Is Card Counting still a valid way to tip the odds?


We could ask Ben Affleck - after all, he was chucked out of a casino way back in 2014 for alleged card counting. He is not your stereotypical card counter - we tend to imagine someone a little on the geekier side, someone more of a social outcast who is determined to win and prove the world wrong about them. But what is it, is it legal and is it worth it?

Card counting, if done in the head, is completely legal and above board. The rules change somewhat if you use any external card counting device or people - this is illegal across the United States. However, most casinos will discourage card counting in any form. While there is nothing official as such that they can do, many employ strategies to make it a lot more difficult. In some states in America, for example, they may use eight-deck shoes, shuffling the deck at will and asking dealers to move the cut card near the top of the shoe. Other casinos simply ask players who they believe are counting cards to leave or play a different game. Some may blacklist you from the casino altogether, so you have to weigh up whether the risk of being caught card counting and banned from playing blackjack at your favourite casino is worth the minor increase in odds. 

Does it work though?

Is there much point to try and get around all of the strategies that casinos take to avoid card counting, and the effort that it takes? Is it a valid way of tipping the odds and stacking it in your favour? Let’s take a look.

What is card counting?

Essentially, it is what it says on the tin: counting the cards. It is keeping track of which cards have been dealt and which remain in the deck. It can be relatively straightforward at times - if the dealer throws cards of lower values, obviously there are higher face ones left. The more of these that remain, the better the odds for you. These cards increase your chances of getting Blackjack, higher the chances that dealer will bust and make it much more profitable to double down.

However, keeping on top of the cards is no easy task, especially if multiple decks are being played. Many card counters employ a slightly different - and still legal - tactic called high low counting. This is where each card is given a value in points, and the counter keeps track of the points, rather than the cards themselves.

You may, for example, give any card with below a seven one-point, mid-range cards zero points and higher cards a negative point. If after the first hand the cards are in a minus, you know that the higher cards have been dealt, so the next ones are likely to be lower. Of course, it takes more than one hand to notice any difference and to tip the odds, but as you delve further into the deck, you get a better idea of what to expect - and then the odds are tipped into your favour. 

The problem with card counting is that it requires a significant amount of concentration, whether you are playing in a land-based casino or playing bitcoin blackjack online. You need to be superb at mental arithmetic and be able to filter out all other distractions in the environment. One minor slip, moment of forgetfulness or error in counting and your whole strategy is flawed. 

So, is card counting a valid way of tipping the odds in your favour? Well, if you are happy to run the risk of losing access to your favourite table or even casino, and are absolutely on top of the game, then there IS a slight advantage. Is it worth it though? In most cases, no - invest your time in learning other, less controversial ways of playing blackjack and win some cash.

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