You Should Never Do This: Count Cards

You Should Never Do This: Count Cards

Who hasn’t had dreams about going to Vegas and robbing a casino blind? I’m not talking in the Oceans 11 sense I am talking about sliding up to a table and taking them for everything they are worth. Well in order to do that you need to learn how to count cards. You do not have to be a ivy league graduate or mildly autistic to count cards (though neither of these things hurt). Just follow these steps and you are way on your way to profits.

Step 1: Learn how to play black jack

Counting cards is not a sure fire way to beat the system, just a way to even the odds against the house. So you better know how to walk before you run. If you are planning on making some cash counting cards (and I am pretty sure that’s the point) you first have to understand all of the strategies and rules of black jack. Luckily it’s a pretty simple game compared to most.

Knowing the game is the only way to succeed. Counting cards gives you a 1 advantage over the schmuck with the tourist t shirt sitting next to you. That extra 1% will only result in you making M.I.T. levels of cash if you have gambling down to a legitimate art.

Step 2: The Hi-Lo System

The hi-lo system is the most popular and often most effective card counting system. The concept is pretty simple: high cards are given a value of -1, low cards a value of +1, middle cards a value of 0. You then tally up the values and determine whether the table is hot or cold by the overall number. The values are as follows:

  • Cards 2-6 have a value of +1.
  • Cards 7-9 have no value.
  • Cards worth 10 have a value of -1.
  • Aces also have a value of -1.

Understand why card counting works. It works because high cards (tens) improve a player’s chances of hitting a blackjack, which pays out at 3:2. They also increase the dealer’s chances of going “bust.” Low cards, on the other hand, are bad for the player (who wants a blackjack and to beat the house) but good for the dealer (they prevent them from busting on 16 or lower).

If the ratio of high cards to low cards is higher than normal (that is, there are lots of high cards still in the shoe), the player can make bigger bets to increase the amount he/she can win when the deck is favorable. They keep a number in their heads that tells them when to bet and how much to bet — or not to bet at all!

Step 3: Practice

Grab a deck of card and flip through them, keeping a tally in your head of the value of the deck. If you do it right after going through all 52 cards you should end up back at zero. Keep practicing until you can keep the tally effectively quicker and quicker. A good card counter should be able to go through an entire deck in roughly 25 seconds.

Now start going through the deck in pairs, similar to a hand in black jack. If you are dealt a hand with both a high and low card (Jack and 3 for example) your though process should not be -1 + 1 = 0 it should simply be 0.  When you see a low card and a high card, they cancel each other out. Keeping this in mind will make it much easier as the cards fly by you at lightning speeds.

Long gone are the days when casinos work with just one deck (mostly, at least). It’s a lot more common to run into a game that is working with 5 or 6 (in what’s called the shoe). Because of this, your running count may not be the true count. To find the true count, divide the running count by the number of decks waiting to be dealt. If your running count is +4 and there are 4 decks left, the true count is actually +1. To know how many decks are left, you’re going to have to take a covert look at the discard tray. Do this between hands, when you have the extra bit of time.

Practice with distractions. It’s all well and good if you can count cards in the comfort of your own home, door locked, curtains drawn, and telephone off the hook. But when you do it at a casino? There will be a thousand and one distractions taking place at the same time. Start by turning the TV on. Then add the radio. Throw in a dog and a few kids and you’ll almost be at the level you’ll be dealing with at any hopping casino. Not to mention you’ll have several sets of eyes watching you at all times, you’ve got to be accurate and low-key. This brings us to the next topic…

Step 4: Betting and Not Getting Caught.

Counting cards is not illegal but it is highly frowned upon. Getting caught can result in being kicked out, being banned from the casino, or having a few fingers broken by the casino’s hired help. Here are a few tips to avoid all of those scenarios:

Let your bet ride, if you need to increase the bet. Dealers are trained to shuffle the deck upon an unexplainable increase in the bet. For this reason, only up your bet in small increments and at seemingly random points in the game

Appear to be interested in other things besides the game. This is why we had you practicing with the TV, radio, and several messy, loud-mouthed children. If you are so busy counting your lips are practically moving, it’s a dead giveaway. Go ahead, get a drink, make small talk, and enjoy yourself. Counters have a reputation for being “zoned in” to the game. IF you remain fixated on their cards while everyone else is looking at a gorgeous woman you will raise suspicion.

Tip the dealer. In fact tip anyone you can tip at the casino. Many dealers know how to count cards. A dealer that likes you will be more likely to wait before shuffling on a favorable deck and shuffle sooner on a bad one. A dealer can help you or hurt you. Motivate the dealer to be for you. Same goes for the entire pit crew, get them on your side, your not-so-heinous crime may slide under their radar.

Act like a tourist. Card counters are notorious for playing blackjack for hours and hours, often without eating or enjoying the amenities available at the resort. Acting like a tourist just looking for a simple good time may take the suspicion off of you. You want to blend in. Busting out your three-piece Armani suit is not what you want to do when starting your card counting career at your local casino.


There you have it folks. You now have every tool in your arsenal to start counting cards like Rain Man and robbing the fat cats blind. Overall the stragetys are not hard, the key is to become comfortable enough with the hi-lo system were it becomes second nature. You will need that in order to both play the game and deal with distractions while also keeping a tally in your head.

If you manage to make a bit of dough and not get caught in the process just remember who taught you these fine secrets and send a few bucks our way.