Guide to Card Counting in Online Casinos
Card counting is a grey area in the world of gambling. Counting cards is the method of monitoring which cards are dealt so you can make an educated guess as to how you should size your bets.
From the point of view of casinos, they hate card counting. Whether it’s in a land-based casino or an online casino, they don’t like players who utilize this technique to increase their chances of winning.
Card counting is possible in certain online casino environments.
- What is Card Counting?
- Is Card Counting Legal?
- How Effective is Card Counting in Online Casinos?
- What’s the Best System for Card Counting?
- How Not to Get Your Account Banned in Live Dealer Blackjack Games
- Can Dealer Tells Help in Your Card Counting Strategy?
- Tips for Counting Cards in Online Casinos
Card counting at its heart is the act of watching all the cards dealt and then using that information to figure out what card will come next.
It’s used primarily in blackjack to see whether you or the dealer has the advantage. There are many systems used to count cards.
Employing this strategy is more difficult than ever as most card games use multiple decks shuffled regularly. This makes it harder to carry out this strategy. It’s still possible but gone are the days of being able to tell exactly which card will come next.
This is also why many single-deck blackjack games come with lower payouts on blackjack naturals.
Within online casinos, card counting can really only be used in live dealer games. In live dealer games the cards are still shuffled traditionally, rather than using a Random Number Generator (RNG), as in most games.
Card counting is a perfectly legal strategy to employ. It’s not cheating and players utilizing this strategy are simply using their minds to keep track of the cards hitting the table.
However, casinos don’t look favorably upon card counting. Within land-based casinos, players are regularly thrown out and banned if they’re even suspected of trying to count cards. They’re private businesses, so there’s no legal recourse for players blacklisted in this way.
Card counting in online live dealer settings is looked upon the same way.
If you decide to use card counting online, casinos do have other measures in place to try to detect card counters. So you need to be smart when counting cards.
This is where you get a number of different answers. It depends on who you ask.
If you’re playing a single-deck live dealer game, it’s much easier to count cards. The problem is these games are practically non-existent, due to the presence of card counters. The majority of games have at least six to eight decks.
Card counting can be employed, to an extent, but it should be used as a guideline.
How Online Casinos Make Card Counting Difficult
Online casinos have done everything they can to prevent card counting during their live dealer games.
First of all, if you want to try to count cards you need to make sure the casino in question isn’t using a Continuous Shuffling Machine (CSM). A CSM essentially shuffles the whole shoe after every hand, so it’s impossible to count cards.
Many dealers are also under strict instructions to automatically shuffle the cards once shoe penetration hits 50%. This means that when 50% of the shoe has been dealt they’ll shuffle the cards again.
Finally, dealers will often burn a card or two at the start of every hand. That means they’ll take one or two cards off the top of the shoe and discard them. You won’t get to see which cards have been discarded.
Getting a true count in live dealer blackjack is near impossible. You can only get a rough idea as to whether you should bet big or sit out the deck.
There are a number of systems for counting cards in blackjack. The right system is the one you find easiest to master. Ultimately, every system accomplishes the same thing.
It’s best to test out a number of card counting systems before you settle on the right one for you.
The Zen Counting System
The Zen system is a little more complex system. Players tend to favor it because it’s an unbalanced system that allows you to deviate from strict rules in order to maximize your profits.
The rules of this counting system are the following:
- Add one for all twos, threes, and sevens.
- Add two for all fours, fives, and sizes.
- Subtract two for all tens.
- Subtract one for all aces.
- Any other card can be ignored.
At any point in the count you should divide the number you have by the number of decks in the shoe. Naturally, this is a rough estimation. Don’t start a count until the whole shoe has been shuffled.
Once you perform the division, you will have something close to a true count.
If the true count is one or below, you wager a single betting unit. For any amount above one, you wager the equivalent number of units. If you have a true count of three, you wager three betting units.
Through proper bet sizing, you only need to know the true count rather than the card that’s going to come out next. This will ensure you a profit.
Hi-Lo Card Counting System
The Hi-Lo system is perhaps the most famous card counting system in existence. Originally created in 1963, this is the card counting system most beginners start with.
It’s quite simple to follow:
- Add one point for cards two to six.
- Add nothing for cards seven to nine.
- Subtract one point for all other cards.
Like with the Zen counting system, you then have to estimate how many decks are remaining in the shoe. This will give you the true count and indicate how much you should bet on the next hand.
This can be complex because what do you do if the true count equals 1.75? As a general rule, it’s best to round the number. So in this case you would wager two betting units on the next hand.
Take note that there are many books on the Hi-Lo system that specify exactly what you should do on each hand. These deviate from traditional blackjack strategy and may lead to some strange looking plays.
It’s recommended that beginners don’t delve into these parts of the system until they’ve mastered the basics.
KO Card Counting System
KO stands for ‘knockout’ and in this system things are a tad more complex than, say, the Hi-Lo system.
The rules are quite simple:
- Add one point for twos, threes, fours, fives, sixes, and sevens.
- Aces and tens count for minus one.
- Face cards count for nothing.
Counting through the entire deck using this system would give you a count of four.
When you have a positive count, you bet more. When the count is negative you lower your bet to the minimum.
The difference in the KO system is determining the true count involves no division. Instead, you start your count at a different number.
A single-deck game will start the count at 0. A game with two decks will start the count at -4. In most blackjack games, you’ll have eight decks and you’ll start your count at -27. Six decks and you start your count at -20.
You don’t need to understand why. Just remember these numbers.
When the Strategy is Obvious
Sometimes you may be counting cards and you see that the front of the shoe is loaded with low cards, and vice-versa.
In these situations, it’s best to stop your count and to simply play by what you see.
For example, if the last few hands have revealed practically no face cards, it’s time to up your wagers because they’ll soon start to appear and the odds of hitting a blackjack are far more likely.
The mistake so many beginners make is attempting to play with one of the major card counting systems with the aim of helping it to determine every bet.
Every casino manager in the land has also read these books. If you deviate too much from basic blackjack strategy you’re going to attract the attention of the casino. They’ll see you clearly have a strategy employed, but when you deviate from basic blackjack strategy at regular intervals it becomes obvious what you’re doing.
One look at your hand history and it will start to raise suspicions. This is not a court of law and they don’t need to prove anything.
Thousands of players have been banned just because the casino thought they may have tried to count cards.
So what’s the solution?
The answer is in using card counting as a rough indicator of how you should bet. Try not to stick to the strategy religiously. Purposely stick to basic blackjack strategy even when your card counting system says you shouldn’t. This will get the casino off your back.
Remember, the software used to track the cards being dealt is also keeping a true count. If you’re playing to a precise true count, the software is going to detect this immediately.
Some guides will tell you to use the dealer to help you indicate how you should play.
All cards are scanned when they’re removed from the shoe in live dealer games. Every card has a tiny microchip inside it, so it can be tracked. This is plugged into specialized casino software.
For this reason, some people believe that because the cards are scanned the dealer already has an idea of what their face-down card is before they flip it over. Players may then use the little tells in the dealer to figure out how to bet.
This is completely and utterly false. Yes, the cards are scanned when they’re removed from the shoe, but the dealer has no way of knowing what their down card is until they flip it over.
You might think this wouldn’t be in the online casino’s best interest, but it is. They don’t want players to be able to use dealer tells. The dealer is only human and it’s natural to develop tells when they already know what the card is.
The online casino also doesn’t want to open the door for fraud and collusion between a dealer and an anonymous figure online. If this happened, it would be extremely difficult to detect, and it could cost the casino thousands of dollars.
Dealer tells don’t exist in live dealer games, just like they don’t exist in land-based casinos.
Limited card counting is possible and can be effective in helping you to size your bets appropriately. These systems require quick mental math, though.
For beginners learning how to count cards for the first time, this can be tough.
Remembering the Count
The difficulty in card counting for beginners is remembering what the count is. Getting it wrong destroys the whole strategy and forces you into making incorrect decisions.
Try to avoid holding the current count in your head. Since you’re playing a live dealer game there’s nothing wrong with saying it out loud. Do this and then visualize the number in your head. Say it multiple times if you need to.
Start Off at the Low Stakes
You can and will make mistakes when getting started. Stick to the lower stakes tables until counting the cards becomes second nature to you.
Practice with one of the beginner systems, such as Hi-Lo before you try to master the more advanced systems.
This should also come with proper bankroll management. Make sure you have the bankroll to play the table you’re at. Even with great card counting skills, it doesn’t mean you can’t go on a bad losing streak. If you have the bankroll, you’ll be able to weather the storm.
Practice Through Dealing Yourself
If you’re just getting started, it makes sense to buy a deck of cards and deal them to yourself, while keeping an accurate count.
Realistically, great card counting can only give you an edge of around 2%, but over thousands of hands this can add up to a significant amount of money.
Deal yourself the cards and then practice keeping a count. It’s also worth purchasing additional decks of cards so you can better replicate the effect of counting in a multi-deck blackjack game.
So you see that card counting is both simple and complicated. The basic strategies of each of the systems are not difficult to grasp, but you have to make important decisions about when to count cards. If you're looking to improve your edge, you'll need to practice, and playing online is a fantastic way to do that.