You’ve seen the movies, you’ve read the books, and now it’s your turn to “bring down the house” like those card-counting MIT students who took Vegas by storm during the early ’90s.
How hard can counting be, right? It’s LITERALLY one of the first things most of us learned to do as a kid.
It turns out, using this method to gain an advantage over a casino is incredibly tricky, and that’s before you move the whole thing into the world of online gambling.
With the type of checks and balances in place in an online setting, counting cards to overcome the house edge is nigh impossible, and we intend to explain why here.
The difference between playing online and playing in land-based casinos
There are several differences when playing blackjack, or any casino games for that matter, online or in a brick and mortar venue; real people, handling money and chips, interacting with dealers and players etc., but none of these factors will have much bearing on whether you can get a good count on a shoe of blackjack and come out on top.
The critical difference is how the cards are dealt and shuffled.
In a land-based casino, a blackjack dealer will typically shuffle six to eight decks of cards together and then load them into a dealing shoe. The shoe enables the croupier to complete more games faster and minimizes the possibility of someone tampering with the cards during a game.
A dealer will continue to deal hands, whittling away at the shoe, until the cut card (usually a blank red or black plastic card inserted after the dealer has shuffled), comes out, indicating that a new shuffle will take place after the conclusion of the current game.
THIS IS THE DIFFERENCE!
In the online world of blackjack, there’s one monumental difference: the six to eight decks of cards are automatically “shuffled” or “randomized” after each round.
“Why is this important?” we hear you ask.
To understand, you first need to know the basics of card counting.
Card Counting in a nutshell
The art of card counting is, in it’s simplest of explanations, counting cards! Shocker, right?
Every deck of cards has a predetermined amount of cards with fixed values. For blackjack, all face cards (Kings, Queens and Jacks) count for 10, with Aces worth either 1 or 11.
This means that there are 16 cards in a deck of 52 that have the value of 10. Now multiply that by six (96), and you have an overwhelming amount of face cards that, should they all get clumped together in a shoe, could cause chaos for the house.
This is what card counters are looking for; think about it, the more high-value cards clumped together, the higher the chances are that you will land a strong 2-card hand.
How do card counters know when to increase their bet size?
So, you know what card counting is, and you know why players choose to do it. But how?
The most common method of counting cards is known as the Hi/Lo system. This system allocates a positive, neutral and negative value to each card that is dealt, then adds or subtracts from a baseline count of zero.
- For cards with a value of 2 through 6, a count of +1 is added to the score;
- 7,8,9 get a neutral score of 0;
- And the 10, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace get a score of -1.
During the game, a player intent on keeping track of the count will add or subtract from the score accordingly.
A high count of say… +10, represents that a more significant number of lower value cards have been played, thus leaving more top value cards in the shoe.
Depending on how much of the shoe is left, a card counter may take this opportunity to increase their bet size to take advantage of the positive count.
Now, you don’t need a degree from MIT to figure out that this system will not work! We’d even go as far as to suggest that even Sloth from The Goonies could have figured this one out.
How do online casinos prevent card counting
As previously mentioned, the big killer when it comes to getting a good count on a game of online blackjack is the shuffle. You don’t know when the deck/s have been shuffled.
Online casinos don’t just stop at the shuffle in their attempts to detract card counters though. Deck Penetration is another factor that can have severe consequences for anyone trying to get the better of the house.
Deck Penetration is all to do with the cut. In most ‘normal’ shoe games, the deck is cut approximately one deck’s worth (50 cards) from the end. In online games, the deck can be cut in half, meaning there is a higher chance that more high-value cards will end up behind the cut and effectively out of play.
What about Live Casino Blackjack Online?
In theory, a card counter could enjoy more success when playing at a Live Casino online: You can see when the dealer shuffles, you can see the cut, and the pace of the dealing will be slow enough to allow even beginners to follow.
The problem is the rules.
Many Live Casinos use automatic or continuous shufflers which prevent players from getting a count as the cards are continuously shuffled.
For Live Casinos that use a shoe, you’ll often find that the dealer will cut the six to eight decks down the middle, eliminating half the shoe, and crushing any advantage a card counter will gain.
A land-based casino that hand shuffles cards will be wary of this tactic, as it will mean more breaks for shuffling, resulting in fewer hands per hour and loss of revenue.
Final thoughts on counting cards
Counting cards to gain an edge on the blackjack table is nothing new. Casinos all over the world know and protect themselves using some of the most sophisticated pieces of technology available (bot online and in brick and mortar venues).
Even if a particular casino operates in a more relaxed manner, good shoes don’t come along all the time, and you’ll often find yourself battling away at something like a +/- 5 count (The slightest of advantages at best).
Blackjack is designed to give the house a favourable edge. If all participants apply proper blackjack strategy, the odds can be reduced close to 50/50, and in some cases, give a slight, temporary edge to the player.
For the long run, though, counting cards to gain an advantage on online blackjack is not a viable business endeavour.
Play for fun, play within your means and be smart.