Card Counting: the Systems, the Methods and the Laws

Many amateur blackjack players tend to ignore card counting, seeing it as some sort of Rain Man trick that requires extraordinary mathematic skills and concentration, but that is not the case. Whilst card counting is far from easy, it is not as difficult as many people think it is. One of the many misconceptions is that those who count cards literally memorise every single card that comes out of the deck, therefore knowing what will come next, but this is pure fallacy. The most common card counting techniques rely on very simple methods that everyone can learn, and we’ll look at them in this article.

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The Basic Methods of Card Counting

In the most basic method, known as a High-Low count, players simply visualise a total score in their heads, adding or subtracting each card from that total depending on its value. They will begin on a count of zero and for every card between 2 and 6, they will add 1, whilst for every ace or 10, they will subtract 1. Any card between 7 and 9 does not effect the count either way and is ignored for this method. When the count is a high positive then the player knows that the odds of a higher card coming next are greater than they were, and when the count is high negative, then they know that the opposite is true. A very similar method to this is known as the Hi-Opt I, which uses a similar system, but one where the ace and the 2 are not counted. The Hi-Opt II is a more detailed system based on this, and is used by more advanced card counters. In this system the 2, 3, 6 and 7 count as +1, whereas the 3 and 5 count as +2, all 10s are -1 and the ace is not counted.

Other simple methods include Omega. Red 7, Zen Count and KO. These can be used by pretty much anyone who can maintain their concentration in a high pressured and noisy environment, and knows how to do simple math. It is advised, however, that the card counter practice until they reach a state where they can count quickly, otherwise the dealer, the pit boss and/or the security cameras will pick up on it very quickly.

Card Counting Teams

Some of the most well known card counters were those who counted in teams. They did this by entering the casino separately and sitting at separate blackjack tables, whilst one player held back. The players at the table would then run a count and when the count was heavily in their favour they would signal for the extra man who would sit down, bet big and stay while the going was good, before moving on. As many card counters are discovered by the fact that they vary their bets greatly, due tot he fact that they are acting alone, this trick was very successful and allowed the teams to go undetected for a sustained period of time.

Other Methods for Counting Cards

The Wong method, also known as Back-counting or Wonging — named after the blackjack professional Stanford Wong — requires the player to watch the game from behind the dealer, counting the cards as they appear from the shoe. They wait until the count is in their favour and then jump in. The fact that this needs to be done slyly to avoid detection makes it harder and players often use distraction techniques, such as playing nearby slots or even talking with a friend, that can also distract the player.

For those who struggle to keep up with the count, there are card counting devices an apps, but these must be used with great discretion as the player will promptly be removed from the casino if they are seen to be using any such device. Those are also illegal in some states.

How Card Counters are Discovered

Bet sizing is one of the easiest methods to spot a card counter. Simply put, a counter will not want to bet big when they are running the count, but will certainly want to do so when the count is in their favour. So, if a player suddenly increases their bet sizes and wins each time that they do, then that tends to raise red flags. A good way to counteract this is to act like an amateur, someone who really doesn’t know what he’s doing and is relying on pure luck, this can be achieved by making some very careless mistakes and moves that only someone unfamiliar with the game would make.

Those who play a very small number of hands, basically avoiding the hands where the count is bad, but are quick to jump in with big bets later on, will be noticed even quicker, as will players who table hop and play more than one hand at a time on empty tables. When a player is suspected of counting cards he or she will be asked to stop playing and maybe even to leave the casino. Many successful card counters are barred from scores of casinos and blacklisted so that they can be easily spotted by other casinos.

The Law Regarding Card Counting in the United States

Another fallacy regarding card counting is that it is illegal and that players can end up in jail or with hefty fines, but this not the case. In 2012 card counting was actually ruled to be a legal act, which means that those who practice it are not breaking the law and will suffer no consequences as a result. There are some local laws that ban the use of devices that can help the player to count cards, but providing that their only tool is their mind and mathematical abilities, then card counting is perfectly legal.

In Las Vegas you can and will get barred for card counting if they suspect you of it. And if you get banned from one casino then there is a good chance that the others will catch on. It has been known for many standard players to get themselves banned for what the casino wrongly perceived as card counting, but what was in fact just standard strategy and some very good luck. But as is often the case in any Las Vegas casino, or indeed any casino around the world, the house is very suspicious of anyone that can beat them and doesn’t really want those sort of players in their resorts.

In Atlantic City the casinos are not allowed to ban any players that they suspect of card counting. In fact, it has been that way since the late 1970s when blackjack legend Ken Uston was banned from an Atlantic City casino who he then filed a claim against and won. Obviously the casinos were not very happy with this, but they do have ways of getting around it and that is why all blackjack tables in Atlantic City use 8-deck shoes, and why they have other rules in place that tip the game in the house’s favour.