Blackjack - How to Count Cards

The Hi Lo Method

Blackjack Table
Blackjack. Duncan Nicholls/Simon Webb102284502

What makes blackjack different from any other casino game is that the house edge is not fixed. Your probability of winning a hand is dependent upon the mix of the cards remaining to be dealt. If the deck contains high cards it favors the player. If the deck contains low cards it favors the dealer. Players can get the edge at Blackjack by using card counting. Card counting does not involve memorizing each card that is dealt from the deck.

Instead the use a system to determine the ratio of high cards to low cards remaining in the deck. One of the most popular card methods is the Hi/Lo system which assigns a point value to each type of card in the deck.

Point Values
The Low cards: two, three, four, five and six are assigned a value of plus one. These low cards are valuable to the dealer who must take a hit if the total of their hand is under 17. They are less likely to bust if the deck had more low cards in it.

The High cards:Ten, Jack, Queen, King and Ace are assigned value of minus one. These high cards favor the player When the deck contains a large number of tens and aces it increases the ​players chances of drawing a pat hand (17 or higher) or getting a natural blackjack. A deck containing high cards also increases the probability of the dealer busting if they must take a hit.

The Neutral cards: seven, eight and nine have no value and are not counted.

If you count 52 card deck using these values the total will be zero. There are an equal number of high and low cards and this is why the Hi Lo system is known as a balanced system.

The first step in learning card counting is to get familiar with the point values of each card. Get a deck of cards and turn them over one at a time while reciting their value.

Here is an easy tip to speed things up: Instead of saying “plus one” for low cards, just say, “One” and instead of saying, “Minus one.” for high cards, say, “M-one.” You don’t have to say anything for the neutral cards.

For example you deal:
King (M-one)
9 (say nothing)
6 (one)

The Running Count
Once you have practiced the point values it is time to start keeping the Running Count for the whole deck. This time you will add and subtract the cards as you go along. For example:
1st card = King. The count is: M-one.
2nd card= Ace. The count is: M-two.
3rd card = 9. The count is still: M-two.
4th card = Jack. The count is: M-three.
5th card =5. The count is: M-two.
6th card = 4. The count is M-one.
7th card = 3. The is: Even (You don’t have to see anything.)
8th card = 6. The count is One.
9th card = 7. The count is still: One

When you first start out you should not worry about speed. It will be pretty slow but you should be more concerned with your accuracy. After counting down few hundred decks of cards your speed will increase. A good counter can count a deck in about 20 seconds. As you get faster, turn on some loud music or the television to create some distractions. The downfall of many card counters has been getting distracted in a noisy casino because the practiced in a quiet setting.

The True Count
When you use the Hi Lo system you have to convert the running count into the True count to get a more accurate estimation whether or not you have an advantage. You do this by dividing the running count by the remainder cards yet to be dealt. These days you won’t find many single deck games if any and all, so you will be playing multiple deck games. These can range from two deck to eight decks so you will have to adjust a running count by the number of decks left to be played in order to determine the makeup of the deck.

For example: if you are playing a single deck game and nine low cards came out the deck would definitely be a positive however in a six deck game it would be less because there are still five and ½ decks left to be dealt.

Many players use the half deck estimations for the remaining cards.

When you are starting out you can use full decks for your calculations. The way you determine how many decks have been dealt is to look at the discard tray on the table. You will have to practice by getting several decks of cards and piling them on top of each other one deck at a time until you are confident that you can determine the cards in the discard tray. Once you know how many decks have been played you subtract this from the number of deck you started with and you know the number of decks remaining. This is the figure will use to convert the running count to the true count. Here is an example for a six deck game.

You have determined that the running count is 12. You look at that discard tray and see that three decks have been played which means that there are still three deck remaining. You divide the running count of 12 by 3 and you get a true count of four.

The way you get your advantage with car counting is by betting more when the count is positive and betting the minimum when it is negative. You determine the size of your bets by the true count. Each bet is a unit and it is determined by the size of your base bet. If you were playing at a $5 table one unit would be $5. If you are playing at a $25 table one unit would be $25. The amount of units you bet from minimum to maximum is known as the spread.

When you play a double deck game you can get the advantage by spreading your bets from on unit to six. In a six or eight deck game you will have to spread from one to 12 units.

The chart below shows you bet based on the true count.


Spread Based on Count
True Count2 Decks6 Decks
0 or less1 unit1 unit
+12 units2 units
+23 units4 units
+34 units8 units
+45 units10 units
+5 or more6 units12 units