How to count cards in Blackjack

By Ville Saari. Updated:

Learn how to count cards in blackjack. Become a better blackjack player.

Here, you can learn about different blackjack card counting systems and test them yourself. You can try out Hi/Lo counting and get better with our counting drills.

Counting cards can reduce the house edge and even turn it against them. With our help, you can start learning how to count cards straight away.

Blackjack card counting

What is card counting?

Card counting in blackjack is a way for the player to keep track of what cards are left in the deck. You count specific cards when you see them played, and with that, you know roughly what is left in the deck.

When you know what is in the deck, you can adjust your bets.

In blackjack, card counting is a way for you to get an edge over the casino. Even a basic count will reduce the house edge, and if you get good, you can get the edge over the casino. A skilled card counting blackjack player can get between a 2-3% edge.

Card counting is legal in Canada. You can not be charged with anything if you just count cards and play. The casinos are privately owned businesses, which means they can choose their customers.

If the casino suspects you of counting cards, they will kindly ask you to play something else, eject you from the casino or even ban you. So, be polite if the pit boss comes up for a chat.

But first, it you should learn how to play blackjack before getting into card counting. Read our blackjack rules page for more information.

Origins and history of card counting

The history of card counting in blackjacks dates back to the late 1950s and early 1960s. This was the time when Las Vegas started growing, and casino gambling became a mainstream hobby. People wanted to beat the casino, and some players realized that blackjack is the game where you can actually do that.

Edward O. Thorpe is the father of modern card counting. Many of his original methods presented in the Beat the Dealer book have become obsolete, but the heart is still the same. His ideas were the ones that people honed and tuned to get to where we are today.

Over the years, casinos have implemented more and more countermeasures to prevent card counting, and the players have done their best to beat those. Adding more decks, continuous shuffling, low deck penetration, distraction methods and so on.

Casinos saw that they could actually lose money, and the game of cat and mouse has been ongoing.

Blackjack card values

Blackjack card values are an important part of any card-counting system. You need to know what each card is worth in the game to know how to count them.

Here are the blackjack card values:

Understanding blackjack card game

The idea in card counting is to know if the deck has more cards with high value left. If you know what has been played, you can estimate how likely it is to see a card that you want.

Low-value cards are better for the casino, and high-value cards are better for the player. For example, the more big cards there are left, the likelier it is to get blackjacks and for the dealer to go bust.

The more blackjack part may seem strange, as the dealer will also get them, but it is better for you in the long run. Losing to blackjack is a 1:1 loss, but winning with one pays out 3:2.

When the deck has more high-value cards left, it is called a hot deck. A cold deck is one with a lot of low cards. Sometimes people claim that casinos use stacked decks and also call them cold decks.

Hi-Lo card counting

Hi-Lo card counting is an easy counting system to learn and can have great results when mastered.

The idea behind it is that you keep a count of all the high and low-valued cards that have been played. This way, you can estimate what cards will show up next from the deck.

The short version is that when you see a small card, you add one to your count, and when you see a high card, you deduct one. This is called doing a running count and can tell you about the state of the deck.

If your count is up, it means the deck has more big cards than small ones. You can adjust your bets accordingly when you know what is likely to come next.

When your count is above +3, you can increase your bets
When your count is below -3, you should only bet the minimum

To get the best results, you should also learn the basic blackjack strategies. Combining card counting and strategic actions gives you the best results. You can read our basic blackjack strategy page for more information.

Card counting values

blackjack HiLo card counting

Hi-Lo card counting follows these rules:

This is a balanced system, which means that a regular 52-card deck has a total count of zero. There are an equal amount of -1 and +1 cards in the deck.

EXAMPLE: You are dealt a 3 and 7, and the dealer is showing a 10. You take a card and get a king, and the dealer gets another 10. What is the count?

The running count

The running count is the count you keep over multiple rounds of blackjack. It does not take anything else into account; it just counts the high and low cards.

Doing a running count just means that you start counting the high and low cards and keep count of the cards that have been played. You can practice your running count on your own with a regular deck of cards or with the Bojoko counting drill.

Your running count is more accurate the earlier you can start. The best time is just when a new shoe is brought in. The more cards you miss, the more inaccurate your count will be.

True count

True count is the adjusted running count that takes into consideration how many decks are used.

True count = Running count / decks in the shoe

True count is a more accurate way to keep track of the game, and also more difficult to hold. True count is used in some advanced strategies.

Advanced systems based on the Hi/Lo counting

You can use more advanced systems that build upon the Hi/lo card counting. These are more difficult to learn but yield better results.

There are two well-known advanced card counting systems, The Fab Four and The Illustrious 18:

The Fab Four uses a true count and has four special rules for surrendering for maximum value.
The Illustrious 18 has a list of 18 gameplay actions that depend on the visible cards played and the current count.

If you have already perfected the Hi/Lo card counting, you can give these systems a try. The Fab Four is an easy add-on to your current skills, but The Illustrious 18 takes a while to learn. You can try it out online and just use a cheat sheet.

Other blackjack card counting systems

Discover more advanced card counting systems in blackjack

Here are some of the other card counting systems you can use in blackjack. Some of them are even easier to learn to Hi-Lo counting.

These examples are unbalanced counting systems. This means that by the end of a single deck, your count is not zero. This means that a true count can't be used with these systems.

The Key Card Count

The Key Card Count is the brainchild of Fred Renzy. It counts only some important key cards of the deck.

This system is unbalanced and will result in a +2 count per deck.

You start when a shoe is shuffled at +18. Every 4 or 5 will add to the count, and every 10 or a black ace will reduce it.

Based on this count:

The Red 7 Count

The Red 7 Count is the handiwork of Arnold Snyder, and it counts the following cards:

You start this count at -2 for each deck in the shoe. If you play with 8 decks, you start at -16.

When your count is at zero or goes to a positive number, then you should increase your bets.

Card counting online blackjack vs land based

Card counting in online blackjack is different versus on land-based casinos. The skill set required is the same, but there are clear differences.

The first is the big one, is counting even possible? If you play online RNG blackjack against a computer, the game will shuffle the deck between every round, and there is no point in counting cards. A land-based casino may use a continuous shuffling machine, which does the same thing, but it will be obvious.

Land-based casinos frown upon card counting, so you have to do it covertly. A casino is a noisy and distracting place, and the dealer may even start chatting with you if they think you are counting. All of these make counting cards more difficult.

Online live casinos are a good place to count cards. You can do so without any distractions and even use a printed guide in front of you or even have an abacus, and the casino can't do anything about it.

Live online casinos don't usually go as deep into the shoe as brick-and-mortar casinos. This means your count will be cut shorter. It is still the easiest way to try out your counting skills in a real-life situation.

Take a look at our blackjack sites and pick an online casino to count cards in.

Blackjack card counting practice

You can start your blackjack card counting practice right now here on Bojoko.

We have built a card counting drill that will let you practice your counting skills. Head over to our online blackjack simulator and try it out.

Just like with every other skill, card counting takes practice. The more you do it, the better you will get. Start by counting cards with our trainer or even with a deck of cards at home. Learn to count faster and more accurately each time.

If you want to practice on the go, you can download our free blackjack trainer app for your phone or tablet.

Pros and cons for card counting in online blackjack

Card counting in online blackjack has its strengths and weaknesses. Here, you can see what is good about online card counting and what is not.


✅ No outside distractions
✅ You can use a cheat sheet or external tools to help you
✅ No one will throw you out or ban you for counting


❌ RNG blackjack games are impossible to count
❌ There are still a few continuous shuffling machines in use
❌ Live dealer casinos have a low deck penetration


Card counting means that you keep track of the number of specific cards that have been played. This way, you can estimate what cards are left in the deck.

In blackjack, small numbers are bad for the player, while high numbers and face cards are good. Most card counting methods just keep track of which of these have been played more.

It is not hard to count cards in blackjack. It takes practice to be good at it, but anyone can do a simple running count.

With just a few hours of practice, you can learn the basics of counting cards in blackjack.

It is not illegal to count cards in Canada. Counting cards is a skill that you can practice and be good at.

Casinos have the right to choose their customers in Canada, which means that if they suspect you of counting cards, they will stop you. The pit boss may first ask you kindly to enjoy the other games at the casino, or they just ask you to leave. The casino also has the right to ban you.

It takes roughly 2-4 hours to learn to count cards in blackjack. At a base level, this is when you can hold a simple running count.

Getting good enough to hold a true count in a noisy environment can take 20-40 hours.

Yes, card counting does work in blackjack. Simple card counting can reduce the house edge, and combined with a gameplay strategy, you can even get a little edge over the casino.

The Hi-Lo card counting system is a way of keeping track of what has been played and what is left in the shoe. You count the number of low-valued cards and high-valued cards that have been played and keep a running count of them. This way, you know roughly what hasn't been played yet.

In blackjack, high-value cards are better for the player, so knowing how many are left in relation to low-value cards is important.

Hi-Lo is the best card counting system for most players. It is easy to understand, quick to learn and can lead to good results.

If you are looking for the absolute best card counting system, then The Illustrious 18 is your pick. It is based on Hi-Lo counting, but comes with detailed game actions depending on the count and cards played.

Yes, it is profitable to count cards while playing blackjack.

Without card counting, the casino has a small edge over the player. If you just count cards, you can noticeably reduce that edge. If you also use a good blackjack strategy, you can even get a small edge over the casino.

Edward O. Thorpe invented card counting in blackjack as we know it today. Many of his ideas have become obsolete over the years, but the core concepts are still there.

As casinos have fought back against card counting, players have needed to improve and fine-tune the counting methods. There have been many people who can be credited as creating their own version of card counting.


About the author

Ville Saari

Article by:

Ville Saari

Ville is an industry veteran, who has written thousands of gambling-related reviews and articles since 2009. He is an IT engineer with a passion for game and strategy optimization, and to teach the world to play better.

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