probably the best known so we will focus on that one.
It works by assigning each card a count value, based on the fact that high value cards are good for the player and low value cards can hurt the player:
|10, J, Q, K, A||-1|
|2, 3, 4, 5, 6||+1|
|7, 8, 9||0|
The reason high cards have a negative count value is because as these are used during the game the player advantage goes down, since there will be fewer high value cards left in the shoe.
Equally, low cards have a positive count value because as they are used up the player’s advantage goes up – you can’t be dealt a low card if they have all already been used, right?
The cards with no count value (zero) are neither an advantage or a disadvantage to the player so do not affect the count.
Adding these values together at the end of each game creates the running count. The running count starts at zero and then goes up and down based on the cards dealt, so in the image above we have numbered the cards for you so you can see that the running count at the end of this game is -4.
After each hand you need to work out the true count, which is the trickiest bit. You take the running count and divide it by how many decks are left in the shoe. This doesn’t need to be exact, and you will quickly get better at estimating how many decks are remaining.
Our game uses 6 decks and if we imagine there are approximately 2 decks remaining our calculation would be:
-4 / 2 = -2
We now have our true count, and generally speaking the higher the true count the more you should be betting.
Card counters will bet using units – so £10 might be one betting unit which would make 2 betting units £20 and so on. The rules when it comes to how much to bet are a little more personal than the system itself, but true count minus 1 is the frequently suggested amount; so if your true count was +3 you would wager 2 betting units.
And of course, it goes without saying that you should be playing a perfect strategy on top of counting cards.
Can you Count Cards Playing Blackjack Online?
You can and you can’t.
If you were playing online blackjack in a live casino with a real dealer then card counting is possible and we will go into a bit more detail on that shortly.
However, if you played an RNG based blackjack game, one that is 100% computerised with zero human interaction, then card counting is not possible.
This is because the game shuffles the cards automatically before each and every hand regardless of how many decks are in use, so you are always playing against a full shoe of cards and counting becomes redundant.
The RNG game can do this in milliseconds whereas it would be far too laborious for a real dealer to shuffle before each game, and the casino would suffer a huge loss in takings because the number of hands played per hour would be significantly reduced.
Counting Cards Playing Live Casino Blackjack
The live casino is the only opportunity card counters have to test their skills online, but is it worthwhile?
The answer, sadly, is that it’s not usually worth the effort unless you are just doing it for practice.
For card counting to work you need to be playing at a table with decent rules that keep the house edge low (so blackjack paying 6:5 is a no no), and you need to get through a large number of hands too.
Assuming you find a live dealer game with rules that suit, you will find that the pace of play is very slow compared to a real life casino. This is because there are so many people playing and they all need to decide what to do, so you end up wasting a lot of time while players um and ah. This doesn’t bother the casino too much because infinite players can bet online, but it affects your earning potential massively and also makes counting cards harder.
On top of that, some live casinos swap the shoe after a few decks worth of cards have been dealt so you have to start your count all over again, and card counting becomes more and more advantageous the further through the cards you go.
So yes, you can count cards online, but a lot has to line up in your favour for you to seriously profit from it unfortunately. If this is something you are planning to look into though, we have another article about card counting software that you may be interested in.
Questions About Card Counting Online
Can you get Caught Counting Cards Online?
It’s less likely, but they could always look at your betting and staking history and make an educated guess as to what you are doing.
Like we explained though, the online games are set up to make card counting unprofitable so they might not be concerned enough about it to look.
Can You Card Count Online and Bet Behind?
This is one way of increasing your hands per hour when the count is looking more advantageous. If there are 7 spaces at the table and you can bet behind that’s a significant increase.
However, betting behind relies on the other players using perfect strategy, if they don’t you are likely to lose more than you win, and how much do you trust seen random strangers on the internet?
Are There any Card Counting Systems Specifically for Online Blackjack?
Although there are many different card counting systems, whether you pay online or offline doesn’t change how they work – although it may well change how successfully they work as explained above.
It’s not possible to create a system specifically for online blackjack because the game is still the same regardless. It is outside factors that change such as the pace of play and deck penetration, and there isn’t a system that can exploit those factors.