Card counting, as the name suggests, is a strategy that involves keeping track of the cards that have been dealt throughout each round. This allows the player to know whether they have an advantage in upcoming hands, or not. Card counting is commonly used in Blackjack games but is possible in other casino games, too.
In this article, we answer the question: What is card counting? We do this by looking at how it works, the benefits of card counting, and whether it's illegal or not!
So, how does card counting work? Well, the optimal counting strategy has two different aspects to it, a 'running count' and a 'true count'. In order to find out the 'running count', players must use a combination of maths and memory, while also avoiding distractions at the table. Each card represents a different value, all of which will affect the current 'running count'. These values are:
The 'running count' must be kept until the shoe is finished, at which point it will reset to 0. At any point, players can divide the 'running count' by the number of decks left to be dealt, to find the 'true count'. It's this value that allows an advantage to be gained over the house.
Should players use the 'true count' in the correct way, they can gain various benefits over the casino. First up is swinging the house edge in their favour. With optimal play, the advantage can lean 1-2% towards the player, meaning that they can expect a 'positive expected value' while at the table.
Another potential advantage of counting cards is knowing when to take insurance. While, according to statistics, this bet should generally be avoided, it can actually be beneficial when the 'true count' sits at 3 or more.
Last but not least is the ability for players to adjust their bet size at opportune times. As high cards favour the player and lower cards tend to work to the advantage of the dealer, a high count means that the deck is 'rich'. This means that lots of 10s, jacks, queens, kings, and aces remain in the shoe. Experienced card counters will increase their bet size as the 'true count' gets higher.
Now, a common misconception is that card counting is illegal. It's not, but while it is perfectly legal to count cards, casinos have tight monitoring procedures for spotting players that are using this strategy at the table. In casino terms, these individuals are referred to as 'advantaged players'.
As previously mentioned, blackjack card counting can flip the house edge in favour of the player. This is obviously a problem for casinos, so should they spot a card counter, they are perfectly within their rights to deny bets or remove the player from the building. They can also 'flat bet' a counter, meaning that they cannot adjust their bet size and thus, cannot gain an advantage.
However, the ejected person still has the legal right to redeem all of their chips, if they wish, before leaving. It's important to note that if the player refuses to leave the premises, they will be committing an offence, as they will be deemed a trespasser.
It's no secret that some card counters don't mind being caught while at the tables. However, there are a variety of ways to fly under the radar. Standing back and watching the action could be a good idea, before playing when the count is high. Many counters will start with smaller bets before increasing them dramatically when the count is in their favour, which is incredibly easy to spot.
Another slightly more daring way of being undiscovered while card counting is to disguise each action. One of the most common ways this is done is by pretending to be drunk at the table. This way, changing the bet size frequently can just be blamed on intoxicated thinking.
All blackjack card counting strategies are legal around the world, including the UK and America. This applies to all variations of Poker games and Baccarat too. However, counting cards in Baccarat will offer no advantage to the player. As a result of this, many casinos will offer small sheets to players that allow them to keep track of all cards during a Baccarat session.
The reason for card counting being legal is that players are simply using information to their advantage. It meets none of the traits of cheating, as it's a strategy that can be learned by anyone. With that being said, card counting does require a lot of practice, knowledge, and determination to perfect.
Card counting is a challenging technique to master in practice, as casinos have introduced several measures to prevent it. These measures include using multiple decks and automatic shufflers. However, skilled players who practise card counting can use this technique in any of our live casino games where card counting is applicable.
Some casinos may prohibit card counting and ask players to leave if they are caught. Additionally, some casinos use facial recognition software to identify known card counters and prevent them from playing. As a result, attempting card counting on a Vegas blackjack table is not recommended unless you are prepared to be swiftly escorted out of the casino.