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Blackjack card counting: How does it work and can it be used at online casinos?

There is something cool and seductive about the process of card counting in blackjack. We have all seen the movies and TV shows where dapper groups of attractive people slow-motion walk into a Las Vegas casino and proceed to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars with a slick and orchestrated strategy. 


But how does card counting work in real life and how realistic is it to implement? Is it even legal? And can card counting provide dividends online? 


All of this is answered and more in this complete guide to counting cards in blackjack.


What is card counting?


Card counting is a strategy used in blackjack whereby players keep a tally on the cards a blackjack dealer has dealt while keeping tabs on the high value and low value cards. By gaining a read on the cards being dealt, players can, theoretically, bet on blackjack with less risk. This can be used to bet with high stakes on favorable counts and with minimal stakes on unfavorable counts. 


Success in card counting relies on the statistical advantage that, in most cases, high value cards like tens, jacks, queens, kings, and aces benefit the player more than the house, while lower value cards between two and seven, are more advantageous to the house compared to the player.


Unlike in the movies, card counters do not need extraordinary memories to remember the count as players do not memorize each and every card. Instead, players assign a points system that estimates the value of each card and use that system to track the values.


In essence, card counting establishes a mathematical system that allows players to determine whether the undealt cards will favor the player or the dealer.


Is card counting legal?


It may seem like it should be, but blackjack card counting is not illegal. However, while players will not face criminal charges if suspected – or caught – counting cards, they will still risk being thrown out and banned from casinos. 


Casino bosses generally look unfavorably upon players that they believe are bending the rules to their advantage to rake in loads of money, but not to worry: it’s not like on TV where they drag people out back, tie them to a chair and rough them up. Players will just be decidedly asked to leave. 


Is card counting possible online?


While the system of counting cards was created and refined for land-based casinos, the big question is whether it can be transferred to online casino betting. The overall answer to that question is: it depends. 


There are three key factors to an online game of blackjack that will determine whether card counting is possible. Firstly, the casino game needs to have rules where the table provides a small enough house edge to ensure card counting can be effective; secondly, the dealer needs to deal enough rounds prior to the shuffle; and thirdly, there needs to be an adequate rate of rounds per hour.


Let’s break these down in greater detail. On the first factor, most online casinos do not offer great rules that can be used as foundations for card counting. Rules like ‘no doubling on splits’ or blackjack paying a ratio of 6:5 tend to be difficult for card counters to overcome. Therefore, it is important to take some time to research the rules of a blackjack game before attempting to roll out a card counting strategy.


The second point on shuffling and deck penetration is where the possibility of card counting online will live or die. Most online casinos, even the live tables, use a continuous shuffling machine, meaning that after each and every round, the deck is reshuffled to ensure every card is in play every round. Of course, this makes card counting impossible. 


For online blackjack games that do not use a continuous shuffling machine, dealers typically reshuffle the decks mid-game, so players will need to find games where the dealer reshuffles less frequently. 


On the third factor of rounds per hour, this can also prove problematic online. A typical card counter will be playing between 100 and 300 rounds per hour. This allows them to get to grips with the count. However, most online blackjack games move at a much slower pace, usually under 50 rounds per hour, so the key is to locate games that provide as many blackjack rounds per hour as possible.


In conclusion

Card counting in blackjack can be learned by anyone who is willing to dedicate the time and effort, but applying card counting online is the bigger challenge. It is not impossible, but it takes plenty of research to find the appropriate games and tables that will offer the right environment to implement a card counting strategy.


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