One of the easiest ways to get ahead in the game of blackjack is to count cards. If you can do basic math in the noise and chaos of a casino, and if you can do this without attracting the attention of the dealer or the cameras, then you could gain a profitable edge at pretty much any game of blackjack.
But what about online blackjack? In online games there is no fear of receiving the intimidating tap on the shoulder, there is no noise to put you off and you could use a calculator without anyone knowing about it. It would be easy, right?
Well, not quite. But to understand why this is the case you need to understand how card counting works in the first place.
Card Counting Myths
There are two enduring myths about card counting that we need to clear-up before we go any further:
- You Need to be a Genius. You don’t need to be a savant to count cards. Forget what Rain Man and other Hollywood flicks taught you, card counting is not about memorizing every single card and knowing with 100% certainty what card will come next.
- You Will Wn Every Hand. There is no guarantee you will win. Card counting simply tips the balance in your favour, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. After all, slot machines are heavily weighted in the casino’s favour, but there are still players who walk away with huge jackpots.
How Card Counting Works
There are actually several card counting systems but they all rely on the fact that blackjack dealers do no shuffle the cards between hands.
Let’s imagine that you have a deck of 52 cards in your hand. You turn over the first 10 cards and all of them have values between 10 and K. You know each deck contains 16 cards like this, which means there is only 6 left in the remaining 42. If, however, none of those cards displayed those high numbers then there would be 16 high numbers left in a remaining 42 cards, which means the odds of the next card being one of them are high.
This is a very simplified explanation of the principles of card counting. You know that the dealer is using a set amount of decks and will play through all cards in those decks, so in you’re head you’re simply ticking off the big cards, which are useful to you, and adding the small cards, which are not.
The easiest way to do this is to add 1 when a small card appears and subtract 1 when a big card appears. You then increase your bets when the number in your head is in the high positives (which means there are more high cards left) and decrease it when it is in the high negatives (which means there are more low cards left).
This sounds easy, and to an extent it is. But you have to remember that there are often multiple players at a single blackjack table and to run an effective count you need to tally all of the cards that appear in every single hand, whether they are in your hand, another player’s hand, or the dealer’s hand.
You may only get a split second to see a folded card, you may need to calculate many at once, and you need to do it in a noisy casino without making it look like you’re counting. Which brings us to the question: can you count cards in online casinos where there is no noise?
Counting Cards in Online Blackjack
You cannot count cards in online blackjack. It only makes sense. No casino wants players to count cards, they all make efforts to stop them (whether by increasing the total number of decks or asking them to leave if they are suspected of doing it) and because they have no control over online play they have to find alternate ways.
They do this by initiating a shuffle after every hand. The cards you have just been dealt go back into the pack, the pack is shuffled, and any count that you have in your head is instantly rendered redundant. If this wasn’t the case (and we wish it wasn’t) it would be very easy to count cards online, everyone would be doing it and online casinos wouldn’t be profitable for very long.
But it’s not.
You can still beat the house though, and you can do so without resorting to techniques that might be construed as cheating, even though there is no actual law against card counting.
How to Win Without Counting Cards
The best strategy goes by the name Basic Blackjack Strategy and as with card counting it employs basic probability, but instead of focusing on cards that have been and cards that might come, it focuses on what cards the dealer has and what the chance of them going bust will be.
The most basic rule about blackjack that many casuals fail to understand is that the dealer’s hand is more important than the player’s. After all, you win if they go bust, and winning is a simple matter of having a hand that is stronger than theirs.
Basic Blackjack Strategy is a complex, hand-for-hand, play-for-play strategy that tells you what to do based on what card the dealer is showing. For instance, if they are showing a ten then you know that they only need another ten or an ace to get a very strong hand. However, if they are showing a 3 or a 4, you know that they will need 2 or 3 card turns to go their way before they stand a chance of winning.
So, in the first instance you need to get as strong of a hand as possible, even if it means risking going bust. The odds are that they will have 18 or more, so you need to get as close to this number as you can. In the second instance, however, you can take it a little easier, playing to a 16 or 17 in the knowledge that they will probably go bust trying to beat you.
That’s the basic idea behind this strategy and it is one that has worked for many professional blackjack players over the year. It’s not as effective as card counting, but it’s the next best thing and it’s the best way to win online.