How To Count Cards In Blackjack: A Quick Guide

  By benboland – Last updated 25 Jul 2022

Ever since the first casino opened its doors, players have been looking for a way to gain an advantage over the house, and with the aid of mathematical-based strategies, the first card counting systems were devised and applied to blackjack.

At its core, blackjack is a simple game, your goal is to beat the dealer’s hand by getting as close to 21 without going bust. The thing is, though, it’s extremely easy to make the wrong decision at the wrong time and end up losing. That’s why lots of players began to learn how to count cards in blackjack by keeping a running count of low and high-value cards in the game to determine who will have the probable advantage in the next hand.

Throughout this guide, we’ve outlined the basics of card counting and highlighted some of the most popular systems players use. So, if you want to learn more, be sure to read our informative guide.

Blackjack Card Counting: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Before we delve into the details, we should point out that casinos frown upon card counting and there have been many cases of players being ejected for doing so. The information on this page is purely for educational purposes and we do not recommend using any of these techniques when playing online blackjack.

Ultimately, blackjack card counting is a technique that helps players understand when the advantage shifts in their favour, and when it does they will increase their bets accordingly. By assigning negative, positive and zero values to face and number cards, players will alter their plays depending on the running count and the composition of cards left in the dealer’s shoe. It may sound confusing but the basic system can be broken down into the following 4 steps:

  • Players assign a negative, positive or zero value to face and number cards.
  • As hands are played, players maintain a running count based on what cards have previously been dealt.
  • Once a player is confident of the true count, and the advantage has shifted in their favour, they will alter their bets accordingly.
  • As fewer cards remain, the player gains a greater understanding of the true count and makes more decisive wagers.

Although these points outline card counting in its most basic form, they’re the foundation of most systems, which you can use to begin to learn how to count cards in blackjack with multiple decks. We must say though that it takes patience and focus to master these techniques, it’s not something you’ll pick up overnight. However, once proficient, you can apply the knowledge to gain the upper hand, which is why blackjack is one of the most popular online casino games.

Blackjack Card Counting Systems

As we’ve touched upon, the basics of card counting have given rise to several popular systems. You can apply the core processes to learn how to count cards in blackjack with one deck or how to count cards in blackjack with 8 decks. Still, there are other variations we want to highlight, which we’ve done so below.

Omega II System

Omega II is a multi-level system that gives players greater accuracy by introducing additional values. Instead of a simple +/-1, Omega II forms its values across +/-2, which means you’ll need to calculate more values to reach a running count. The values are as follows:

4, 5, 62
2, 3, 71
8, A0
10, J, Q, K-2

Omega II is a balanced card counting system, which means the shoe starts at 0 and players must calculate a true count in multi-deck games. To do so, simply divide the running count by the number of remaining decks in the shoe. However, this system has one additional rule – players must also keep a side count of Aces dealt in the game, too.

Hi-Opt I & II Systems

Hi-Opt I works similarly to the Hi-Lo Count system it was based upon. You begin your mental running count at 0 and then add or subtract based on what cards you see dealt at the table. Once your true count exceeds 1 then you start to steadily increase your bets to take advantage of a favourable deck.

A, 2, 7, 8, 90
3, 4, 5, 6+1
10, J, Q, K-1

Hi-Opt II adds an extra layer of complexity, and thus precision, by introducing two values for the cards. Once you have your running count, you will again need to convert it into a true count in multi-deck games by dividing your running count by the number of decks remaining. The Hi-Opt II system card values are as follows:

4, 5+2
2, 3, 6, 7 +1
8, 9, A0
10, J, Q, K-2

Red 7 System

The Red 7 technique was the first unbalanced point count system ever invented. Unlike other systems where the count starts at zero, players must adjust their starting count based on the number of decks in play, as follows.

  • 1 Deck: -2
  • 2 Decks: -4
  • 4 Decks: -8
  • 6 Decks: -12
  • 8 Decks: -16

Since the Red 7 system uses an adjustable starting count, there’s no need to calculate a true count, which is what makes this technique so much simpler than the others. Still, you’ll need to learn the following card values to maintain your running count.

2, 3, 4, 5, 6+1
Red 7+1
Black 70
8, 90
10, J, Q, K, A-1

Wong Halves System

The Wong Halves system is arguably the most complicated card counting method in blackjack. Like Omega II, it’s a multi-level system, but this time there are three value levels, as outlined in the table below.

3, 4, 61
2, 70.5
10, J, Q, K, A0

Of course, as certain cards have half-point values, it’s much more difficult to keep a running count. The flipside, though, is that it’s extremely accurate, meaning it’s more precise in predicting your advantage.

Zen Count

Despite its name, the Zen Count system is considered to be more complicated than traditional methods. It’s a balanced system that requires more calculations and concentration but it gives players a considerably higher level of accuracy when applied correctly. It follows the main principles of assigning point values to the cards but unlike simpler methods, it isn’t just a +/-1 system, there are more values to consider.

4, 5, 6+2
2, 3, 7+1
8, 90
10, J, Q, K-2

Team Based Card Counting

While a single player can maintain an advantage using various methods, card counting is often used by teams to maximise their system’s potential. There are usually 2 roles within such teams – ‘spotters’ and ‘high rollers’. Spotters traditionally take a seat and play at the table minimum whilst keeping the count. When the count is significantly high enough, they will signal another player to let them know that the table is hot, who will then come in and start placing much higher bets until the count drops or the shoe is reshuffled. At that point, if there are multiple spotters, the high roller will look for other team members signalling a high count.

Can You Use Blackjack Card Counting Apps at Online Casinos?

Given the popularity of online blackjack, it should hardly come as a surprise that players have tried to apply their systems to the digital environment. However, casinos are always on alert for card counters and have implemented a number of practices to negate the potential advantages of the various systems. Some of these methods include:

  • Continuous shuffling: In online live blackjack, a continuous shuffling machine ensures multiple decks get reshuffled after every hand, which effectively makes card counting useless.
  • Fewer hands per hour: The idea behind card counting is to maximise profit in as short a time as possible. Given that playing online is traditionally much slower than at a land-based casino, it presents the issue of smaller returns over a longer period.
  • Bet tracking software: Most live dealer blackjack games use software to track the shoe and the respective betting patterns of each player. Therefore, if a player is counting cards, their bets will consistently match the count and such discrepancies will immediately alert the casino.

Tips For Mastering Card Counting In Blackjack

Anybody can learn how to count cards in blackjack; it’s simply a matter of understanding the basics and applying your knowledge to the tables. Still, to help you get started, we’ve listed several tips below.

Tip #1: Learn Basic Blackjack Strategy

Card counting will make very little difference if you don’t know Basic Strategy. Before you begin, you’ll need to learn the rules of the game and memorise the recommended moves for every possible situation and for the various types of gameplay. Knowing precisely when to stand, hit, double or split is vital in reducing the house edge as much as possible, only then should you begin to implement any further strategies.

Tip #2: Start With A Basic System

As someone who’s new to card counting, you should always begin by learning one of the simpler systems – Hi-Opt I is a great starting point as it’s a basic +/-1. Once you’ve learned the specific values of each card and are able to maintain a running count, and use it to your advantage, you can then begin to move on to more complex systems.

Tip #3: Practice

You don’t even have to play blackjack to learn how to count cards, you simply need a complete deck of cards, without the joker. The key here is to get to a point where you can count through the cards as quickly as possible, and if you’re doing it right you should get to zero by the time the cards are gone. Practising this technique will make you more familiar with all of the card values, without having to think about them for too long.

Is Counting Cards In Blackjack Easy To Learn?

Although many people think card counting is a technique limited to geniuses and maths wizards, the truth is anyone can learn how to do it. It’s simply a matter of learning any given system and applying both the card values and respective rulesets to a specific scenario. 

Granted, it isn’t something that you’ll be able to pick up overnight, it’s something you’ll have to commit to and meticulously practise to get the most out of it. However, once you’re able to do it without thinking for too long, you’ll soon see the benefits.

Disclaimer: It is important to note that, even if you learn to count cards, it may be against the casino’s terms and conditions. Also, a win is never guaranteed as all casino games are based on luck.