How To Count Cards - Ultimate Guide

Card counting is a craft that needs mastery. Multiple people has won a lot of money by gaining an advantage over the house. Contrary to numerous stories or films you see people being charged for card counting, it is not illegal. Most casino operators dislike the act, but there is no state law against card counting. This article covers card counting in blackjack, how to do it right, and any other details you need to be a successful card counter. 

Counting Cards in Blackjack

Counting cards in blackjack identifies +1, -1, and 0 cards in a deck. By doing so, you know the ratio of high cards to low cards and can adjust bets accordingly. But, this technique is for those who know the ins and outs of the blackjack game. If you don’t have blackjack gaming skills, first go through our detailed blackjack guide. If you are familiar with the game, you can jump right into this guide about the high-low system.

The Hi-Lo Card Counting System

The Hi-Lo card counting system involves keeping track of deck composition. You track low cards (2-7) to high-value cards (aces, 10, J, K, Q). If low cards than high cards have been played, you know there is a proportionately higher number of high cards in the deck. It gives you an advantage as high card numbers increase your chances of getting 20s and blackjacks and increase the likelihood of the dealer busting.

How It Works

Step 1: The Card Values

The first thing to do this technique is to give every card a value. Cards with numbers 2 through 6 have a value of +1, whether they have a heart suit or any other. Cards with numbers 7 through 9 have 0 value. Aces, J, K, and Q, have a value of -1. Then, every time a dealer deals card, you subtract or add depending on the card dealt.

Card Values

Step 2: The Running Count

The running count is the number you get about adding or subtracting + or -1 depending on the card dealt. For example, suppose the dealer has a number 4 card with a heart’s suit. The dealer’s other card is face down, so you don’t know its value. So, here the value of the dealer’s hand is +1.

Dealer And Players Count

The first player has a card with a club’s suit and number 5 on it. The other card is a 3 with a heart’s suit. The total value of this player’s hand is +2.

The second player’s hand consists of an ace card with a heart suit. He also has another ace card with a diamond suit. (Remember, the value of the card is the same despite different suits) so, this player’s hand value is -2.

The last player has one card with a suit of spades and a number 3 on it. The other card (also with a spade suit) has the number 8 on it. So, the total value of this player’s hand is +1±0.

So the running count of this round is the dealer’s total count, plus all other players’ total count. That is (1)+(2)+(-2)+(1) =+2

Step 3: The True Count

Casinos might be using multiple decks to discourage card counting. But, if you know the number of decks, you can divide the card count by the number of decks to get a true count. For example, let’s say the running count is +9. You should then divide the running count by the number of decks left; If there are 4 decks left, it’s 9/4 = 2.25. Round that down to 2; you don’t need to be exact.

Running Count

Step 4: The Bet

Increase your bets as the number of true counts continues increasing. Give a value to every unit over 0. For example, if you have a true count of one, give it a value of $25. Increase this bet to $50 when the true count jumps to two.

Step 5: The Practice

With the first four steps, you are a step closer to becoming a successful card counter. With multiple practices, you are good to go. However, there are several other techniques you can use to count cards. After familiarizing yourself with the HI-LO system, others will be a walk in the park. This system should help you determine when to hit or stand or how to bet. Ideally, you may stand on stiff totals of 12 to 16 while the dealer will not. If a shoe is rich with a card value of 10,  hitting stiff hands becomes more dangerous, favoring the more conservative player strategy.

Is Counting Cards Illegal?

Card counting is a strategy players use to gain an advantage over a casino. You mentally keep track of already dealt cards and predict what’s remaining in the deck. Based on this, you can then decide to bet with a higher amount or not.

So, it is not illegal to mentally strategize while playing blackjack or any other game to win. However, it would be unlawful to count cards if you are physically altering the results. But, if you are using an electronic device such as a phone app to count cards, you can be arrested. Why? Using devices to help you count cards is called cheating. Therefore, you will be arrested and charged.

Yet, card counting is a frowned exercise. Casinos don’t want to engage with someone who has an advantage over them. Thus, when they realize you are a counter, the casino, through security, will ask you to leave. But, if you act as you know it all, you might end up aggressive or assault someone.

Casinos are private properties. So, if the management wants to kick you out, they will, on the account, that you are trespassing. 

A Big Bankroll Means Less Risk

Having a little less bankroll doesn’t mean you are safe, and having a big bankroll doesn’t mean less risk. If you consider the volatility of a game and know how to manage your bankroll, losing should be a non-issue. As an advantaged player, you need to know when to increase a bet or lower it. With whatever size of a bankroll you have, you can make or lose money.

For example, you might be an advantaged player with an underfunded bankroll. In this case, you gain between 1% and 1.5% through counting. The 1% edge is good to make enough profit for a long time, but it’s not a big enough advantage to make huge profits every day you play.

Remember, you can win big on some nights and lose in others even when doing everything right. The secret is to have enough money to spread through. In the beginning, you won’t have any advantage because you don’t know which cards dominate the casino’s deck. But as you continue, you should know. At that time, you can increase bets.

For example, you can enter a game with a minimum requirement bet of $10. After you get a +1 count, you can increase the stake to $25. Continue increasing with $25 with every count you add up to $100 for +4 and above count.

If you are risking over $50 per hand, then you should need to have over $500 to comfortably bet with $100 whether things are favorable or not.  

A Flawless Game

As a card counter, you can’t afford to make a single mistake. If you do, you risk losing an hour’s hard work and losing the game. So the first thing you need to have is a perfect game. No distractions should confuse you. For example, the pit boss might come over to you and ask your name. If this will throw you off, then you risk losing. Another distraction could be that hot waitress waiting at your table. Or noises behind you because someone won a jackpot. Whichever the case, remain dedicated to your goal.

You also need to be disciplined. Although it is good to be emotional, don’t lend it to your steering wheel. Be calculative and self-controlled. Essentially, behave like a computer would do- dedicated to blackjack gaming and nothing else except for that celebratory moment when you win.

Can You Count Cards in Online Blackjack?

Card counting in online blackjack is possible. However, considering online casinos use random number generator (RNG) on all cards, card counting can be tricky. Usually, cards are reshuffled after every round is dealt. Yet some programs can help you count, even though they are forbidden.

Still, you can count cards at home as there is no one over your head like in land-based casinos. Counting cards in online blackjack helps you master the strategy you can use in a land-based casino. 

The good thing about practicing online is that you won’t deplete your bankroll.  For example, brick-and-mortar casinos have a higher minimum amount while online casinos are affordable. Ideally, you will find a casino asking a minimum of $5-$10 as the minimum bet amount to play live blackjack. If you choose to play virtually or play a free blackjack game, you can spend as little as $1 per hand or zero for the latter game.

Another reason to practice card counting with online blackjack is speed. If you are playing virtually, you can spend as much time as you need memorizing card values and maintain running count. However, other players and the dealer will compel you to make decisions quickly when playing a live blackjack game. It can either make you lose count or prepare you for a real game in a land-based casino.

So, is it worth your time? If you are playing for real money, then there is no need. But if you are playing as you count cards to familiarize yourself with the concept, then go for it. Remember, factors such as house rules and deck penetration determine your success with card counting. Card penetration means that the dealer will draw several cards before shuffling. If they shuffle after every round, then there is no way you can win against the house by card counting.

Counting Cards in Vegas

Counting cards in Vegas is possible but Las Vegas is a city of casino gaming, so casino operators know about card counting and have put up measures to protect their houses. For example, a casino might have stricter rules, an automatic shuffling machine, ban doubling after a split, and so much more to protect their house edge.

Several things come to play regarding the successful counting of cards. For starters, you must have enough experience to analyze cards mentally and know where you stand. You also don’t want to put it out there that you are counting cards. Instead, do it discreetly; otherwise, you will attract attention to yourself. When this happens, more cameras will be looking at you. Even the dealer will report to a pit boss of a possible counter on the table.

When they suspect you are a counter, they will send more distractions your way. It could include a friendly bartender talking to you, noise, and others. If these noises distract you, you might not be able to continue card counting. They might also ask a former counter to analyze your game. If they realize you are using card counting, the casino will ask you politely to play games other than blackjack or ban you from the casino.

So, card counting works. But, remember, Vegas is already familiar with the card counting technique. Although it is wise to use the method, remove all signs proving you are counting cards.

blackjack cards aces

Counting Cards in Other Games

If you are counting cards using the blackjack technique such as HI-LO, then it won’t work with poker or baccarat. You see, card counting in blackjack happens to gain an advantage over the house. Yet, you play poker against other players, which means the blackjack card counting technique won’t work.

For poker, you can count out cards. Out, in this case, means the cards that the dealer is yet to deal with from the deck. In this case, you need to wait on a straight or a flush draw whereby a specific out has to be dealt, to improve your hand or even create one.

As for baccarat, it is a bit different. You can use the blackjack’s card counting strategy. However, how you bet on whether the Banker or the Player (Bet) is different, ideally, increase your bet if the player’s card value is -4 and below and bet for the banker when the value is higher. 


Counting cards can turn into profitable practice, especially if you are playing in a land-based casino. Yet, most casinos don’t want a card counter on their tables. But, if you are doing it discreetly, it shouldn’t be a problem. The secret is to practice the HI-LO system so many times that it becomes a part of your system like it is at your fingertips.  But before that, make sure you have some tricks up your sleeves. For example, you can’t be betting little amounts only to increase to an extremely large amount when the game is ending. They will think you have been counting cards and might not allow you for the next round. Find more detailed guides about everything casino related here at CasinoGuide. We are always updating our site with new, valuable, information for our casino-loving readers.

CasinoGuide is a review and comparison site for online casinos. The information on the site is intended for entertainment and information purposes only. In Canada, the legal age for gambling is 19, with the exception Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec where the legal age is 18+. Any hyperlinks, banners or other images leading to online casinos from the site are advertisements. Third parties may change or cancel offers or modify their T&Cs at any time, therefore CasinoGuide cannot be held responsible for incorrect information. Always read the terms and conditions before creating an account with an online casino. Gamble responsibly.

This site contains affiliate/advertising links

Copyright © 2021
In order to give you a great experience when visiting our site, we make use of cookies at By pressing OK or using our site, you agree to this. Read more about cookies here