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The world of table games is replete with exciting strategies and skills. For blackjack especially, players rely on different techniques to either gain an advantage over the casino or make better decisions in the game. Card counting is one of those skills that can quickly elevate your blackjack experience and even increase your chances of winning more cash.

As the name already suggests, card counting involves keeping track of the relative number of low cards to high cards. Since blackjack players tend to win when there are 10 value cards and aces, counting cards is a proven way to know whether the odds are in your favor.

However, this technique can be quite complicated and in some cases, illegal. Let’s take you through some basic and advanced card counting strategies as well as analyzing the legality of this procedure at casinos.

How Does Card Counting Work?

Card counting can make all the difference between a regular win and a massive jackpot. And the best part is that you can count cards online or at a retail casino. But unlike what most people think, you don’t need to perfectly commit all the cards dealt to memory. Instead, you only need to accurately predict the value left in a shoe.

If you find that the remaining deck is low or negative, you can increase your bet size. On the flip side, if the rest of the pack is relatively higher, it’s best to reduce your bet. Most standard blackjack casinos have a house edge of about 0.5%. With good card counting skills, you can gain an advantage of about 1% over the casino.

Popular Card Counting Strategies

There are up to five strategies for card counting in blackjack, all of which have different levels of complexity. However, the Hi-Lo is considered the best technique for beginners. Here’s a look at how the Hi-Lo works and other advanced strategies to count cards.

Hi-Lo

When using this strategy, cards are divided across three categories and assigned set values. Ideally, low cards between 2 to 6 are counted as +1 while high cards (10, Jack, Queen and King) and Aces have a -1 value. Other cards are counted as 0.

As cards are dealt, keep track of its assigned value and continue calculating the cumulative throughout the round. For instance, if a 4 card is dealt, then you have an assigned value of +1. If after an ace and a jack is dealt, you’d have two -1 values, bringing the cumulative to -1.

Wong Halves

This strategy is the brainchild of Stanford Wong, whom the technique is named after. Here, some of the assigned values are in decimals. Below is a count of the cards.

  • 10s and Aces: -1
  • 9 card: -0.5
  • 8 card: 0
  • 2 and 7 cards: 0.5
  • 3, 4 and 6 cards: 1
  • 5 card: 1.5

During the rounds, a positive count indicates that there are more low cards in the deck while a negative card implies that most of the remaining cards are high value. At the end of a complete, your count ought to be zero.

Omega II

Omega II is a balanced system developed by Bryce Carlson. Like in Wong Halves, the values assigned are also complicated.

  • 10s and face cards: -2
  • Card 9: -1
  • 8 and Aces: 0
  • Cards 2, 3 and 7: 1
  • Cards 4, 5 and 6: 2

Multiple Decks

Known as the advanced Hi-Lo, this strategy was first used by MIT students and later adapted into the movie 21. It is simply the Hi-Lo technique, only that you divide the running count by the number of cards remaining.

Group Play

While this is not a different technique, it is a unique way to apply popular techniques. At its core, the Group Play involves a team of two or more counting cards and communicating on the action to take during a game.
Should You Count Cards?

In many U.S. states, card counting is only illegal when you use an electronic or mechanical device like software on your mobile phone. You may be arrested and prosecuted if caught using a smartphone to count cards.

On the other hand, making counts with your head is generally legal. Yet, in some casinos, they are still not permitted. Although you won’t be arrested, if dealers notice, they may frustrate you by constant shuffling.

Concluding Remarks

Tons of players have mastered the art of card counting and made a fortune utilizing the different strategies at casinos. However, it’s important to know that card counting doesn’t come easy. But if you do decide to try, make sure you’re discreet about it and practice well as land casinos before switching online.

Jessica Aletor

Jessica is a graduate of Economics. She’s passionate about corporate finance, private equity and investment banking. In her spare time, she writes about finance, cryptocurrency and the US iGaming markets. Follow Jessica's EatWatchGamble content for industry news, big wins, and more.

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