The one aspect of the game of blackjack that has garnered the most publicity is card counting. Countless number of books have been written about it; a host of internet websites and “chat rooms” discuss it; and card counting has even been featured in several popular Hollywood movies (e.g., Rain Man and 21). Nevertheless, most casino players really don’t understand what card counting is all about, which is why I developed this short true/false quiz. Get a sheet a paper and a writing instrument, and as you read each question below, jot down whether the statement is True or False. Then grade your quiz by comparing your answers to the ones at the end of this article. (There you’ll also find the details as to why a statement was true or false.)
Ready? Let’s get started. (Note: Give yourself one point for each correct answer.)
1.Card counting is illegal.
2.You have to be a mathematical genius to learn card counting.
3.In the movie Rain Man, a casino employee in surveillance is trying to figure out how autistic (actor) Dustin Hoffman is winning all that money playing blackjack. The employee says the following: “He is not catching a hole card, he isn’t past-posting, and I don’t see him using a computer. But something is not right – you know there is no one in the world that can count into a 6-deck shoe.” Is the latter comment True or False?
4.Card counters don’t win every time they play.
5.You must have a tremendous bankroll to be a card counter.
6.Nowadays, casinos will take you into a backroom and beat you up if they catch you card counting.
7.The most important factors that a card counter looks for in a game is the percentage of cards dealt prior to shuffling, and the mix of playing rules.
8.The odds in blackjack are not static from one round to the next.
9.Removal of small cards (2 through 6) has a positive effect on a player’s expectation.
10.When the deck becomes richer in large cards, the card counter has the edge, and he bets more.
11.Card counters lose more hands than they win.
12.There are many different types of card counting systems.
13.Card counters need to disguise their method of play.
14.Card counters use their count to vary the size of their bets and sometimes their blackjack strategy.
15.Card counters can enjoy a 10% edge over the casino.
16.Unbalanced card counting systems are easier to use than balanced card counting systems.
17.Many professional blackjack players play on blackjack teams.
18.The bigger the bet spread the greater the edge for the card counter.
19.Card counters can still win even when the casino uses a continuous shuffling machine.
20.Over-betting when you card count is a major downfall of most fledgling card counters.
1.False. Using your brain when you play blackjack is not illegal; neither is card counting. (Note: However, using a concealed electronic device to aid you in card counting is illegal.)
2.False. The movie 21 portrays card counting as an intellectually difficult task that can be learned only by top-level MIT college students with high IQs. That’s baloney. If you have average intelligence (meaning you can read, write, and can mentally add and subtract), you can learn card counting.
3.False. Card counting “works” in a six-deck game although there are some extra steps involved compared to counting in, say, a single-deck game.
4.True. The general public mistakenly believes that card counters win every time they play. That’s not the case. The edge a card counter has is very small and counters will, and do, experience losing sessions. However, over the long haul, they will win more money than they lose.
5.False. If your bankroll is meager, you just need to play at a lower minimum bet size. What is important is that you have enough bankroll in relation to your bet size to withstand short-term losing streaks. (Remember, you can’t win every time you play.)
6.False. Although this has occurred in the past, nowadays this doesn’t happen anymore because several card counters have won large settlements from casinos for abusing their rights as a player.
7.True. The percentage of cards dealt is known as “penetration.” The deeper the penetration, the more profitable the game will be for a card counter. Additionally, counters also look for a good mix of player-favorable playing rules. A host of good rules will also increase the counter’s edge; whereas, a host of bad rules may make the game less profitable. It’s a combination of the penetration and the blackjack rules that determine if a game is worth playing for a card counter.
8.True. The odds change depending on what cards were played (and removed) in previous rounds.
9.True. The removal of small cards (i.e., 2 through 6) results in the deck’s becoming richer in large cards (i.e., 10, J, Q, K, Aces). That’s better for a card counter because he is more likely to get a blackjack (and a bonus 3 to 2 payoff); his chances of drawing a big card when he doubles down increase; an abundance of large cards favors pair splitting; the dealer breaks more frequently when he shows a stiff 2 through 6 upcard; and the insurance bet becomes profitable.
10.True. For the reasons stated in the above answer, the card counter will increase his bets when the deck becomes richer in large cards.
11.True. Counters actually lose more hands than they win but they win more money than they lose, in aggregate. How do they accomplish this? They have a lot more bet on the hands that they win compared to the amount of money bet on the hands that they lose. It’s that simple.
12.True. There are dozens of different card counting systems that have been developed and published, with different levels of complexity. The most popular is known as Hi-Lo. There are also entry level counting systems that are easier to master but give less of an edge compared to, say, Hi-Lo. Then there is a class of unbalanced card counting systems, also slightly easier to use than Hi-Lo. (For details on the different card counting systems. Click here.)
13.True. In order to prolong their playing careers, most card counters camouflage the fact that they are card counting by how they bet and/or play their hands. (Although a new breed of counters has been using more aggressive play with little regard to camouflage. For details, click here for one example of this style of play.)
14.True. This is how counters get their advantage; they bet more when they have the edge and sometimes vary their playing strategy. (For example, if the deck is rich in high cards, they will bet more, and if they are dealt, say, a 10-6 with the dealer showing a 10, they would stand rather than hit.)
15.False. The edge a card counter has is usually in the range of 0.5% to 1.5%.
16.True. With unbalanced card counting systems, you don’t have to convert the running count to a true count in multi-deck games. The most popular unbalanced counting system is known as K-O (or Knock Out).
17.True. Playing on a team reduces bankroll risk and increases profitability. (Note: There are still some part-time professional card counters who play solo. For an example, click here.)
18.True. Bet spread is important to increase the counter’s edge. In a single-deck game, a 1-4 bet spread is sufficient. The bet spread needs to be greater when the number of decks increases. (In a six-deck game, a counter will use a 1 to 10 or 12 bet spread, or higher, betting the minimum when he doesn’t have the edge then increasing his bets up to a maximum of 10 or 12 units or higher when the edge swings in his favor.)
19.False. Although there have been a few isolated cases of counters using very advanced techniques to gain the edge against a continuous shuffling machine (CSM), for the most part card counting doesn’t work when a CSM is used. (Note: With a CSM, the cards from each round are placed back into the shuffler where they are randomly inserted into the other decks of cards.)
20.True. The biggest downfall of most card counters is not having enough bankroll for the size of their bets they are making. Mathematical equations have been used to determine how much bankroll a counter needs to reduce the risk of going broke (known as risk-of-ruin).
If you scored below an 18 on the quiz and want to learn more about card counting, I encourage you to read Chapter 10 in my Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide.