Can card counting be useful when playing live Blackjack?

Card Counting where to use

Card counting is a game strategy used by players at the Blackjack tables as using a sound counting method, can offer players a mathematical edge over the house. There are several methods used to count cards, and you don’t need to memorize every card that has been dealt from a deck/shoe and compute every card still left. It’s a simple process only if you can add and subtract the number 1 you’re part way there.

Any blackjack counting strategy aims to give the player an idea of the composition of the remaining cards in the shoe. Not exactly what those cards are, but rather the broad composition of majority high cards, or majority low cards.  Knowing whether the shoe is high card or low card rich, puts the player at an advantage over the house. Let’s first understand a bit about card counting and then see whether it is useful when playing live blackjack or not.

Methods of Card Counting

Methods of Card Counting

One of the most commonly used counting methods is the Hi-Lo method. All you need is to add and subtract and pay attention.

All cards in the deck are assigned a value as follows:

  • +1 for all 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, 5’s, 6’s
  • 0 for all 7’s, 8’s, 9’s
  • -1 for all A’s, K’s, Q’s, J’s, 10’s

As each card is dealt add the assigned value to a running count. An example deal and corresponding running count would be as follows:

Card dealt Assigned value running Running count
10 -1 -1
A -1 -2
8 0 -2
4 +1 -1
5 +1 0
3 +1 1
J -1 0
2 +1 1
6 +1 2

How to practice card counting?

Card Counting

When you play a game of blackjack in a real casino or online casino the deal happens fast.

A great way to practice counting cards is to deal a deck to yourself and keep a running count. If after the deal you have a count of zero, you were spot on. Increase the deal speed until the count is pretty much second nature and then you’re ready to hit the casinos.

Underlying any counting method is the fact that a high card-rich deck/shoe, combined with optimal play, increases the mathematical returns of blackjack. This is because a high card-rich deck results in more pat hands for the player and increases the likelihood of dealer busts with forced hits on stiffs like being 12s to 16s.

A high card-rich deck also increases the chances of Blackjacks being dealt – both to the dealer and players, however for players, Blackjack pays 3:2 swinging returns in their favour. Thus a high card-rich shoe improves players’ chances of winning, and the running count tells you whether the remaining shoe is high card-rich or not.

The running count gets high as more low cards have been dealt than high cards, meaning on balance there are more high cards remaining in the shoe. This is referred to as a positive count. The greater the positive count closer to the end of the shoe, the better the odds for players.

Also if the running count is less than zero which is a negative count then the remaining shoe is low card rich and not a good shoe for players. Card counting is simply a means of calculating just how high-card-rich the remaining shoe/deck is so that you can bet accordingly.

Betting on the count

Betting on card count

First and foremost you must play basic strategy at all times during your session. That is, choosing the optimal Hit, Stand, Split or Double Down decision given your cards and the dealer’s.

There are simple basic strategy charts (or Hit or Stand charts) that tell you exactly what you should do for every deal circumstance.

These charts will differ depending on the blackjack house rules applied, which do differ from casino to casino.

  • Increase your bets when you have a high positive count towards the end of a shoe
  • Don’t bet when you have a low or negative count towards the end of a shoe.
  • The extent to which you increase or decrease your bets will be determined by how high the positive count is, or how low the negative count is.

Card Counting – Where it is beneficial?

At land casinos you will not be allowed to count cards if they know you are an advanced player who knows the card counting method. Note that they are pretty good at detecting bet patterns consistent with card counting and they will ask that player to leave and not return.

At online casino RNG (random number generator) blackjack games preclude the possibility of an effective count because all online RNG games are dealt from a full shuffled deck/shoe. Online blackjack card counting is therefore totally useless as you are playing to a full deck/shoe with every deal.

Live celebrity Blackjack

At live casinos the scene is different as live dealer games do not have a computer-generated deck that can be automatically replenished and shuffled every game. Also, each casino has its own set of Live casino Blackjack rules to follow. At Playtech-powered live casino for example you might find eight-deck Live Blackjack with a live dealer and a real Blackjack table, with multiple players. The cards are shuffled when there are approximately four decks left in the shoe.

At Evolution Gaming-powered live casinos shoe is shuffled at regular intervals. In practice, you will find this translates to an approximate mid-shoe shuffle also.

In both cases, players aren’t able to penetrate deep into the shoe with their count. Playing live dealer blackjack you aren’t allowed to effectively gauge how high card rich the shoe is because the deal never runs to the (near) end of the shoe.

So playing live online, any counting strategy, while good counting practice, will not enable you to gain an edge over the house either.

Only at real casinos amongst the lots of noises, distractions you use card counting if not detected by the pit boss.