Card counting stands as one of the most debated topics in the world of blackjack. If you can pull it off, it can turn you from a loser to a winner when playing blackjack in casinos. But we’re here to talk about whether or not the tactic of card counting works in an online blackjack scenario.
For the past few weeks, we’ve been taking a deep dive into the world of online blackjack. With most of the world’s casinos taking a break during the pandemic, it’s the perfect time to do so. Hopefully, you’ve been following along and have been learning just how enjoyable and lucrative online blackjack can be.
We’ve talked at length about the strategy that you must learn to become an expert player. In other words, you have to know when it’s the right time to hit, stay, double, split and so on, depending on what you have and what the dealer has. This is the foundation for basic online blackjack strategy.
Whenever you hear someone talking about advanced blackjack strategy, however, they are usually talking about the tactic known as card counting. If you don’t know too much about card counting, you might have a somewhat murky idea of what card counting is about, one filled with smoky casinos and sneaky players trying to pull something off while a pit boss watches with a stern look.
Card Counting: Frowned Upon but Not Illegal
In actuality, there is nothing illegal about card counting. Casinos do have it within their discretion to discourage it and, in some cases, stop a player from using it by banning them from the action. But it’s not like you can get sent to jail for it.
Savvy card counters playing casino blackjack can not only get away with it, but they can add a few points to their payback percentage. It can turn the house edge around and actually give the advantage to the player. But we’re here to talk about card counting in terms of online blackjack, as far as whether or not it can help you out enough to make it worth the effort.
Online blackjack is played in the same manner as casino blackjack in terms of the player’s options and the dealer’s options, with the exception of a few slight rules variations here and there depending on the website. But the way that the game takes place makes a great difference, especially when it comes to card counting. And that’s what we’re here to explore.
In the following article, we’ll strive to answer the question of whether card counting at online blackjack is doable and/or effective. We’ll explain how it works and the different methods of utilizing. Most important, we’ll tell you how online blackjack changes the card counting game.
How Card Counting Works
The basic concept behind card counting is that the odds for blackjack change as cards are played and, for a while, out of commission. What happens is that the balance of power shifts, ever so slightly, as certain cards come and go. If a player can keep track of those changes, they should be able to take advantage of it.
It’s important to understand that there is no single method of card counting which is accepted by all. Different experts in the field of blackjack tout different strategies by which players can gain an advantage. But the concept of keeping track of what’s gone by is essentially the same.
No matter what card-counting system you’re using, however, it’s likely that the same principle is behind it. When there more tens and aces still alive to be played, the advantage goes to the player. And when there are less, the advantage goes to the dealer.
It really is that simple in the grand scheme of things. Each specific card counting system will then veer off from that in its own unique way as it purports to give the player more of an edge than any other.
You can find systems of card counting that are relatively simple, and others that include enough rules to make your head spin. In general, the more thorough the system is in terms of specifics, the higher it will raise your chances of winning if you can administer it correctly.
Sample Card Counting In Practice
The way that many card counting systems work is by assigning a point total to each card in the deck. As you play hands of blackjack, you have to try to keep a running tally of the cards played based on these point totals.
Keep in mind that you should be doing this all while still making the correct blackjack pays based on basic strategy, at least until the card counting tells you to change that strategy up. Card counting is certainly not for novices. You should be someone who already knows basic strategy like the back of your hand, or else you’re likely to get it wrong as you’re trying to add and subtract in your head.
For example, imagine that there’s a hypothetical system that says that every ten through ace is worth negative-1 and every two through six is worth one. All other cards (sevens through nines) have a value of zero. Imagine that a sample hand turns out this way in terms of the cards received by every player:
Player 1: Ten, Four, Eight
Player 2: Six, Four, Eight, Two
Player 3: Jack, Six, Seven
Dealer: Queen, Five, Nine
In this hand, players 1 and 3 busted, while player 2 ended up with 20 and subsequently ended up winning the hand when the dealer busted. But all of that is immaterial to your card counting concerns. Here is what the hands look like in card counting terms:
Hand 1: -1, +1, 0
Hand 2: +1, +1, zero, +1
Hand 3: -1, +1, zero
Dealer: -1, +1, zero
Add all of those totals up and you come away with a total of +3. Positive totals are always good for the player. Negative are good for the dealer.
Most advanced card counting systems also require you to take into account how many decks are being used at the table and how many you’ve gone through. The more cards that are still in the dealer’s shoe waiting to be played, the less the advantage either way of a small positive or negative in your running tally. That’s why many card counting systems also include a division aspect to the calculations.
In any regard, the gist is that once your tally rises above a certain threshold on the positive side, you have the advantage. And once it drops below a certain number on the negative side, the advantage goes to the dealer.
How to Benefit From Card Counting
You know now how card counting works and the general logic behind it. But how can you put that practice into use to help you win at blackjack? Well, there are two ways to do it.
Adjusting Your Bets
This is probably the easier of the two methods as it doesn’t require you to remember as much. But it carries a bit more risk in terms of you getting found out.
It’s Pretty Simple How This Works
If the card counting tally gets above a certain number, it might make sense for you to raise the size of your bet. In that way, you can take advantage when the cards should be in your favor.
By contrast, if the edge swings to the dealer, you might consider lowering your bets. You can cut your losses until the tally starts to even out more and the edge starts to swing back to you.
Even though adjusting your wager is the easier way to practice card counting, it also rouses more suspicions from casinos. A sudden boost from the amount that you normally bet can be a dead giveaway to a dealer or pit boss that you’re card counting.
If you’re playing online blackjack with an automatic dealer (more on that in a bit), there’s less of a chance of you being nabbed for this because of the lack of direct human oversight. But if an online gambling site looks back after the fact and sees betting patterns that seem pretty blatant, you could still be held accountable.
The bottom line is that you should try to be subtle if your card counting and adjusting your bets as a result. Don’t try to get too greedy about it.
Adjusting Your Strategy
The good news is that you have less chance of being caught by using card counting in this way. But it is much more difficult, because you have to essentially switch up your strategic plays every time your tally moves into another threshold.
When the tally is in your favor as a player, there are a number of ways it can affect your strategy. You might find yourself aggressively splitting and doubling on hands you wouldn’t otherwise. Meanwhile, insurance, which isn’t a good pay in basic strategy, can indeed me a smart move if there are a lot of 10s in the deck.
Once the tally moves over to the dealer’s side, you might start to get a little bit more conservative about doubling and splitting. All the low cards in the deck could mean that you end up coming up short of where you want when you make those plays. A low tally could mean occasionally hitting on hands where you might normally stand, since you’d be less likely to bust.
It all depends on the situation. And it also depends on the specific card counting strategy that you’re following. But you have to realize that adjusting your strategy as you are card counting is an involved method and not something you should try to pull off if you’re a novice.
You can get away with this much more easily than if you were adjusting the bets. A different play here or there won’t raise too many red flags. But you have to be aware that this kind of effort should only be made if you can call yourself a blackjack expert.
The Edge In Casino Blackjack Card Counting
By most accounts, the best card counters can add, at most, two percentage points to their total. What does that mean?
Most basic blackjack strategies will bring you to a payback percentage somewhere in the area of 99.5. There is still a house edge in this scenario, albeit a small one. The small house edge is why so many discerning gamblers choose blackjack.
When you add two points to that, you bring your percentage into the neighborhood of 100 or 101. Suddenly, you’re looking at a situation where you have removed the house edge. You can conceivably hope to make a profit over the long term playing blackjack, which is extremely rare in the world of casino gambling.
Of course, that assumes that you’re doing it correctly. Making mistakes based on incorrect card counting will not only remove any edge you want to gain, but it could even lower the payback percentage you could expect from basic strategy. For that reason, card counting, even in a casino setting, is only for the most hard-core players, those who play the game on a regular basis.
If you’re a casual player hitting a table now and again, the effort that it would take to learn card counting on an expert level would be a bit of a waste of time. After all, short-term players will end up with results that will be greatly affected by luck. In fact, luck will be far more impactful than any slight edge gained from card counting.
Is Card Counting Possible With Online Blackjack?
We’ve shown you how card counting works in theory. But the question that we need to ask is whether it works the same way when you play online blackjack.
To answer it, you have to understand how online blackjack works. When you play in a casino, you have a dealer dealing the cards from a shoe which contains up to eight decks. Online blackjack also uses eight decks on many occasions, but, with the exception of live-dealer games (which we’ll get to), everything is simulated.
You don’t actually receive physical cards; you just see simulations of cards on the screen. These cards come from software in the machine that operates on the same basis as a random number generator. Because of this software, you won’t be able to find any patterns in the cards that you receive from hand to hand.
But what’s more important, in terms of thinking about card counting, is the fact that the decks being used are reshuffled after every single hand. In other words, the cards that are played in one hand go right back in the deck (or decks, as the case may be) for the next deal. And because of the random number generator software, the chances of receiving those cards are the same whether you’ve received them ten hands in a row or haven’t seen them in hours.
What Does That Mean for Card Counting?
Well, it pretty much eliminates any possibility of doing it. Every hand, your count would have to reset to zero, just as it would at the point that a reshuffle takes place in the casino.
The big difference is that the reshuffle in the casino might take place after you’ve played through six or seven decks. As a result, the information that you’ve gleaned from card counting is indeed mathematically relevant. You can use to make the adjustments we talked about above.
Yet when a reshuffle happens every deal, there is no useful information. Even if you were to play an online blackjack hand where nothing but 2s showed up on the screen, which would normally give a big edge to the player going forward, there is actually no advantage to be gained in the next hand. Your tally would go right back to zero.
The bottom line is that there is absolutely no advantage to card counting when playing online blackjack with an automatic dealer. But, as we said above, there are games you can find live dealers. Let’s look at card counting now as it pertains to those live-dealer games.
Card Counting With Live-Dealer Online Blackjack
How do live-dealer online blackjack games work? Well, there is an actual dealer who works for the gambling site that deals out the cards from a shoe as if you were playing at a casino table. This dealer is on a camera so that you can see their actions on your screen, whether it’s a computer, tablet, phone or any other connected device.
As the cards they deal appear on camera, you then make the choice about whether to hit, stand, or whatever by clicking on the appropriate icons on your screen. This will also be the way you make bets at the start of the hand as well.
The key to this process, in terms of card counting, is that there is no reshuffle after every deal. As a result, you can indeed get a running tally going, since cards that have been used in previous hands will be out of play until a shuffle occurs.
That little tweak puts card counting back on the map for online blackjack players. But, before you get too excited, there is a little bit of a difference.
Gambling websites understand that they are at a disadvantage to stop card counting in a lot of cases because they can’t see the players. If you didn’t want to count the cards in your head, you could have a pen and paper nearby and do the tallying in that manner when playing online. Chances are you could be much more accurate than you could be in a casino.
In the same manner, it’s also less likely that any actions would be taken against counters. The fact that the player isn’t in the same room as those administering the game make it improbable for a crackdown.
For those reasons, live-dealer online blackjack games will often cut down on the number of hands that are played before a reshuffle takes place. This cuts into the effectiveness of card counting.
Why? Well, as you go deeper into a blackjack shoe with six or eight decks, it means there are less cards to be played. And it also makes the card counting that you’ve done to that point much more accurate.
As a matter of fact, in terms of accuracy and success, the rate for card counting should technically increase with every hand that is played. In the early hands, it will be more statistically unstable. But as you get closer to exhausting the decks, your card counting should really give you an idea of what’s remaining and allow you to take advantage.
By cutting back on the number of hands played before the reshuffle, live-dealer online blackjack keeps any edge in card counting limited by keeping the game in the early stages when the information isn’t as reliable. Most live-dealer online blackjack games won’t even go much further than halfway through a shoe before the reshuffle.
We mentioned above that a superb card counter might be able to squeeze two percentage points, or $2 for every $100 bet, out of a casino blackjack table through their efforts. But with a live-dealer online blackjack game, you might not be able to get anything more than a half a percentage point.
The effort it would take to gain such a small advantage would seem to be ill-advised. You would be better off taking the time to look for top gambling websites offering the best bonuses for gamblers. Doing that might give you more of an advantage than you could possibly hope to get from card counting in an online blackjack session.
We hope that you now have a handle on what it takes to count cards and why it might not be worth it when you’re playing online blackjack at top gambling websites. If you are playing online, it’s best to stick to basic strategy and learn it as well as you can. From there, taking advantage of online bonuses can put you in the neighborhood of 100 percent payback percentage, which isn’t bad at all when compared to other gambling options.
Jim Beviglia joined Gamblingsites.org as a staff writer in 2018, parlaying his years of freelance writing into contributions on a number of different topics. He handles the sport of horse racing for GamblingSites.org and the intersection between the worlds of cryptocurrency and online gambling in a weekly blog.
For his full-time job, Jim handles the television and track announcing duties at a h ...
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