Card Counting

Introduction to Card Counting

Card counting, the forbidden fruit… the reason why land-based and online casinos use multiple decks of cards and why Las Vegas casinos have so many casino employees trained in spotting the dreaded card counters. Card counting is responsible for the banning of countless casino players trained in counting cards in blackjack.

This technique is especially attractive to mathematicians that like to play blackjack. They cannot resist the challenge of beating casinos in their own games by using mathematics. Card counting was the main motive behind many blackjack books and many Hollywood movies about famous card counters.

How Card Counting Works

People have invented different card counting techniques, and the entire purpose of them is getting a better insight about when the deck is in your favor and when it’s not so that you can make the proper bet amount. When the deck of cards is favorable, or in card counting terms, when it is positive, you can make bigger bets and thus take advantage of the situation to win some money. A positive deck is one that has more cards with the value of 10 points, instead of cards with lower value. If the deck of cards is negative, which means the cards are not in your favor, you can decide to play safer by skipping several rounds or by playing the minimum bet until it becomes positive again. A negative deck of cards is one that has more cards that are valued between 1 and 9, instead of cards valued 10.

With a common card counting technique, like the Red 7 or Hi-Lo, you can estimate when the deck of cards is positive and when it is negative simply by assigning points to the cards. For example, with the Hi-Lo technique, the cards are divided into three groups: ten-value cards, middle cards, and lower value cards. The ten-value cards are assigned a negative point, -1, the middle cards, such as 8 or 9 are assigned zero points, while lower value cards such as cards between 1 and 7 are assigned a positive point, +1.

So, what do you do with these points? You just add them and subtract them. When do you do that? As the cards are being dealt, you write the points down or memorize them according to each card dealt and you have to calculate them during the process. The sum from the calculation is called a running count. Maintain this running count for several rounds until half of the decks have been dealt, and after that based on that count you can determine whether the next round is favorable for you to make bigger bet. But, to do that decision, you need to first transform the running count into a true count. Only with the true count you can now if the remaining decks are positive or negative.

Card counting may seem like an easy task, but it actually is a bit harder than it looks. In theory it seems like a perfect way to beat the casino, and you can beat it, if you are an excellent mathematician, but in practice it is more difficult. This is due to the fact that casinos employ various measures to detect and distract card counters, for example, you can expose yourself if you make a sudden increase in your bet amount. This may seem suspicious to the dealer or the pit boss. Play subtly and be patient, and don’t rely solely on your card counting technique, but instead mix it with some additional playing strategy in order to yield maximum results.

Famous Card Counting Examples                               

There have been many legendary card counters and for some of them have even been made Hollywood films. The most famous card counting example is probably the MIT Blackjack team. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is a reputable institute that has produced many great mathematicians and physicians, but its most popular people are the famous blackjack counters that managed to beat casinos in their own games. Their team was composed of card counters with different roles. There was a ‘back counter’, a ‘spotter’, and a ‘gorilla’. The back counter was not directly involved in the game; instead he stood next to a table and counted the cards from there. The spotter was directly involved in the game by playing low bets and his job was to signal when the deck is favorable for bigger bets. The job of the gorilla was to receive those signals and play the bets when he would receive a signal that the deck is positive. He didn’t have to count cards. In time they were discovered and were never allowed to play in casinos again.

Another famous example is Tommy Hyland. He led a card counting team that managed to beat countless Atlantic City casinos just by playing blackjack. He put his team together in 1979 and lasted until 1994 when several card counters from his team were arrested. This was the longest running and most successful blackjack team in the history of blackjack. They began with a $4,000 bankroll and in a couple of months increased that bankroll to $50,000. When the team was disbanded due to arrests, some casinos demanded from the court to make a precedent case out of them, so that card counters could be prosecuted more easily. The ones that got arrested from the team were tried for ace sequencing, but the final decision by the court was that ace sequencing is not illegal.

How Casinos Protect Themselves from Card Counting

It is obvious that card counters are treated by casinos like scum. Mostly because card counters can harm their business and thus be very unprofitable for them. So, casinos set up different measures to stop them from counting the cards successfully or to spot them in order to kick them out of the casino premises and ban them for life.

The most widely spread measure is using multiple decks of cards for the card games, usually between six and eight. And not only that, some casinos even shuffle the decks after each round. Even the staff is trained to spot a card counter, especially the pit bosses. Then they try to break his concentration in order to mess up his count by engaging him in conversations with the help of the dealer or they assign a dealer that deals cards very fast. Anything they can come up to stop him from counting cards, they will do it.


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