How To Count Cards
We asked a World Series of Blackjack champ to tell us how to count cards. Turns out, it’s not that hard — so prepare to go full Rain Man on Vegas.
By Matt Christensen
You’ve probably heard of the concept of counting cards, but you may not know what it actually entails. Well, in a nutshell, you need to do three things: Pay attention to the cards being dealt, assign a number value to each card, and use math you’d already mastered by third grade. You’ll then know whether you have a statistical probability of being dealt good hands, and you can increase your bets accordingly. Easy, right?
Well, not exactly. “Counting cards uses simple, basic math, but it requires practice and training to do it quickly and accurately under stress,” says Mike Aponte, leader of the MIT Blackjack Team profiled in the 2008 film 21, and 2004 World Series of Blackjack Champion. Oh, also? It’s perfectly legal.
By combining Aponte’s card-counting tips with basic blackjack strategy, your odds of getting stronger hands and blackjacks will go way up. And that means you’ll find yourself leaving Las Vegas with bundles of cash instead of piles of ATM receipts.
1. KNOW WHCH CARDS MATTER
“When you count cards, you keep track of the number of high cards and low cards that are dealt,” Aponte explains. High cards are 10, jack, queen, king, and ace. Low cards are 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. “High cards favor the player because they’re more likely to result in blackjack. Low cards favor the dealer because they’re less likely to make him bust when he’s hitting on totals between 12 and 16.” Oh, and treat middle cards — 7, 8, and 9 — the same way you treat your family when you’re in Las Vegas. By ignoring them!
2. ADD THEM UP
When the dealer starts a brand new deal, your count is at zero. Subtract 1 for each high card that’s dealt, and add 1 for each low card that’s dealt. You do that because as the high cards are depleted, fewer cards remain that can benefit you. And as the low cards are depleted, fewer remain to favor the dealer. So if 3 high cards are dealt (-3 total) and 8 low cards are dealt (+8 total), your “running” count is at +5. But there’s one more step before you know whether it’s time to bet the kids’ college fund on a hand of cards.