There are plenty of articles about counting cards in blackjack. These often write about the basic principles of counting cards. They often discuss how difficult it actually is. If you look a little further, you’ll come across articles that discuss the finer points of counting cards.
In this article, we look at the strategic (rather than purely tactical) factors involved in card counting. In other words, what factors affect your overall approach to successfully counting cards at blackjack?
Long term versus short term
The most important thing any blackjack player needs to understand is that the math behind card counting is a long-term formula. You’re not going to learn to count cards this week and come home rich next week. In fact, most card counters never get rich.
In the short run, anything can happen at blackjack. Even the worst blackjack player can have a great winning streak and even the best blackjack player can have a losing streak.
The best way to keep a long-term perspective is to keep records. Keep track of how many hours you spend at the blackjack tables and how much you won or lost during each session. Your average winning or losing percentage per hour is easy to calculate if you keep track of those numbers.
In blackjack, you also have the option to double and split, which makes for more chances of winning
Roulette versus blackjack
Another thing to keep in mind is that even if you count cards, you will still lose more than half the time. If you want a greater chance of winning a single bet, you can find it at the roulette table.
A bet on black at roulette wins 47% of the time. A bet on a hand of blackjack wins only 43% of the time. The reason the house edge is lower in blackjack has to do with the payouts in different situations.
You also have the option of doubling and splitting in blackjack. Even if the count is positive, you don’t win more often. More often you will see naturals, which means you will see that sweet 3-for-2 payout more often. That’s why you bet more. Not because you hope to win more often, but because the count is high.
Dealing with loss
Most importantly, you need to be able to psychologically deal with losing streaks. The mathematical term for these streaks is “variance,” and it’s just something you have to deal with when you play a game with a random outcome.
We don’t mean that a losing streak can last an hour or two. Losing games can last for days, weeks and sometimes even months. Some people get discouraged when they learn how to count cards, but if you do it right it will work.
However, you still have to deal with the house edge. The average card counter gets a 1% edge over the house. Someone who is really good will get a maximum of 2% over the casino. If you play at full tables, where you see fewer hands per hour, you need more than 20 hours at the table.
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Bankroll Management for card counters
The focus on the long term versus short term has some implications for managing your casino bankroll. If you have a losing streak that persists for days or weeks, it is possible to go bankrupt even if you have a mathematical advantage over the casino.
Therefore, you must have enough money in your bankroll to prevent that from happening. You must avoid going bankrupt before you reach the “big numbers” in the “Law of Big Numbers.” This law suggests that the closer you get to an infinite number of trials, the closer your results will approximate those mathematically expected.
When deciding what limits to play with, you must decide on the gambling spread and the amount of money you can afford to put into the blackjack hobby.
Let’s assume you want to play at a lower stake with a 1-to-4 spread. You have found a casino with a minimum bet of €5. This means that the largest bet you place is four units or €20. You should have at least 100x that amount on your bankroll.
In this case, you need a bankroll of €2,000 to play at this level to avoid going bust because of variance. The more money you have on the bankroll, the bigger the bet you can afford to play without going bankrupt.
The lower your largest bet is compared to the total bankroll, the more likely it is that you will survive in the long run and see your mathematical advantage realized. Most card counters base the size of their bet on the count. If the count is zero or lower, they bet the minimum.
Then, if the count reaches +1, they add one unit and bet €10. If the count is +2, they increase their bet to €15. If the count comes to +3 or higher, they increase the size of their bet to €20. The larger the spread of your bet, the higher your edge over the house becomes.
With a count of +1, your lead over the casino is only 0.4%. With a count of +3, your advantage is 1.6%. But if you get a count of +6, your edge over the casino is 3.3%. The more money you bet with a 3.3% edge, the better off you are.
Determine before you go to a casino how much money you will play with at most
Penetration and the number of card games
The fewer decks of cards there are in the game, the better off you will be. You will do better in a game with one deck or two decks, than in a game with eight decks. But you must also consider penetration.
This is just a word that describes how far into the deck the dealer plays before shuffling the cards. At some tables, the cards are shuffled continuously. This gives such a table a penetration of 0%. It also makes a game effectively unbeatable.
The further you get in the game, the greater the chances are of getting a wide variation in the composition of the game. That variance is where you make your money. Your goal should be to find a game with a penetration of 75% and this is almost more important than any blackjack variations or game conditions.
Any game with a penetration of less than 50% is probably best avoided. You’ll end up encountering very few situations where the count is positive enough to increase your bets, and even if you do, that advantage doesn’t last long.
Camouflaging card counting
We haven’t gone into detail about the practicalities of card counting, but casinos will definitely ban you if they realize you are counting cards. One of the biggest factors the casino will look at is the size of your spread.
At lower stakes, the casinos can tolerate a large betting spread. But at high stakes, the casinos lose a lot more money, so they are less tolerant of a large spread.
Camouflage can be done by only increasing the size of your bet after a winning hand and only decreasing the size of your bet after a losing hand. This works less to your advantage, but it is a good way to camouflage your counting cards. The practical limit for a spread is to have a large bet of eight units.
Some casinos are also so paranoid about card counters that they will already withdraw you just because you are on a winning streak, even if you are not counting. Therefore, it is important to limit the amount of time you spend in a specific casino counting cards.
You should also avoid playing at the same table every time. Wearing a disguise is excessive for most players, but if you’re serious you can certainly consider it.
This article has discussed some of the biggest issues that you need to consider when planning your strategy at blackjack. You can execute all of these perfectly and still lose big. Counting cards is not for everyone. It is not impossible, but it is more difficult than it seems.