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Why Card Counting Works
Even with the most favourable playing conditions and playing without error to a statistically perfect blackjack strategy the house will still have an edge. This means the chances are that you will lose more money than you make. However, the house edge in such favourable playing conditions is quite small, sometimes less than 1%. If there were some way to gain just a tiniest bit more of an advantage the edge could be tipped in the player’s favour. But a statistically perfect blackjack basic strategy is statistically perfect, no? Surely there’s nothing that can be improved?
But there is. There is one thing that these blackjack strategies don’t take into account. That is once a card has been dealt and discarded then it can’t be dealt again until the deck is reshuffled. This means that the statistical likelihood of a card of the value of the discarded card is reduced. In a single deck game of blackjack there are only four of each card value (except ten value cards obviously) so once one has been drawn there’s 25% less chance that a card of that value is drawn than if all four were still in the deck. Basic blackjack strategy doesn’t take this into account. It assumes that the only cards no longer in the deck are the two cards in your hand and the dealer’s up card. However if you have an idea of the cards left in the deck you can modify the size of your wager (or your choice of plays, or both) accordingly.
It is a statistical fact that a deck with a higher than usual amount of ten value cards remaining will be more favourable to the player than the dealer. This is because the dealer has to hit if he has less than seventeen he is more likely to bust if there are more high value cards remaining in the deck. The player has no such obligations and can therefore afford to stand or double down on lower value hands than he would normally. The player can also afford to bet larger amounts because he is more likely to win a higher number of hands.
Conversely, if the remaining cards in the deck are rich in low value cards the situation will statistically favour the dealer. He is less likely to go bust if he deals himself a poor hand. In these situations a player could lower his bets and modify his decisions on splitting and doubling down. Splitting and doubling down require doubling the size of your bet. Therefore those decision should be limited to situations where the likelihood of winning outweighs the extra edge the dealer has from the reduced likelihood of going bust.
Card Counting Myths
Firstly you don’t have to be a mathematical genius or an autistic savant to do it. You don’t need to be capable of incredible feats of memory, you don’t literally count each and every card and cross it off a mental list. Most card counting techniques are simple systems that are easy to pick up, although they take time to master.
Counting cards is not illegal either, it’s just playing the game with more skill than most people expect. Therefore you can’t get arrested for card counting. However, casinos are well within their rights to ban you from their premises if they think you are counting cards. They are private clubs and they can, if they want, eject anyone they want to for whatever reason they like. Also, because they are private clubs, you can be charged with trespassing if you attempt to gain entry to casino that you’ve previously been banned from. Most casinos are unlikely to ban you outright though. If they suspect you’re counting cards the most likely scenario is that a very large gentleman (probably in an ill-fitting suit) will tap you on the shoulder and inform you that you are welcome to play any game in the casino other than blackjack from now on.
With that out of the way there are some truths about card counting that are also worthy of mentioning. If you are going to see any success with counting cards then you need to have mastered your basic blackjack strategy. Without blackjack strategy in place you won’t be able to exploit the advantage that card counting can give you. Counting cards is the easy part, figuring out if and how you should modify your strategy to make the most of your card counting advantage is the hard part.
It is also worth noting that the edge counting cards will give you is not huge, some people are sceptical as to whether it really gives any appreciable advantage at all. You should not expect to win every hand. If you win half the hands you play then you’re doing well. Luck still has a large part to play. Remember that although card counting will tell you that you’re statistically more likely to draw cards that will help you win, it doesn’t mean you always will. Sometimes you will hit losing streaks and you will still lose money despite your mastery of basic strategy and card counting techniques. Even the most famous card counters lose on occasion. However, if your strategy and card counting technique are good, and your bankroll is big enough to absorb any unlucky losing streaks, then you should hopefully win more than you lose.
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