Card Counting

Card Counting

A hugely talked about topic in Blackjack has always been that of Card-counting, or counting the deck.  Many people have even asked whether card counting is considered illegal.  Card counting is defined as “the process of gaining an advantage by tracking the cards which have been played, so the player has an idea of the value of the cards remaining to be dealt”.  Classic stories and urban legends about teams of gamblers backed with mathematical genius and determination who took on the casino are plentiful (keep posted to for our upcoming piece about the MIT Blackjack teams.).   

While counting the deck is a tactic used in many other casino games, it is most popular in blackjack.  The primary goal of card counting is to assess the number of high-value cards in relation to low-value cards that are left in the deck by keeping track of the cards that have already been dealt and exposed.  The card counter watches closely every card that is dealt on the table between the dealer and the players and aims to judge through deduction what cards are still remaining in the deck.  Since it is very difficult to memorize every single card that has been exposed on the table throughout the course of playing, most players divide what they believe to be left in the deck into two categories- high cards and low cards.  

The player’s advantage in most cases is that he is not bound by the dealer's rules to hit or stay at any point and so is free to decide his actions on what he has seen up to that point in the game.  So, when a player's hand shows a 16, he is faced with the dilemma of whether to stay (16 is a good hand, but still not very strong), or to hit in attempt to get closer to 21 but risk a bust.  The dealer does not have this freedom and is forced to hit until he has at least 17.  Though the player cannot see the dealer's hole card, he has “counted the cards” distributed thus far and can asses the dealer’s position by the card that is showing and by knowing whether the deck is more dense with high-value cards than low ones or vice versa.

The practice of card counting is a very costly foe to the casinos and they have developed numerous methods to combat this popular technique.  Many gambling houses try to combat card counting by stacking more than one deck for the dealer and by that making it much more difficult for the player to keep track and memorize the cards that have been dealt.  Before attempting to outsmart the house and count the deck, the beginning player should first make himself well versed in the basics of the game and become proficient in safe play.