Counting Cards

Card counting has always been a part of the casino world. It has been a thorn in the side of casino owners for decades and as time has gone by it has only increased in its popularity and appeal. This has been due to its more prominent use in the entertainment world and the more risky it has become to carry out with stricter punishments.

What Is It?

Card counting is the discipline used by a player in cards game to gain an advantage over the casino by narrowing down the probability of which certain values will be dealt next. It is most prevalent in blackjack where it is used to work out the ratio between high value cards, namely 10s and ACE and low value ones, namely 2-6.


Card counting is an art that needs to be mastered. It is not true that the individual needs to have exceptional mathematic skills to carry it out, just a lot of practice. The individual simply needs to assign a count to each card that represents its value (high values is better than a low values in blackjack because they get the player closer to 21). So the player just needs to keep a running count of the values to work out roughly what cards are left in the decks and narrow down the odds so they know whether it is worth going ahead and gambling.

The Hi-Low System

The most common system allocates 1, 0, -1 to the various cards in the deck, according to their value. This helps the players recognize how many high value cards, especially 10s remain in the deck, thus increasing their chances for winning. Therefore, whenever a low value card, namely 2-6 is dealt +1 is added to the count, whenever neutral value is dealt, namely 7-9, no value is added to the count, and whenever a 10 value or an ACE is dealt, meaning leaves the deck, a -1 is added to the count. The higher the count, the better the odds to receive a 10 value/ACE.


The media has played a huge role in popularizing the discipline of card counting. The film '21' topped American Box Office charts with its high octane coverage of a group of card counting students. Based on the popular true story book by Ben Mezrich called 'Bringing Down The House' the film joined the ranks of 'Rain Man', 'Croupier' and 'Rounders' as a Hollywood gem that entertained the masses with a story of individuals defying the regulations of the casino. The TV series of 'Las Vegas' only added to this popularity by showing how security teams deal with people who try to rip the house off.

There is also a huge feeling of 'us against them' when it comes to the public and the casino. The casino isn't in the business to cater for our needs. They are in it to get as much money out of us as possible. So many people see this discipline as a chance to get one up on the big man. It is their chance to pull a fast one and make something back from the establishment that has taken so much from them.

Casino Reaction

Card counting is not against the law but a lot of casinos frown upon it. Of course they do, it's an underhand method of screwing the casino but in a legal manner. Due to casinos not being allowed to officially punish you for performing it they carry out a number of other techniques to dissuade you from it.

For example, the dealer will find ways to irritate you or unsettle you if they think you are counting cards. He may alter the speed of play to encourage you to leave the table. In extreme circumstances, the casino might even close the table or ask you to leave the table. A casino does hold the right to ban you if they feel you are of a necessary risk. In America it has even been rumored that people have been 'taken out back' and kept under custody for the night as the casino has created a crime that they suspect you of committing. This has only been rumored to have occurred in high stakes games where the casino has suffered huge losses. A dirty roughing up is more of Hollywood make believe though.


Card counting is part and parcel of blackjack. There is no way to eradicate it and it's a constant itch that the casinos cannot scratch. Winning at 21 only hits the casinos and doesn't affect the other players. It is down to how well the player has learnt the discipline. Nobody can claim it has tarnished the reputation of the game because it has seemingly only added appeal to it. Even though it is deemed inappropriate by casinos, it does add that certain sense of excitement and intensity to the game of blackjack. It has delivered some classic Hollywood moments and continues to be a great source of publicity for the game. Despite its controversy, it really is difficult to determine if blackjack would be as popular as it is now if card counting wasn't an aspect of it. In that respect, despite its negative reputation from some sectors, can it really be such a bad thing?

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