Right off the bat, counting cards in blackjack is perfectly legal.
But most casinos have internal policies against it. Players can be asked to leave or be banned for life, like Affleck. So why bother counting cards?
Because blackjack, like most casino games, is slanted in favor of the house. Counting cards can even the odds and even give players a slight advantage.
Almost two-dozen card-counting strategies, from simple to highly complex, have been devised, according to several sources.
Here are the basics for the most popular strategy and the keys to playing without getting caught. All strategies assume a five-deck “shoe.”
The Hi-Lo Strategy is the most popular; all other strategies are a variation of it. Basically, cards get values.
Twos through sixes are +1; sevens through nines are zero; tens, face cards and aces are -1. Start at 0 with a new shoe and tally the cards.
Build your bet when the count is +2 or higher; that means the dealer is more likely to bust. To account for a shoe, divide the count by the number of decks still to be played in the shoe to get the “true count.”
A far simpler and less obvious (although not quite as sure) way to gauge odds is to simply count tens, face cards and aces; call them money cards. In a five-deck shoe, 100 money cards are shuffled in randomly.
Since each deck has 20 money cards, start at 100 and count down as the cards appear on the table.
A high money-card number starting out doesn’t tell you much. But if the count remains high as the game progresses, a player’s odds of winning improve.
High cards are anathema to a dealer because they must take an extra card at 16. If a lot of money cards remain, the dealer’s chances of going bust are greater.
In contrast, a player’s odds of winning a hand or getting blackjack rise.
To really make it interesting also count dealer bust cards: sixes, sevens, eights and nines. There are 16 in a deck, or 80 total in a five-deck shoe. So start there and count down. Bust-card and money card-counts can help calculate the odds of a dealer going bust.
The odds can vary based on the decks remaining in the shoe, but tilt in a player’s favor if the count remains high as the game progresses.
For example, if a dealer has 14 and the bust-card and money-card counts remain high after playing through two decks, the chances the dealer will go bust are greater.
The problem is, counting cards is hard to do without being obvious. Plus, casinos are onto card counting and know the telltale signs.
For example, players are waving red flags if they talk to themselves; study the cards too intently, or stay at one table for hours without eating or drinking.
If you ignore the surroundings, other players and the dealer, suddenly increase or decrease bets, set chips aside, or constantly rearrange them, pit bosses are likely to move in.
And remember this: Some dealers count cards, too. If they always seem to shuffle the deck when the shoe turns in your favor, politely excuse yourself.
The best way to avoid being spotted is to act like a novice.
Talk to the dealer. If you’re engaging enough and they’re counting cards, it may cause them to lose count, or stop counting altogether. Best of all they may take a shine to you and not notice or ignore that you’re counting cards.
Also talk about subjects beside the game; look around the casino and always have a drink. Build wagers by letting your bet ride as the shoe swings in your favor.
Bet a hand counter to your count every so often to throw off suspicion. Do not leave a table every time a shoe sours. By the same token, don’t wait until the shoe is in your favor to join a table.
Most of all, look like you’re there to have fun, not take them to the cleaners. And, remember, you’re being watched every minute.