Card Counting Comprehensive Guide

A Comprehensive Card Counting Guide

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Is there a term in gambling that’s more controversial than card counting? Hardly. It’s an advantage gambling tool professional players use to advance in their gambling endeavours. Hence it’s often discussed among casino goers.

More importantly, there are many online casinos out there that frown upon such practices, which is quite discouraging for many enthusiasts eager to show off card counting skills. This article deals with card counting and looks past the controversy surrounding counting practices. Everything you ever wanted to learn about card counting is right here in this article.

What Is Card Counting?

Card counting is an advantage play technique that gamblers use to keep track of the cards in the deck. The practice of counting cards during the round is used as a tool that helps players determine how many low/high cards remain to be dealt. Consequently, they can calculate the fluctuation of the house edge (casino advantage). With such information, the player can then use a strategy to decide which action or decision to make and wager on.

Although most players consider it to be illegal, it is not. However, the practice is somewhat discouraged by gambling halls/websites mainly because card counting lowers the edge, translating into potentially heavy losses for the casino.

Card Counting and Advantage Gambling

Advantage gambling entails any activity that increases the player’s advantage and lowers the edge of the casino. Card counting is one of several practices commonly used by gamblers at land-based and online casinos.

However, it is essential to note that advantage gambling is not illegal – it must not constitute cheating in any form.

Card reading is not cheating because it does not involve any illicit activity which could reveal which cards are coming next to the players. Instead, they use math to calculate which type of cards should arrive next – but no one knows for sure. That is why it is not cheating.

Card Reading 101

Counting cards at a gambling table has become stereotypical. Most average players consider this practice something that only geniuses with photographic memory can do. That’s not true. Let’s see what the most common myths associated with counting cards at casinos are.

Top 3 Card Counting Myths Debunked

As controversial as it is, counting cards has been an exciting topic for many writers or movie directors. The mysterious and risky nature of counting cards at a busy gambling table sounds appealing to many viewers, which is how we got to its representation in the media. Sadly, the slightly hyperbolic representation has led to the creation of many stereotypes and myths. Here are the three most common misconceptions about card counting.

  1. Only geniuses can count cards.
  2. You need photographic memory or superhuman abilities to count cards.
  3. It is a fast way to earn money while gambling.

Regular people without any kind of superhuman strength or ability can count cards. It’s basic math; you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to crack measuring systems while gambling. Moreover, you don’t need superb memory. The only things you need to use are adding and subtracting the values of cards used in the game.

Because it entails a lot of learning (and getting used to it), it is not a fast way to make money. Furthermore, card counting is always used in conjuncture with a basic strategy to deliver the most precise predictions. It is by no means a system that can tell you which card is coming up next (although you can predict whether it will be high or a low).

How to Count Cards in Blackjack

Game proficiency is essential. You cannot count cards or anything similar if you are not familiar with the rules of the game. Card reading is for advanced players only and is generally not recommended for novices.

Each count relies on a system of assigned values. Each card is given a value, as it would be foolish to add together their ranks. With a simplified method of allocated values, the tallying process is optimised. This is how we came to have counting systems such as Hi-Lo, Halves, Zen Count, etc. The systems are all similar but with slight differences in value allocation. In the following sections, you will see how different the value distribution is among the most popular count methods.

Furthermore, each count must include a Running Count and a True Count. True Count is necessary for multideck games as it provides info about the Count of the remaining decks.

So, to count cards, you will need to:

  1. Assign the values to cards according to a chosen mathematical system.
  2. Track the Running Count of the dealt cards.
  3. Track the True Count if there is more than one deck in the shoe.

Necessary Tools for Counting at Tables

To count cards, players need two things: a basic strategy and a counting system.

You are free to devise a counting system on your own, but we suggest using an existing one. The simplest and most used is the Hi-Lo card counting system. It is quite easy to learn, and players typically need only a couple of days to get used to it.

Hi-Lo Count System

Hi-Lo is a counting system that assigns values to cards, allowing players to track high and low cards during the game. As a level-one system (the tally changes by +1 or -1 only), High-Low is simple. It is often taken as the basis of counting cards, and all other systems are variations of the High-Low method.

How It Works

Hi-Lo assigns values according to card rank. The low cards (2-6) are assigned the value +1, while high cards (10-A) are assigned a value of -1. The middle cards (7-9) remain neutral with the value 0.

 Hi-Lo Values

Card Value


2,3,4,5,6 +1
7,8,9 0
10,J,Q,K,A -1

The start of each shoe has a count of 0. As cards are dealt, players must add or subtract 1 from the count according to the assigned values. Moreover, the shoe must also end with a 0, so you always know how many low/high cards remain in the shoe. And knowing which category of cards is prevalent tips the scales in your favour in terms of edge. Remember – a positive running count (example: +1/+3/+7) means more low-rank cards have been dealt. In other words, more high cards remain in the deck, which is suitable for the player. The reverse situation in which more low-rank cards are yet to be dealt suit the dealer more.

Running Count

The Running Count is the total sum of all values of the dealt cards in the round. Here is an example of a 6-deck blackjack round. If the dealer deals a 7 and a 5 to the player (you), and the dealer’s up-card is a 10, the Running Count will be 0+1-1= 0. If you choose to hit and receive a 6, and the dealer reveals a 7, the Running Count will use the previous count (in this case, 0) and add/subtract the following values: 0+1+1= 2. The Running Count in this scenario is +2.

True Count

Lo-Hi works well with all kinds of tables, but if you choose a blackjack table with more decks, you will also have to keep track of the True Count. What is the True Count?

True Count gives you an overview of the house edge by taking into consideration the entire shoe, not just one deck. The Running Count provides info about the current situation, while True Count is used for giving you a more detailed account of your overall standing.

The formula to calculate True Count uses the Running Count and the number of decks. Using the same example as above, let’s say we have a +2 Running count in a 6-deck game with 2 remaining decks. True Count would be: +2 ÷ 2= +1. The True Count of the entire session is a positive 1.

Other Card Counting Systems

The examples given for Hi-Lo may apply to other mathematical systems as well. The Running and True Count rules are the same, and you only need to pay attention to the distribution of values. Let’s see how other math models assign values.

Red Seven

Difficulty: 1

This method is also a level-one like Hi-Lo. In fact, they are quite similar, with the value of 7 being the only difference.

  Red 7 Values

Card Value


2, 3, 4, 5, 6 +1
Red 7 +1
Black 7 0
8,9 0
10, J, Q, K, A -1

As you can see, if you get a 7 red, you no longer consider it a neutral. It now has the value of +1, the same as low cards. A black 7 maintains its neutral value like 8 and 9.

KISS (Keep It Short and Simple)

Difficulty: 1

Again, KISS or Keep It Short and Simple is a level-one system. It has three versions, but the one displayed below is the KISS III variation.


Card Value


3,4,5,6,7 +1
Black 2 +1
Red 2 0
8,9 0
10,J,Q,K,A -1

It uses almost identical value assignment rules like Hi-Lo, except for 2 and 7. With this method, 7 is worth +1 instead of 0, and Red 2 is valued 0 instead of +1 like Black 2 is.

K-O (Knock-Out)

Difficulty: 1

K-O is essentially a shorter form of KISS III as it groups 7 with other low cards. However, it does not apply the Red/Black 2 rule, so it is pretty similar to Hi-Lo.

K-O Values

Card Value


2,3,4,5,6,7 +1
8,9 0
10,J,Q,K,A -1

K-O would be an excellent method for you to start with besides the basic Hi-Lo if you are new to card reading.

Hi-Opt (I and II)

Difficulty: Hi-Opt I 1, Hi-Opt II 2

Highly Optimal I and II are on the border between easy and medium levels of difficulty. Hi-Opt I is a level-one system, whereas the II version is a level-two.

HI-Opt I Values

Card Value


3, 4, 5, 6 +1
2, 7, 8, 9, A 0
10, J, Q, K -1

Hi-Opt II Values

4, 5 +2
2, 3, 6, 7 +1
8, 9, A 0
10, J, Q, K -2

Highly Optimal, or shortened Hi-Opt is a system with two variations. The first variation is a level 1 system which is easy to learn, but it is unrefined. The second version, or the Hi-Opt II, is a superb system that uses slightly more complicated rules, but it is more precise than Hi-Opt I. Both are generally harder to learn than Hi-Lo, which is why they are not intended for beginners.

Zen Count

Difficulty: 2

As we slowly progress down the list of other mathematical systems, things get more complicated. Case in point – Zen Count. This level-two system has a span between -2 and +2, and the ranks are not simplified and placed in a sequence like they are with Hi-Lo.

Zen Count Values

Card Value


4, 5, 6 +2
2, 3, 7 +1
8, 9 0
A -1
10, J, Q, K -2

We recommend trying this method only if you have previous experience with counting cards in blackjack or other table casino games.

Omega II

Difficulty: 2

The penultimate method on our list is the Omega II, a very complex but very precise mathematical count system. As with all level-two methods, it spans from -2 to +2.

  Omega II Values

Card Value


4, 5, 6 +2
2, 3, 7 +1
8, A 0
9 -1
10, J, Q, K -2

The more precise the system, the more accurate you will be about predictions. You can use the precise Omega II method as a guide for placing bets and making playing decisions.

Wong Halves

Difficulty: 3

Finally, the most intricate and most accurate technique on our list is the Halves. Also known as Wong Halves, this level-three count technique is the hardest one to learn because of its value allocation. Therefore, it is not suitable for novices and players who are unaccustomed to using counting to monitor the cards during playtime.

Halves Values

Card Value


5 +1.5
3, 4, 6 +1
2, 7 +0.5
8 0
9 -0.5
10, J, Q, K, A -1

Its most recognisable trait is the use of halves, i.e., fractions looking like +1.5 and – 0.5. Counting should be done fast, so getting the hang of Halves might be a tough task. But it’s undoubtedly worthwhile.

The Controversy

Is counting cards illegal?

Card counting is not illegal. You won’t be expelled or banned from a gambling hall for practising an unlawful activity because you are not cheating.

So, why is there so much fuss about it?

Counting is an advantage play tool and a popular one at that. It increases the players’ advantage, meaning the casino is more likely to lose money from counters.

And casinos hate to lose money.

Given how casinos cannot sue you for using your brain and simple math to boost winning chances, they had to develop various countermeasures to prevent counting attempts. Some of them include banning players from playing table games or limiting their time spent at tables. Such measures are why other punters concluded card reading is cheating/illegal.

Card Counting Countermeasures

Because reading is not considered an illegal activity, casinos’ hands are tied in legal terms. They cannot sue or throw the players out forever simply because they used easy math and their minds to gain an advantage. Moreover, they weren’t using any information that’s restricted or hidden.

So, gambling sites introduced a series of countermeasures aimed to decrease reading attempts. Here are some examples:

  1. Introducing mid-round shuffling to reduce deck penetration
  2. Banning counters from certain games
  3. Setting limits to players’ time/funds spent at the table
  4. Preferential shuffling, which surprises the punters
  5. Rule shifts and changes in table stakes
  6. Banning mid-shoe entry
  7. Forcing flat betting
  8. Cancelling comp points of players who are known counters
  9. Seizing chips if they notice that the player is reading the cards

The list goes on because gambling halls have gotten quite creative when it comes to thwarting reading attempts. The cut card is usually placed in the middle of the shoe in online games, signalling for a guaranteed shuffle mid-shoe. The worst that can happen is being banned from the website, but that’s a rare occurrence.

Gambling Games Suitable for Card Reading

So far, we mainly talked about blackjack card counting. The examples we’ve given are from blackjack, primarily because it is closely related to these practices. But you can use it in poker as well. Before we get to poker card counting, let’s first see how the number of decks in a shoe affects the flow of the reading session and overall gameplay.

Single-Deck & Double-Deck Blackjack

The number of decks is an important factor if you want to use this advantage play tool. One of the main reasons is deck penetration – with fewer decks, deck penetration is greater and faster. On the other hand, deck penetration is harder with six or eight decks, especially when the dealer shuffles the cards mid-shoe or uses preferential shuffling.

In general, single and double-deck blackjack tables have a lower house edge than their six and eight-deck counterparts. The house edge for a regular double-deck table is 0.23% in optimal conditions. Single-deck boasts 0.15% edge in optimal conditions. If you use reading to gain an advantage, the edge will drop even lower.

The cut card placed between two decks at double-deck means the shuffle happens at 50% of the round. The penultimate and the last draw before the shuffle is your best chance to increase or decrease the wager if you want to win.

Our recommendation is to pick tables with fewer decks and use basic strategy and card counting strategy to increase winning chances and ultimately beat the house.

Can You Count Cards in Online Blackjack?

Blackjack card counting is used mainly at land-based casinos and in live dealer games. The reason is simple: online tables use RNG (Random Number Generator) to prevent cheating of any kind. That’s why it is virtually impossible to count cards in online blackjack, but there still are enthusiastic players who have tried to do it. Unfortunately, they haven’t had much success as it is challenging to keep track of virtual cards whose sequence is completely randomised.

Can You Count Cards in Poker?

Yes, you can count cards in poker. However, poker card counting is different from blackjack.

As poker is not a game that entails beating the house but rather fellow players, players use card counting to gain an advantage over their opponents.

Poker reading includes tracking your and your opponents’ equity. Equity translates into the odds of winning the hand if the entire pot was all-in on the street. It is decided on the flop card rather than the river.

The practice of counting cards in poker is encouraged, rather than frowned upon, as players need to read the cards to gain an advantage over other players.


We hope you enjoyed our comprehensive guide for card counting enthusiasts! BestCasinos team tried to bring you closer to the topic of reading the table and dealing so you could learn how to gain an advantage over other players.

If you have anything to ask, add, or share with us, reach out! Until then, we hope you found our guide helpful and that you can use it to practice and play your favourite casino games. Card counting is a fun advantage play device, but gambling can be addictive. Have fun, and please play responsibly.


BestCasinos team consists of online casino experts dedicated to spreading their knowledge and experience to a wider audience, all in effort to help even the most inexperienced players gain their footing in this exciting industry.