Blackjack card counting

Blackjack card counting – the ultimate guide

We all love to hear stories of enthusiastic gamblers who effectively manage to outbid casino dealers and leave the casino with big, hard-earned cash in their pockets. That is perhaps why it is so little surprise that many of us avid gamblers let us captivate the concept of card counting.

If you consider blackjack as your chosen online casino game, we recommend that you learn how to count cards so that you can beat the odds and leave the table with a swap. CasinoSites article on card counting will describe some of the techniques used by some of the most successful blackjack cardholders throughout history, as well as some of the strategies that can be used not to get caught in the peach while yelling at the big guys!

1. A player can reach a house edge of between 0.5% and 1% if you count cards.
2. Even if you count cards, you can still lose.
3. You may need a larger budget to use this strategy.
4. One must avoid being discovered when counting cards.
5. Although it is legal it is not appreciated by the casinos and one can be thrown out.

What is card counting?

Card counting, which is also often referred to as card reading, is a strategy often used by blackjack players to determine if the next hand will likely benefit the player or dealer. A card counter will usually try to reduce the casino’s advantage by being very attentive and keeping track of which cards are drawn and distributed to other players and the dealer. By considering which low and high value cards are dealt, the blackjack player can determine which cards can be drawn. So when you try to use the card counting strategy, you can seize the opportunity to win a good random money yourself!

Why is card counting so fascinating?

For gamblers who have never counted cards in their lives, card counting is a mystery that captivates them and seduces them to learn this unique and strategic concept. Maybe a lot of the reason is that people who count seem to be more adventurous than most of us. Or maybe it’s the stories of people who are very consistent, capable of refining basic blackjack strategy and turning it into a very lucrative way to make money. Or maybe we, like you out there, want to find a way to win as much as possible when gambling in a casino. Or maybe the answer is that we simply love to see that some, a regular guy in the street like the rest of us, gets a takeover of the big guys.

Short counts history

Card counting history

The mathematical genius Dr. Edward O. Thorp, considered one of the card count’s ancestors, succeeded in outlining the basis of card count that many enthusiastic blackjack players used in casinos in the 20th century. The book he wrote in 1960, Beat the Dealer, presented not only what became the basis for card counting, but also several theories on how to play strategically correct blackjack. In many ways, Thorp was ahead of his time, at least he was one of the first to publish his theories and present them to a wider audience.

Another well-known name in the world of card counting is Andy Bloch, perhaps today best known as a very successful poker player, but he was also part of MIT’s blackjack team and launched a DVD tutorial on card counting called Beating Blackjack. Bloch was also featured in the 2005 blackjack documentary The Hot Shoe, by David Layton. In the film, Layton interviews card counters like Edward Thorp and Andy Bloch. During the production of the film, Layton used the knowledge he gained from the interviews and gambled with $5,000 of the budget as a case study.

Other famous faces who have made a name for themselves in the blackjack’s Hall of Fame are author ‘Stanford Wong’ who wrote Professional Blackjack, author Kent Utson who wrote Million Dollar Blackjack and Arnold Snyder who wrote Blackbelt in Blackjack.

Pros and cons of card counting

As we see it, any type of cheating, such as ‘past-posting’ or ‘base-dealing’, should definitely be illegal. The same applies to all types of auxiliary devices such as mirrors or computer controlled calculators on iPhones. A classic example is Keith Taft and his son, who became famous in the 70s for designing portable and mechanical card counting devices.

However, counting cards is just another way of thinking strategically during your game, and most importantly, it is not prohibited by law. Therefore, we see no reason not to count cards, but we strongly recommend that inexperienced players do not try this in a casino because of the reprisals they receive if they are discovered by the casino’s security guards. Or in other words; we simply do not want them to be taken.

Counting cards online is more or less pointless due to the random number generators used in online casinos. But in live casinos where multiple blackjack hands can be played before reaching the plastic card and the dealer must shuffle, card counting can really be effective!

How to count cards

From the moment the first card is dealt from the freshly decked deck of cards, the card counter begins to count the value of the cards. A low value card will add one point to your count, and a high value card will subtract one point from your current count. All cards from 7 to 9 are considered neutral and will not be counted in the Hi-Lo system. Here’s what your count will look like during a random blackjack round:

 Player 1Player 2Player 3Player 4Player 5Dealer
Short:A, 56.27.8Q,Q3.89
Telling:-1, +1+1, +10, 0-1, -1+1, 00

Your total sum after this specific round should be +1. There are several low value cards dealt and as a consequence, there are several high value cards left in the remaining deck. As you may understand, the count will not be accurate after just a few hands. The more information you have gathered, the more accurate your score will be, and the higher the player’s benefit will be.

The first time you try to count on your own, you can use only one deck of cards and count through all the cards. If your count is correct, you should end up with 0. It won’t be easy the first few times, but the more you practice, the faster and more accurate your count will be. After a while, you can try to count two cards at once, and hand out the cards just like in a regular blackjack hand. If you practice long enough, you will recognize different card combinations, and the count will almost automatically be for you. And this is the genius of the simple Hi-Lo count. More complicated counting systems will be explained later, but most card counting experts agree that the benefits of a fast and simple technique far outweigh a more accurate but complicated counting system.

It will not take you too long to learn how to use this simple system while playing blackjack at normal speed. You want the count in mind, and even if you focus on the game, you won’t attract attention to how you play. If you do not completely master the counting system you are using, it will take you too long to count and dealers, ‘pit bosses’ and department heads are well trained to notice this type of behavior.

Card counting in online casinos

To practice your blackjack counting skills, we strongly recommend our card counting coach; The best way to learn how to count cards in blackjack. We also recommend going through our guide below to discover the different techniques used!



One of the most profitable ways to count cards, and perhaps the simplest, is to use the Hi-Lo strategy. In short, the system is a continuous counting technique in which each card has been assigned a specific value. The system is used to distinguish when the ratio of high and low value cards in the blackjack cards is unbalanced.

High value cards such as tens and aces will not only increase the chances of blackjack being dealt, but also hands with a total of 20. A deck of cards containing most high value cards is very beneficial to the player as they increase the chances of the dealer going ‘bust’. In other situations, where most remaining cards in the deck have low value (all 2-6 cards), the dealer will have a significantly greater advantage than the player. The fact that the dealer must pull on hard hands (12 to 16) will, in a situation where many low value cards are in the deck, reduce the chances of the dealer going ‘bust’ when he draws a new card. If there are many high-value cards (tens and aces) in the deck, the likelihood of the dealer going ‘bust’ is significantly higher.


Another factor to consider when trying to determine the balance of the blackjack deck is the number of cards remaining in the deck. That said, the closer you get to the bottom of the deck, the more accurate your score will be. By dividing your current count by the approximate number of remaining decks, you will get a more accurate count – or the ‘true count’ (true count).

Converting your current count to ‘true count’ will make your count more accurate. This may be a little tricky, but if you practice using multiple decks, you will soon be able to visually estimate how many decks remain in the shoe.

Let’s say your current card count is +4, and you estimate that the remaining card counts in the shoe are 2. Then your true card count should be +4 / 2 = + 2.

If your count still shows a positive result after implementing the true card counting system for your ongoing card counting, you will have a good chance of getting a good profit if you increase your bet size. The true card count is a more accurate indicator of how much the deck really is in / against your favor.

More complicated card counting systems

As long as card counting has been in existence, there have always been people who have tried to improve and refine various card counting techniques. However, we have learned from experience that the easier your system is, the easier it will be to use. Even if you believe that you fully master a complicated and very accurate counting system, it will not make you more money in the long run.

The disadvantages of the more complicated systems, such as ‘side-counts’ and ‘multi-level’, are that when you try to keep up with much more information, it will reduce your ability to play fast and count accurately. You will make more money simply counting quickly than complicated counting slowly. The less you strive to count, the more you can make the effort to stay undetected on the casino’s security radar.

‘Back-Counting’ eller ‘Wonging’


One of the most famous card counting techniques is called ‘Wonging’, named after the pseudonym ‘Stanford Wong’ used by John Ferguson when he wrote his series of blackjack books. The name ‘Wonging’ refers mainly to his technique of observing the blackjack tables and counting the deck in the manner described above, and then moving into the game only when the card count is in the player’s favor. Using this technique will reduce your ‘operating cost’, meaning you will not pay anything until you sit down at the ‘hot’ table. However, this technique is well known today and the Head of Department will have no trouble detecting such behavior around the tables. Also, many casinos no longer allow mid-shoe entry in blackjack games.

The obvious advantage of ‘back-counting’ systems such as ‘Wonging’ is that the player does not have to play every hand he or she counts. This will reduce the fluctuations in your bankroll and therefore increase the player’s advantage even more.


Here at CasinoSite you can even try out a card counting flash game that lets you practice card counting for free before trying it out even in the casino. The game is completely free and has no restrictions, just play your way until you become a professional card counter yourself.

Is card counting possible?

The concept of blackjack counting is often seen as glamorous and easy to learn in both movies and TV shows, giving the impression that the gambler who uses the strategy always ends up as a winner. But don’t be fooled, because the reality is that card counting is far more complicated than it is published to be. Yet it is still fully possible to learn and implement.

Looking through the eyes of our experts at CasinoSite, card counting is nothing but strategic thinking while playing. Just like a poker player who decides to go ‘all-in’ when he or she has calculated the odds of winning the hand, we believe that a blackjack player has the right to increase the bet in situations where a positive outcome of the game can be expected. If you learn to combine good blackjack strategy with a bulletproof card counting strategy, you will have a great takeover of the casino and a good chance to turn your knowledge into a significant gain at the blackjack tables.

Card counting in land-based casinos

Although this strategy is legal, our experts at CasinoSite do not recommend that you try this strategy in a land-based casino, as it is usually disliked and can get you thrown out of the casino! Although card counting is no more illegal than calculating your ‘outs’ at the poker table, many casinos like to behave as if it were just that. Since casinos are considered private property (at least within the United States), they have the right to deny anyone access to the casino (thereby suggesting that card counting should be an illegal activity). And trust us when we say it; they WILL take advantage of this right as soon as they think someone is watching the cards distributed at the tables.

Counter measures from the casinos

Card counting

Card counting systems have been in existence for eternity, and some of the first books on the subject were published in the early sixties – casino employees have also forever tried to stop these activities. Listed below are some of the most common, and also unsuccessful, attempts that casinos have made to stop card counting:

‘The Cutting Card’

Some of the first actions of the casinos were to implement the plastic card (‘the cutting card’), so you never played the entire deck of cards.

More decks

They also started using multiple decks in the games, though the number of decks doesn’t really matter when, for example, using the Hi-Lo count as explained above.

Internal short count 

Today, there are several automated systems that casinos use to detect (what they consider) dishonest gambling. Some casinos scan all of the cards dealt from the blackjack shoes, which means they perform their own card counting. Knowing that the deck is unbalanced in the players’ favor, they run this information together with information about betting irregularities collected from the table. If a player systematically raises their bets at points where the computer detects that the deck is hot, the player may be suspected of card counting and may be asked to leave the casino or try their luck at other games within the casino area that do not require skill.

Microchips on the inside of gambling chips

A common way to detect irregularities at the tables is to use microchips planted in the casino’s chips. This makes it very easy for the casino to collect and keep track of information on betting amounts at the tables. This may sound somewhat ‘Orwellian’ to some, but keep in mind that we are dealing with establishments that have been using surveillance cameras for decades here, and their main goal is to make money, not to give them away to people who are very good at outsmarting them.

Face Recognition

One of the latest casino monitoring technologies is face recognition programs. Face detection cameras can identify known cheaters that are collected in a database. The cameras scan all casino visitors as they enter the casino. Because of these new cameras, a well-known card counter may be asked to leave the casino before he or she even reaches the blackjack tables.

How to avoid attracting attention when counting cards

We strongly believe that keeping your technique as simple as possible and really learning how to master it is the best way not to be discovered by casinos. It is quite possible that the best card counters are not food antics and Rainman types, but that they know how to count and really know how to blend into the casino environment.

Practicing using our card counting coach will definitely make you a better card counter, but how to become one in the crowd at a live casino is something you have to learn and master on your own. One thing is certain, and the better your score is and the more natural it gets to your head, the easier it will be for you to work with your camouflage skills in the casino. And hopefully one day we’ll hear about your legendary winnings at the blackjack tables – or better, we’ll never hear about them!


For reasons already mentioned, complicated counting systems are obviously more noticeable to casino employees than simple systems. A group of counters that play together as a team is easy to spot for ‘eye-in-the-sky’ staff. Signs and codes are, if you think they will not be detected, most of the time picked up by the surveillance cameras – if not then and then, then guaranteed afterwards as security personnel go through the footage.

In contrast, the cameras will never be able to pick up on what’s going on in a player’s mind, which is probably the biggest reason why high-tech casinos today still have difficulty discovering the most successful card counters.

As soon as you take your system out of your head and include outside assistance that can leave you with traces that the casino can detect, you are at risk of being exposed. Most casinos try to detect card counters by observing irregularities in betting patterns, both manually and using technology. If you use a simple counting system, you can concentrate on hiding your tracks by, for example, communicating with people around the table, and adjusting your betting pattern so there will be no suspicion.


Obviously, a single player can only play a certain number of hands at a time. Therefore, playing in a team may seem like a smart way to increase your hourly earnings.

Team gaming has been successfully practiced by groups such as MIT’s blackjack team; a host of students from the Massachussett Institute of Technology who later became the inspiration for the movie ’21’ with Kevin Spacey. The most well-known team counting strategies are the types where team members play at one table each, and tell the others through signaling when to come and bet the big money at the table. One advantage of team collaboration is that you can decide to bet big only when you know that the table is really in the player’s favor.

The downside is that team play is often a pretty big operation, and apart from the imminent danger of being taken, there are many people involved who all want to be part of the profits. In addition, a department head will certainly keep an eye on big efforts that jump between tables, so again the risk of being taken is quite obvious.

Regardless, if you feel like giving team play a try or just want to know how it might have worked, here you will see a classic structure of a team and what the individual roles of members can be: 

‘The Back-Spotter’

This is a member of the team who does not necessarily have to sit at one of the tables. By observing the tables at a distance, they can signal to the rest of the team when it’s time for the gorilla to move toward the table.

“The Spotter” 

This member is an active player at the table, but his or her main job is to keep an accurate count of the deck at this specific table. The casinos regularly check for betting irregularities at the tables, and because of this, the spotter sticks to the minimum bet and signals to the gorilla or team leader when the deck is ‘hot’.

‘The Gorilla’

The gorilla is not known for its mathematical skills, so the gorilla does not need to count. Instead, this member will move around from table to table and place maximum bets only when the table is really ‘hot’.

A classic gorilla character is the distressed millionaire who moves from table to table and throws himself around with his large sums of money on what may seem like an inexcusable way.

‘The Big Player’

Whoever has the role of the big player in the team has the job of preventing the rest of the team from being detected. Anyone who bets heavily on competent blackjack gambling will surely attract the attention of the casino staff. Keep in mind that playing the perfect strategy at the blackjack tables is not illegal, and a skilled player with the same bankroll as the gorilla will surely capture the look of the casino before the rest of the team does.

Become a blackjack superstar!

If you want to roll your money, start counting! Although card counting will challenge your patience, it will definitely be worth it once you have learned how to use it against the house. So if you don’t succeed first, try again and again. Remember it pays to stay calm and stable to win this race!