Card counting in blackjack- House edge, advantage, and risk

Card counting in blackjack- House edge, advantage, and risk

What is card counting?

Card counting, also known as card reading, in online casino games like blackjack is a strategy adopted by players to predict the outcome of a hand. They predict it based on the card dealt to players and up-facing card of the dealer. Using card reading the player try to maximise the win and minimise the loss. It’s an attempt to nullify the inherent house edge of the online casino in the game. Normally house edge in a blackjack is less than 0.5% if played with basic strategy, but with several rules, e.g. dealer not taking hit after his card value is 17 and so on, the house edge has been increased a little by online casinos.

What is the hypothesis behind card counting in blackjack?

Card counting is based on two hypothesis or belief that:

  • High value cards like ace, 10, and other 10-value cards (and sometimes 9) help players more than they do the dealer. Because when player has high value cards, they have more chances of hitting natural blackjack which will pay them 1.5 times. While a natural blackjack for the dealer pays only 1x.
  • Low value card helps dealers more than they do the player. High value cards to dealer may increase the chance of him going bust. For example, let’s say the dealer already has value of card up to 16. Now he can’t stand and will have to hit. This may be a bust for him. While a player can always stand if he feels like going bust.

How is card counting done?

Card counting is about assigning a point value to the cards which has been seen by player. So, in a simple card counting method a player assigns following value to cards:
+1 to 2,3,4,5, and 6
-1 to Ace, 10, Jack, King, Queen
0 to 7,8, and 9
It must be noted here that this is very basic counting method. In complex or multilevel counting method, a player can assign value like -2, -1,0, 1, and 2 OR -2, -1.5, -1, -0.5, 0, 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2 etc.

How does card counting help a player?

Once the player assign point value to all the seen cards, he tracks the sum of these values (also called running count). A high sum value tells that low value cards are out and high value cards are still to be dealt. So, the player will bet more or do double down as high value card left to be dealt will benefit more to the player and less to the dealer. Similarly, low sum value will make the player cautious as there is high chance of him losing the bet. So during high count, bet more; and during low count, bet low.

So basically, a player calculates the effect of removal (EOR) of cards i.e. how much effect the cards had on house edge once they were removed and dealt.

In order to bring more accuracy multilevel counting is done. A player can do side counting as well wherein he keep track of a specific card, say Ace.

Although card counting is not illegal, casinos try every measure to prevent this. They reserve the right to entry to casino and can bar known card counters. They can also change the game rules a bit like flat betting (no double down or side betting) or may include several decks of card or frequent reshuffling.

Card counting is again not a sure shot formula to win all the times in blackjack. It slightly moves the advantage in your favour that too if you are smart enough to count without getting caught. It has been found that card counting may give you 0.05-1% advantage over the house.

It must be noted here that there is difference between online blackjack and live online blackjack. Online blackjack is computer simulated video where cards are randomly generated using Random Number Generator Engine while in live online blackjack a real person comes as dealer and video is live streamed. Therefore, card counting has no meaning in context of online blackjack.

In online casinos playing live online blackjack, it’s not easy to count cards too as the dealer place the cut card after around 40% (unlike 80% in land based casino) of the cards means a player gets to see only 40% cards before reshuffling happens. Also, there is software to shuffle cards every time a hand ends.

So, Can any one win in online blackjack? Yes of course. Online blackjack is eventually a skill game and one stand a chance to win like other casino games.

Some question around card counting in blackjack

What is the myth around card counting?

Some believe that card counting about tracking cards by memorising. Actually, it’s not about tracking a card as to who might have got which card, but it’s about the assigning a point value to each card seen by the player and then estimating the effect of cards which are yet to be dealt.

Is Card counting legal?

In the UK card counting is not illegal as long as player does not take help of another object or person, but casinos try to discourage from doing card counting. Casinos normally ban the person who indulge in card counting.

Can you go to jail for card counting?

No, card counting is not illegal after all it’s not cheating, but the casino may ban you.

How do casinos know if you are counting cards?

When you are counting cards, you may exhibit certain play style like betting high when count is high or betting low may count is low. The casino people are smart, trained, or former card counters who identify you easily and make ask you to stop playing.

Does counting cards actually work?

A little, but not always. It gives around 0.05-1% advantage over the house, but there is more risk of getting banned or your bets getting confiscated if caught.