How to Count Cards in Blackjack: Complete Guide | LeoVegas

Blackjack Card Counting: Everything You Need To Know


Card counting in blackjack involves assigning values to each card in the deck to predict when players have an advantageous position. Methods like the popular Hi-Lo system use high, low, or neutral values for cards. The True Count system adjusts for the number of decks in play. Advanced strategies like Omega II, Wong Halves, Red 7, KO, and Zen Count offer more accuracy but require greater focus.

Table of Content:

What Is Card Counting In Blackjack?

Did the movie get you? We’re talking about 21, the 2008 drama based on the true story of MIT students who took casinos by storm with their card counting antics and movie worthy profit haul. Or, are we talking Rain Man and Dustin Hoffman’s sharp memory? Either way, learning how to master blackjack card counting isn’t only for MITers, nor does it have to be so dramatic.


Blackjack card counting strategies begin with giving each card in the deck a high, low or neutral value. Players keep a running count of cards dealt at the table in order to predict when they hold an advantageous position over the house. Bets are adjusted based on this knowledge; lowered when favour falls toward the house and increased if the player holds the advantage.

It should come as no surprise that the grandfather of card counting was a mathematician. Edward Thorp originally outlined a card counting strategy back in the early 1960’s in his book, Beat the Dealer. Were there others before him? Absolutely. But they either failed to write a book on the subject or their strategies neglected to tie in betting recommendations. Since then, numerous card counting systems have come about for players of all levels.

There’s no need to get discouraged about the level of tracking and quick math required when implementing these strategies as card counting can be learned, and with practice and patience, brought to life at the blackjack tables. And keep in mind that blackjack basic strategy is always a great sidekick to any blackjack card counting system to help you gain an even greater advantage.


How to count cards in blackjack?

Before we get into detailed card counting strategies, here’s the just of it: every card in the deck is given a value. When a new shoe begins, it’s time to start a running count in the hopes of determining when you, the player, hold the advantage. When it’s determined you do, react by throwing stronger bets on the table and doing the opposite, lightning wagers, when the advantage swings to the house.

The actual value assigned to each card, and whether or not the running count starts at zero, depends on the blackjack card counting strategy – and there are many to choose from. Stay with us as we dig into all the systems and possibilities of card counting.

How does blackjack card counting work?

Hi-Lo System

The Hi Lo system is the most popular of the card counting bunch and one of the easiest for beginners. It breaks down the deck into three main value camps, -1, 0 and +1. This makes it a balanced system, as the three values equate to zero. Let’s have a look:

  • High Cards, 10, J, Q, K, A are valued at -1.
  • Neutral Cards, 7, 8, 9 are worth 0.
  • Low Cards, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 are valued at +1.It begins when a new shoe is introduced – a clean slate – and starts with a running count of zero. As the cards are dealt, keep a running tally using the value chart above. As the count increases, so should your wager. When it dips into the negative realm, ease back on bets to minimize losses.

True Count System

Hi Lo and other blackjack card counting systems work well with a single shoe deck, but as you’ll soon find out perusing blackjack games, many tables use 4, 6 or even 8 shoes. This is where the True Count system comes into play. It’s a simple equation that aims to increase the accuracy of your count by taking into account the number of decks in play.

  • True count = running count / decks remainingOverall, even with the True Count equation, the premise is the same. When your tally increases, it’s due time to increase your bet and work the advantage. When it does the opposite and falls lower, ride through the house advantage by minimizing risk with smaller bets.

Advanced Card Counting Strategies

Feeling like a MIT wizard with the Hi Lo system under your belt? Good stuff. Now you’re ready to kick it up a notch with more advanced ones that improve accuracy but also require much more focus.

Omega II

Remember our Hi Lo system? A three value camp ranging from -1 to +1. Well, Omega II takes it to five values ranging from -2 to +2. Still a balanced system, but as you’ll see by the value chart below, it’s a little tricker with more to remember, learn and track. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Cards 4, 5, 6 hold a value of 2.
  • Cards 2, 3, 7 hold a value of 1
  • Cards 8 and Ace are 0.
  • 9 is worth -1
  • Cards 10, J, Q, K hold a value of -2.Everything else, including the starting point of zero and the use of True Count when additional shoes are in play, is similar to the Hi Lo system except for one variation. Omega II also asks you to keep a side count for Aces to help determine when a blackjack is possible.

Wong Halves

Do you want MIT level expertise? You’ve come to the right blackjack card counting place. Wong Halves blackjack card counting starts at zero, keeps a running tally and pulls in True Count when multiple decks are in play. However, Wong Halves’ three value camps feature a twist – fractions. And yes, this is definitely an ‘f’ word for card counters.

  • 5 holds a value of +1.5
  • 3, 4, 6 count as +1.
  • 2, 7 count as +.5
  • 8, 10, J, Q, K & Ace are 0.
  • 9 holds a value of -.5Just remember, with great difficulty comes great accuracy! And that’s the goal – accurate measures of when to hammer your bets and when to pull back. The overall tells are the same – lower when the count lowers, and raise your bets when they’re higher.

Red 7 System

The Red 7 blackjack card counting system works similar to Hi Lo and is also suitable for beginners. To get started, take the number of decks in play and multiple it by x -2. And that my friends is your starting number. Let’s say you’re playing blackjack with a four deck shoe, that’s 4 x (-2) for a starting count of -8. Work from there using the following card values:

  • Cards 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 are valued at +1
  • Red 7 is +1
  • Black 7 is 0
  • Cards 8, 9 are valued at 0
  • Cards 10 - Ace are valued at -1 When the count gets into a positive realm, +1, +2 etc, that’s when you can assume advantage is falling your way and increase betting. This intertwines with a blackjack strategy of hitting and standing in certain situations, as follows:
  • When the count is 0 or higher, stand with 16 if dealer’s got 10.
  • When the count is 0 or higher, stand with 12 if the dealer has 3.
  • When the count is +2 or higher, stand with 15 if the dealer has 10.
  • When the count is +2 or higher, stand with 12 if the dealer has 2.
  • When count is +2 or higher, double down versus Ace. Known to be incredibly accurate with starting count adjustments and incorporation of the above blackjack strategy, Red 7 could be the one for you!

KO System

The blackjack card counting system known as KO, or Knock Out, uses a balanced three value camp system that’s actually quite easy to follow. It also knocks out the need for side tallies or true count, but we’ll get to that later.

  • High Cards, 10, J, Q, K, Ace are valued at -1
  • Neutral Cards 8, 9 are worth 0.
  • Low Cards, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 are valued at +1Why no true count? Your starting count isn’t necessarily zero with the KO system because of this formula {4 - (4 x the number of decks in play)} that determines your starting count using the number of decks in play. So, for a single deck blackjack game, you’d start at zero but for a two shoe game, -4, a six deck game, -20 etc. Sidebar tip – if you’re practicing this card counting system, final count should rest at -4.

Zen Count

It’s only fitting that zen would be balanced, right? The Zen Count system of blackjack card counting is a balanced count, meaning it equals zero, and as such, requires true count when multiple decks are in play to help with accuracy. Perfect for beginners to intermediates, it provides a solid level of accuracy to adjust your bets to. So without further ado, let’s move on to its card values:

  • Cards 4, 5, 6 are valued at +2
  • Cards 2, 3, 7 are valued at +1
  • Cards 8, 9 are 0
  • Ace is -1
  • 10, J, Q, K are valued at -2From here, it follows the system of increasing your bet to take advantage of the table when the count gets high and decreasing bets when the count gets low to minimize your risk. Choose the Zen Count and see if it brings you profitable peace.

How to count cards in single deck blackjack

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the notion of card counting or are under the impression it's a tactic only for Elon Musks, fear not. Blackjack card counting systems are best put to use, especially for beginners, at single deck/shoe blackjack tables. The count itself will depend on the card counting system you choose and the values associated with each card.

Even without card counting tactics, single deck blackjack games offer the lowest house odds, at just .15%. And, card counting itself is easiest with only one deck in play, negating any need for true count or multiple deck adjustments. You have your choice of any of the systems, just remember, it’s accuracy you’re going for. Taking on a difficult card counting system that may impair your accuracy will negate the entire purpose! Start with simplicity and work up from there.

How to count cards in multiple deck blackjack?

Single deck blackjack games make card counting easier, that’s a fact. And it’s also the reason they may be difficult to find on a casino floor, virtual or otherwise. So, let’s talk card counting when multiple decks are in play. Every single one of the systems we cover can be applied to a multiple deck setup, they’ll just require more focus and attention to keep an accurate count. Even right out of the starting get, playing multiple decks raises the house edge from a single deck’s .04% to an 8 deck’s .70%.

The key is also to choose a counting system that works best for you, given the multiple deck factor. If it's a balanced system like Hi Lo, Wong Halves, Omega II or Zen, you’ll need to adjust your starting count with the help of True Count (True count = running count / decks remaining). Then, set a point to recognize when favour falls your way.

The moral of the multiple deck story is to seek out players with the lowest amount of decks.

Common Mistakes in Card Counting

Here are some common mistakes to avoid while card counting in blackjack game:

Screwing up the running count: Card counting requires accuracy, and mistakes in the running count can lead to incorrect decisions about how much to bet or how to play a hand

Counting games with poor playing conditions: Some games have rules that make it difficult to count cards accurately, such as not allowing doubling after splitting pairs or only allowing doubling on certain totals. It's important to know which games to avoid.

Lack of practice: It is best to have enough practice in free to play games before trying your card counting skills at a blackjack table.

Tips for Successful Blackjack Card Counting

Learn a counting system: There are several counting systems to choose from, such as the Hi-Lo Count or the Omega II. Choose a system that works for you and practice it until you can count cards accurately.

Practice, practice, practice: The more you practice, the better you will become at counting cards. Start with a single deck and work your way up to multiple decks.

Manage your bankroll: Don't overbet your bankroll. Know how many sessions and what long-term bankroll you should have for your betting level to minimize the risk of going broke.

Blackjack Counting FAQ

Is it possible to count cards in online blackjack?

To circumvent card counting, many online casino blackjack tables use continuous shuffle machines, making card counting essentially ineffective. Even with live dealers that don’t offer the machine version, dealer’s are known to shuffle mid shoe to throw off your tally!

Can you win at blackjack without counting cards?

Absolutely. Improving your blackjack knowledge, doable using our very own blackjack basic strategy guide, increases your chances of winning. At live casinos, you’ll often hear ‘what does the book say to do’ - they’re referring to the basic playing strategy and chart that tells you in general terms when to hit, stand and fold. Or you can employ a variety of strategies for wagering and play that may improve your game and chances. In fact, we’ve compiled a list of the best blackjack strategies to help you along in this regard too!

How does counting cards help in blackjack?

The goal of card counting is to be aware and predict when the advantage shifts in your favour. When that happens, it’s time to adjust your betting strategy and increase wagers to make the most of it. It’s a system of prediction and betting strategies all mixed into one.

Do blackjack dealers count cards?

Many can, and many can recognize players doing so too. But for the most part, you’re likely to encounter a dealer who isn’t counting cards and is simply focusing on their job.

What is the best blackjack card counting strategy?

The key is to find a strategy that you can manage at the table. Accuracy is the name of the game with card counting. So, if you take on a system that is ‘better’ but you can’t maintain a solid, accurate count, it’s pointless. Give simple strategies a go first, like the Hi Lo strategy, and advance from there.

How hard is it to count cards in blackjack?

Well, it doesn't seem that hard if you’ve watched 21 and the boys from MIT, but for the rest of us who may not be so mathematically talented, it’s a tough skill to learn. Beyond picking up the skill and knowledge behind card counting, you’ve also got to have a bankroll that can sustain swings and a casino table that allows, or won’t catch you making excessive profits doing it. If you’re keen on putting a card counting strategy to use, seek out a single deck shoe game as your starting point!

How do you practice blackjack card counting?

A great starting point is to get your hours in with one deck practise.Train yourself by removing one card from the deck. Then, flip cards over while keeping a running count. By the time you reach the end, you should know what card (value) is missing. Once you get the hang of the count, ramp up your speed and time yourself to get faster in an effort to keep up to a dealer’s pace and table game.

How long does it take to learn how to count cards?

Well, not quite the 10,000 hours Gladwell states it takes to become an expert, but it will take hours and hours of dedication and practice to master card counting. If you’re got the focus and the drive though, maybe quicker!

Who invented blackjack card counting?

That title goes to a man by the name of Edward Thorp. And not surprisingly, he’s a mathematician. If you fancy yourself a history buff, have a read of his 1962 book ‘Beat the Dealer’ for an overview of his play and bet strategies in detail. Fine, there’s likely an audible book to simply listen to if you wish.

Is counting cards in blackjack the same as poker?

You can definitely count cards in both card games, but they’re quite a different approach. In Poker, you’d be counting cards to gain an advantage over your fellow table players while in blackjack, you’re attempting to gain an advantage over the house. Plus, remember it’s a completely different system given you’re not privy to seeing other player’s hole cards in most poker games.

What is the best method for counting cards in blackjack?

KISS. Keep it simple silly. The best method is to maintain focus, attention and be disciplined in the process. Blackjack card counting takes much focus and never underestimate the distractions of the casino floor. For this reason, seek out single deck tables and start with a simple system that you can build up from. Accuracy is your goal.

How effective is card counting in improving the odds?

Card counting can be effective in improving the odds in blackjack, but it requires practice, concentration, and analytical skills. It is not a guaranteed way to win and may not be worth the effort for most players.

Learn about other strategies in our guides: