Card Counting Basics: Beginner’s Guide on How to Count Cards

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You perhaps have been having a bad time with blackjack, and you heard about card counting, and you eagerly ran into this post. I don’t know how you heard about it, but somehow, you heard about it, and your source has a point. I hope you know card counting isn’t child’s play. 

Alright, that cleared; your source has a point because card counting didn’t begin today. It can be traced back to as far as the 1960s. Edward O. Thorp is believed to be the father of the system. He got the guts to run several casinos out of business as he walked on the path to bag a fortune. The maybe worst thing he did was show his book “Beat the Dealer” to the world in 1962

It was the first book to organize blackjack card counting and made it widely liked. It was a bestseller that inspired millions of gamblers and still sells to this day. This book most likely lit more problems for him as casinos and other haters began coming after his life.

He was drugged, and his car was tampered with. That is a lot, but this post won’t get you killed. It is just the basics of card counting that are covered. Even though it is not publicly stated, card counting may have contributed a substantial part to Thorp’s $800 million net worth. The basics in this post will prepare you for close to the pro level of Thorp. 

Dismantling the Maths

As a refresher, card counting is a strategy used to determine how likely it is for a hand to give a player or dealer an advantage. Card counters do their best to take note of the concentration of high cards to low cards left on the deck.

The belief is that high cards (10s and Aces) are favorable to the player and low cards (2-6) to the dealer. This stems from high cards somehow firing up the chances of a player getting a blackjack and the dealer busting. And both possibilities are beneficial to the player. 

The Hi-Lo System is the recommended one you should start with. It is a popular and simple card-counting system. Take a peek at how things go:

  • Cards 2-6 are allotted a value of +1.
  • Cards 7-9 are allotted a value of 0.
  • 10s and Aces are allotted a value of -1.

As the dealer distributes the cards, you maintain a “running count” by doing some mathematics. You adjust your count by adding or removing each card’s value. Say you’re playing, and you are dealt these cards: Ace, King, 2, 7, 6, 4, and 5. Now, if you keep track, you’d have a count of -1 (from the Ace), -1 (from the King), +1 (from the 2), +0 (from the 7), +1 (from the 6), +1 (from the 4), and +1 (from the 5). This gives you a total count of +2.

Starting with the Hi-Lo system is a solid choice, but there are more sophisticated systems that assign different values to cards and factor in more elements. These advanced systems can provide a more accurate count and a greater advantage. And at the same time, they come with added complexity. This makes them tougher for you to get the hang of as a beginner.

Keeping the Count Under Wraps

Casinos aren’t a fan of card counting. Therefore, you must try to do it without getting noticed. Here are some tips for keeping your card counting under wraps:

Firstly, you need to act normal. Behave as any typical player would, not as a professional. Chat with fellow players and the dealer, ask for drinks from the server, or observe other games at different tables. And mix up your betting patterns. Avoid consistently increasing your bet when the count benefits you. Once in a while, increase or decrease your bets when the count becomes neutral or does not benefit you.

For physical gestures, fidget with your chips as any other player would. It can help you appear less focused on the game. Also, do not stare into the soul of the dealer. Instead, try to appear relaxed and just casually glance at the cards as they’re dealt.

When you are doing your maths, keep it within you. Do the maths in your head without moving your lips or muttering. If you lose track of the count, don't panic; it’s better to restart than draw attention to yourself.

It is true that the casino environment is full of distractions. But at the same time, you need to stay focused on the game and ignore these distractions to your best power. Card counting is a long-term strategy, not a get-rich-quick one. Don’t get mad if you don’t see immediate results.

You could even practice at home to better yourself. Use a deck of cards to simulate being dealt hands. Practice keeping the count as you deal the cards. The more you “do,” the quicker and more accurate you’ll become at maintaining the count. You learn best by doing.

When to Make Your Move

There are many factors involved in deciding when to make your move. An important concept that you should understand is True Count. To find the True Count, just divide the Running Count by the decks yet to be dealt. This gives you a more accurate picture of the count by factoring in the number of cards that have not yet been dealt. 

This understanding comes in handy when deciding to tweak your bets. If the deck favors you (high count), go ahead and increase your bets. On the flip side, if it’s favoring the house (low count), lower your bets or stick to something that will be discussed shortly.

Sure, boosting bets in your favor is tempting, as you’ve learned so far, but going too obvious about it can bring unwanted attention to you.

Card counting isn’t just about crunching numbers; it’s about combining that skill with basic blackjack strategy. This strategy gives you guidance on when to hit, stand, double down, or split, considering both your hand and what the dealer is showing. It’s the mix of card counting and basic strategy that really elevates your game.

On the finish line: Reality Check

While the ride to this point might have been thrilling, casinos are beginning to take steps against the methods discussed. Those steps also have eyes for the methods used by the likes of Edward O. Thorp. The steps include shuffle machines and deck switching to deter card counting.

Card counting doesn’t guarantee riches. It’s just a tool to gain a slight edge over the house in the long run. Know this and know peace. Always set limits, and stick to your budget. The most rewarding aspect is enjoying the game rather than relentlessly pursuing wins.

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