Card Counting and Why Is It Essential in Gambling

Card counting has long been one of the most controversial topics in the gambling community. Some have deemed it illegal, while others have hailed it as a legit way of beating the house and improving overall chances of winning while playing certain card games at casinos

Table of content

How Does Card Counting Work

In a nutshell, card counting or card reading is a technique casino players use to keep tabs on the previously dealt cards to predict the composition of the remaining deck. The goal is to calculate the probability of getting a certain card in the next hand, thus estimating your chances of beating the dealer.

The method is most prevalently and efficiently used in blackjack, although one can theoretically count cards in poker, baccarat, and other games.

This basic guide sheds some light on how this technique works, legalities surrounding this notorious technique, and breaks down the most effective systems. It’ll take your card counting skills to the next level and help you gain an edge over the casino.

Is Card Counting Legal

Casino aficionados have been pondering this question ever since this method first appeared. Contrary to popular belief, this practice is not an illegal activity. The UK does not have laws stating that counters are committing an offence. That is, as long as the players are not getting any outside help through other people or an external electronic card counting device.

That said, it’s highly unlikely the casino will let you stay if you’re caught doing it. Casinos have the right to exclude players from the premises if they suspect them of counting cards for obvious reasons.

Small heads up — the casino operators can spot card counters from a mile away, and they’ll use several tools to prevent the practice. For instance, they may employ pro counters to oversee the games and detect other counters at the table. Another countermeasure includes using advanced card shuffling machines that make counting nearly impossible.

Long story short, you can count cards as long as you’re doing it under the radar. If you get busted, you’re likely going to get kicked out of the gambling establishment, but that’s the only penalty you’ll face.

The Use of Card Counting in Different Games

Card counting is not rocket science, and you don’t have to be a Rain Man-type savant to utilize this technique successfully, despite what self-proclaimed experts may say.

The whole process revolves around memorizing cards that have been dealt in the previous hands and using that information to determine the percentage of receiving favourable cards or combinations from the as-yet-undealt deck. Put simply, you keep a tally of the dealt cards, which helps you get a better idea of which ones are left in the deck.

As the advantage starts shifting in your favour, you progressively raise your bet. The greater the advantage you gain, the more you should bet. Conversely, if you hit a huge downswing, you need to resize your bets downwards.

And this is pretty much what card counting is all about — at least the basics of it.

That said, the application of the system varies between different casino games. We highlighted these differences below to show you how to count cards in blackjack, poker, and other casino classics.

BlackJack Casinos

BlackJack Casinos

Baccarat Casinos

Baccarat Casinos

Best Online Casinos UK

Best Online Casinos UK

What Is Card Counting in Blackjack

Counting cards in blackjack can take time to perfect, and a visual representation could help you learn the ropes more quickly. The video below illustrates how to master card counting in blackjack and increase your edge over the house.

In blackjack, card counting boils down to keeping track of the dealt cards and determining whether a high or low-value one is more likely to come next. At the beginning of the round, there is an identical proportion of high and low cards.

Depending on which card comes out of the blackjack shoe, that ratio will change. If you receive two low-value cards, then the concentration of high-value ones in the deck will increase — and vice versa.

The more 10s and Aces are left in the deck, the more it favours the player, and the logical move would be to increase the bet level.

On the other hand, if there is a higher ratio of low cards remaining, then the odds have shifted in the dealer’s favour, which implies that you should lower your bet.

All card counting systems assign positive, negative, or zero values to each card. In most variants, low cards increase the count, while high ones are allocated negative values. If the total sum is positive, it signifies a greater probability of getting a high card from the next hit. A negative value suggests that low ones are more likely to get drawn.

Ultimately, it all comes down to adjusting your bet size based on what the running total is.

The table below shows how much you vary your bets depending on the count.

True Count (TC)How much to bet
+1 or lower (negative values included)1 unit
+22 units
+34 units
+48 units
+512 units

What Is Card Counting in Poker

You can also count cards in poker, although it’s not the same way as in blackjack. In poker, you’re not playing against the dealer, so the objective is not to come up with an estimate that would help you reduce the house edge.

Instead, the goal is to calculate your chance of hitting outs, which are essentially cards that improve your hand. This bit of information will help more profitable calls against other players.

So, how does this work out in practice?

Let’s assume that you are on the turn and are holding a flush draw. At that point, you’re probably wondering how likely it is that you’re going to complete your flush on the river. Here’s where the card counting comes into play.

The standard deck features 52 cards, including 13 of the same suit. Since you have four of those 13 cards, you’ll need to get one of the remaining nine ones to complete your flush.

Since you’re on the turn, you can already see six cards, meaning there are 46 unseen ones. By performing a simple calculation (9/46=0.20), we can deduce that you have a 20% chance of hitting a flush on the river.

It’s worth mentioning that card counting in poker is just one component of a much broader strategy that you should use in addition to your normal gameplay.

Card Counting in Other Games

Although the technique is most commonly used in blackjack and poker, it can also be an effective tool in other games, like baccarat. Here’s how the system works in baccarat:

  • Add plus one to the tally when an ace, two, or three fall out from the shoe.
  • Add plus two when a four is dealt.
  • Deduct one from the count if a 5, 7, or 8 is dealt.
  • Deduct two from the count if a 6 is dealt.
  • The remaining cards are valued zero.

If the count is positive, you should bet more on the player position. Otherwise, bet on the banker.

The Most Effective Card Counting System

Now that we’ve learned the underlying mechanics of the strategy, the question arises — what is the best card counting system?

With various card counting techniques out there, all of them require robust memory prowess and high concentration levels. That said, we recommend the simplest variant, which is the Hi-Lo system.

Strategy2345678910, J, Q, KAceLevel
Omega II1122210-1-202
Zen Count11222100-2-12


In this strategy, players assign a count value of -1, 0, or +1 to each card, as follows:

  • Add plus one to the count when low cards are dealt (2-6).
  • Subtract one point when high cards are dealt (10-Ace).
  • The remaining cards are valued at zero.

The higher the running count, the more you should increase your bet. If the total is negative, then you should make a smaller bet or fold your hand altogether.

If you’re playing blackjack online, you can use electronic devices or applications to assist you in keeping track of the cards. Although this type of card counting is not classified as illegal by UK laws, you would be gaining an unfair edge over other players at the table, so it would be borderline unethical at best.

Final Thoughts

Obtaining information about incoming cards can allow you to make better moves and have better control of the game. It won’t help you win all the time, but it’ll decrease the house edge a bit and ultimately improve your overall odds of winning.

That said, you should be discreet when counting cards because some casinos may ban you from the venue if you get caught in the act, and they would have every right to do so.

Head over to one of our recommended casinos once you’re ready to put your card counting skills to the test. Our in-house staff at Casinosters has tracked down the most trustworthy gambling sites in the UK and neatly sorted them for easier access. Just click on the operator that suits you the most to instantly navigate to its homepage.

Sebastian Wong CMO, Marketing Lead
As Chief Marketing Officer, Sebastian Wong is ultimately responsible for the commercial success of Casinosters. His extensive experience in the online gambling industry started in 2017 as an affiliate manager. In recent years, Sebastian has helped to establish Casinosters as a recognizable brand among the gambling community in the UK.
Back to top