What Is Card Counting?

  • Updated
  • By Lauren Chassebi
card counting

We’ve all heard of players who use card counting in casinos to maximise their winnings, but is it really as difficult as it sounds?

What is card counting?

You may have seen casino based movies such as 21, where characters head to Vegas and use card counting to make millions of dollars. The bad news is that card counting isn’t as easy and glamorous as these films make it seem.

The good news is, card counting can still be rewarding if you know the basics.

Sometimes, it can help just understanding the pattern of the cards coming up during casino games.

Card counting is a strategy used mainly in blackjack, which some players use to determine what the next hand will be and whether they’ll benefit from it. It allows players to bet more without risking as much.

Because blackjack has no fixed house edge, the odds of winning are entirely based on which cards have been dealt and which are still in the deck.

Players who card count are less likely to lose, as long as they’ve counted correctly.

It’s important to remember that card counting won’t mean that you’ll instantly win every game you play. You’ll still have wins and losses and it’ll take time, but over time you’ll be able to predict your chances of winning and use this to your advantage.

This makes it an easy game predict the odds of through counting cards.

How is card counting done?

There are different ways to card count during a game, and some methods are more effective than others. In Blackjack, the most commonly used method of card counting is known as the ‘hi-low method’.

This style of card counting is based on the idea that high cards will benefit the player and low cards will benefit the dealer. While playing, card counters will keep tabs on the amount of high and low cards which come out in each hand and use this knowledge to decide on their next bet.

When using the hi-low method, players assign positive or negative values to each card. As the game goes on, if the counter has a positive running count, this means that the game is in their favour and they can bet higher at a lower risk.

A negative running amount will mean that the dealer has the edge. Players will use this method to make sure that they only bet when their losses will be lowest.

The hi-low method of card counting is the most simple, and other more advanced methods do exist, for example, having a side count of specific cards, however, these can make it more difficult to keep track of the game.

More complex methods of card counting mean players have to remember more information about each hand and sometimes it may be more beneficial to play using a more simple card counting method than to slow down your game by using a more complex one.

What is back-counting?

You don’t have to be part of the game to card count either. Have you ever been at a blackjack table in a casino and noticed someone standing by the table watching the game for a while before they start placing any bets? That person was probably back-counting.

Back-counting, also known as ‘wonging’ is a strategy which involves standing behind the blackjack table during a game and counting the cards as they’re dealt to the other players.

This player will usually enter the game once they think the cards dealt have given them an advantage.

Once a player is in the game, they’ll either stay at the table until the game is shuffled, or they may leave once their count tells them that they no longer have the advantage. If the count is done properly, this means that the player can minimise on their losses throughout the game.

There are advantages and disadvantages when it comes to back-counting. It can be good for the player because they only have to play hands where they’re at an advantage.

However, players who regularly join and leave games can gain unwanted attention from casino staff and could start to annoy other players.

Is card counting allowed?

Card counting is using your mind and clever strategies in order to beat the dealer. So, technically, card counting is harmless and isn’t considered cheating. However, UK and US casinos do try to prevent it and will sometimes ban players if they spot card counting.

Card counting is definitely not illegal in either the UK or America. What would make card counting illegal is if you used electronics to help you, but as long as you’re only using your own brain to do the counting, you shouldn’t get penalised for this.

In previous years, there have been issues between the public and casinos for the way that casinos penalise players who they see card counting.

Is card counting difficult?

It takes time to master the art of card counting, and you may find that it’s much easier to do in the quiet of your own home than it is in a loud and busy casino.

Card counting in a casino can be difficult as you’ll have to keep up with the speed of the game whilst also working out the pattern in your head at the same time. 

The most challenging part of card counting may actually be being able to do it without other players or casino staff detecting that you’re counting cards.

Some card counters will draw attention to themselves accidentally by making big jumps in their bets between hands. The best way to get an advantage over the house is to take your bets slow and steady.


So, now you know the ins and outs of card counting, will you brave it on your next trip to the casino?