Some Card Counting Systems Used In Online Blackjack

blackjack cards

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One of New Zealand’s favourite online casino games, blackjack, or twenty-one as it is still sometimes called, is a flowing card game which involves both skill and luck. The aim is to draw a hand of cards whose combined value beats the dealer's hand. However, to be a winner you must also avoid going above a score of 21 with your own hand. Should you exceed that 21 score, your hand is "bust" and you automatically lose.

Blackjack standard rules

When playing a blackjack hand, the ‘spot’ cards from 2 up to 10 score according to their face value. The ‘picture’ cards jack/queen/king each score 10, but an ace can be counted as 1 or 11 (at the player’s discretion, and according to whichever score proves more advantageous.) Scoring the ace as 11 is termed a ‘soft’ hand, but any hand where the ace is scored as 1 is termed a ‘hard’ hand.

Beyond these basics, blackjack can be a much more complex game than novices may think. Experienced gamblers have developed quite a number of online blackjack strategies for playing the game to their advantage, and one common approach is known as card counting.

What exactly is card counting?

First of all - despite the impression New Zealand cinema-goers may have been given by Raymond Babbit, the character Dustin Hoffman portrays in the film “Rain Man”, card counting does not require super-human feats of memory and recall. It is simply a technique some blackjack card players use to check and confirm when any advantage in a game moves more in their favour. Whenever this occurs, a card-counting player will increase the amount they bet, knowing their risk of losing has reduced.

However, if and when card counting suggests the advantage has swung back in favour of the dealer, a card-counting player will then respond by reducing the amount they bet, or even by declining to place any bet at all. They do this because they are aware that there is a greater risk they will lose the bet. Players use this variable betting technique to gain an extra advantage because this behaviour has been shown to reduce the ‘house edge’ advantage the casino holds.

Nonetheless, card counting (or card reading as it is sometimes called) can be a little tricky to learn at first, especially under the pressure of a game situation. Anyone wishing to learn card counting should first of all ensure they thoroughly understand the rules of blackjack, and should also have mastered the more straightforward and basic playing strategies. During blackjack games, it often happens that a card-counting player can achieve a win more quickly and easily by applying a basic strategy than by following the more complex card-counting route. At these times, experienced players will always revert to a simple strategy.

How to count cards in online blackjack

As the cards are dealt, mentally assign a tag of (+1) to every card which appears within the 2- 6 scoring range, and a tag of (–1) to every card which appears in the 10, jack, queen, king, ace category. Start counting after deck has been shuffled, and add your tags to each card which is subsequently drawn from the deck.

When your running total is positive after any hand has been played, those cards which still remain now form a pack which is richer in high scoring card values. So you should raise your bet. But if the running total is negative following any hand, those cards which still remain now form a pack which is richer in low scoring card values. So you should lower your bet.

How does card counting work?

Once a full deck of cards has been freshly shuffled, it will contain an equal total of both high and low value cards. Then, according to how the cards emerge during the initial hands, so the high/low ratio of the cards still to play will thus, almost inevitably, be different.

For instance, if low cards were more prominent than high-value cards during the initial hands, it then follows that there will now be a greater number of high rather than low-value cards yet to play. Once a card-counting player recognises this, they will immediately raise their bet. This is because they now know they have an increased chance of gaining a blackjack, which also attracts a 3-2 bonus, and will be able to successfully double down. A further consequence of this scenario is that dealers are then much more likely to break when they hit their cards if they show a low-value card.

But when the cards remaining in the deck feature a greater number of low-value cards, the advantage then lies with the dealer. New Zealand house rules dictate that a dealer must hit on every 12 to 16 hand, thus the now increased likelihood of drawing a low-value card gives a good chance of finishing with a pat hand of 17 or more, with no great risk of going bust.

This explains why card-counting players mentally track both high and low-value cards with a ‘tag and tally’ system. It has been mathematically established that high-value cards (10, jack, queen, king, ace) are more beneficial to the player, but low-value cards (2, 3, 4, 5, 6) give a greater advantage to the dealer. Those cards falling outside these two categories (i.e. 7, 8, 9) tend to be of no special advantage to anyone. So card counting systems regard them as neutral.

Hi-Lo card counting

Card counting explanations given so far are based on the most common Hi-Lo counting system. Assigned tag values for all cards as they appear can be summarised as follows: All card values 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 are each given a (+1) score. All card values 10, J, Q, K, A are given a (-1) score. Card values 7, 8, 9 receive a (0) score.

Thus a hand of four, six and 10 (totalling 20) would be tagged as +1, +1, -1, producing a net running total of +1. The player interprets the tag scoring knowing a positive score gives an advantage, and the higher the positive tally the greater that advantage will be.

Card removal

In statistical terms, removing cards from the deck during play constantly alters the odds in favour of the dealer or player. But the game influence this produces will vary according to the card value. For instance, the removal of all aces would make scoring a blackjack a zero option, whereas removing an 8 would have much less effect. Card counting works best with single-deck games. Even though some advantage can still be gained in double-deck games, in general, multi-deck play is not the best environment in which to deploy a card-counting strategy.

Other card-counting schemes

Various different counting schemes have been devised to discern and track the relative advantage and disadvantage which results from the removal of certain cards and combinations.

Speed counting: This unusual system is based on the average number of cards per hand. Its advantages include the absence of negative values and the fact that only five low cards are ever tracked.

K-O Rookie: This is a simplified unbalanced system with no running count. It uses a basic play strategy and requires only two kinds of betting action.

Ace/10 & Ace/5 count strategies: Each of these entry-level systems demand no more than the careful tracking of two cards. Nevertheless, when applied, they still have the potential to give a player a better edge. But if your main motivation is to have fun, why not just try your luck and play online blackjack at JackpotCity?

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