Can You Count Cards In Online blackjack?

By Alex Smith, Last updated May 29, 2024

Blackjack has always been a popular casino game, attracting players from all around the world thanks to its simple rules and the very low house edge that it’s possible to achieve when playing according to basic strategy. However, one aspect of playing blackjack that many players want to learn more about is blackjack card counting.

Card counting, a technique that involves keeping track of the cards dealt to predict the likelihood of favorable cards appearing in future hands, has been used by skilled players to gain an edge in traditional brick-and-mortar casinos. 

However, with the rise of online blackjack, many players wonder if card counting can be effectively applied in the virtual world. This blog aims to answer exactly that. We’ll be looking at whether counting cards in blackjack online is possible and more!

Understanding Card Counting 

Before we get into the specifics of whether it’s possible to count cards at an online casino, we must first look at what card counting is – and how it works.

Card counting relies on the idea that high cards (tens, face cards, and aces) benefit the player, while low cards (2-6) favor the dealer. By keeping a running count of the cards dealt, a player can determine when the remaining deck is rich in high cards, signaling a greater chance of hitting a blackjack or winning a double down.

Various card counting systems exist, each with its level of complexity and effectiveness. Some of the most widely used systems include:

  1. Hi-Lo: The most common card counting system, where high cards are assigned a value of -1, low cards are assigned a value of +1, and neutral cards (7-9) are assigned a value of 0.
  2. KO (Knockout): Similar to Hi-Lo, but eliminates the need to keep a running count, making it easier to learn and implement.
  3. Omega II: An advanced system that considers the specific composition of the remaining deck, providing a more precise estimate of the player’s advantage.

While card counting is not illegal, casinos have the right to refuse service to anyone they suspect of using this technique. If card counters are suspected in traditional casinos, they are likely to be kicked out—and in some states, they could even face legal repercussions.

The effectiveness of card counting in traditional casinos is well-documented. Numerous successful card counters, such as the MIT Blackjack Team and Edward O. Thorp, have made a name for themselves by using this technique to win millions of dollars. However, with many players now choosing an online casino instead of land-based casinos, is it still possible to count cards? Let’s find out.

Can You Count Cards Online?

Card counting is a well-known advantage gambling technique used in blackjack to determine when the deck favors the player. By keeping track of the high and low cards played, card counters can bet more when the remaining shoe has more high cards (which favor the player) and less when it contains more low cards. When done effectively, card counting can give players a statistical edge over the casino.

However, while card counting can work in land-based casinos, it is not a viable strategy for online blackjack. There are a few key reasons for this:

  1. The decks are shuffled after every hand. The software automatically shuffles the virtual cards in online casinos after each round. With a freshly shuffled deck every hand, there is no way to keep an accurate count and gain an advantage. Each hand is an independent event.
  2. You can’t see the other cards being dealt. Part of tracking the count involves not just your hand, but the dealer’s up card and cards dealt to other players at the table. In online blackjack, you have no way to see this information.  
  3. Online casinos can easily detect counting patterns. The software tracks and analyzes every decision a player makes. Betting and playing patterns that resemble card counting would quickly be flagged, and the player’s account could be limited or banned.
  4. Many online casinos use continuous shuffling machines (CSMs). Some online blackjack games utilize CSMs, which constantly randomize the order of the virtual decks, making it impossible to count cards even if the other obstacles don’t exist.

So, while card counting remains mathematically valid in physical casinos under the right conditions, the digital environment of online blackjack means it’s simply impossible to count cards in online blackjack.

How Online Blackjack Works

Online blackjack has become increasingly popular, allowing players to enjoy this classic casino game from the comfort of their homes. While the basic rules and objective of the game remain the same as in land-based casinos, there are some key differences in how online blackjack operates.

When you play blackjack online, you’re playing against a computer program rather than a human dealer. The software uses a random number generator (RNG) to determine which cards are dealt. 

This ensures that the game is fair and unbiased, as the RNG produces a completely random sequence of cards, making it impossible to predict what card will be dealt next. This randomness is also what makes card counting ineffective in online blackjack.

How To Play Blackjack At An Online Casino 

To begin playing, select your stake amount and place your bet. You’re then dealt two cards, typically face-up, while the dealer receives one face-up card and one face-down (the hole card). Based on the value of your cards, you decide whether to ‘hit’ (take another card), ‘stand’ (keep your current hand), ‘double down’ (double your bet and receive one more card), or ‘split’ (if you have two cards of the same value, you can split them into two separate hands).

The aim is to get a hand value closer to 21 than the dealer without going over 21 (known as ‘busting’). Face cards count as 10, aces can count as 1 or 11, and all other cards are face value. If you bust, you lose your bet immediately, regardless of what the dealer subsequently does.

After you’ve completed your hand, the dealer reveals their hole card and plays out their hand according to fixed rules. In most online casinos, the dealer must hit on 16 and stand on all 17s. If the dealer busts, all remaining player hands win. If neither you nor the dealer busts, the hand with the value closest to 21 wins.

One advantage of online blackjack is the speed of play. There’s no waiting for other players to decide, and hands are dealt instantly. This can make for a more engaging, fast-paced experience. However, it’s important to remember that this speed can also lead to quicker losses if you’re not careful with your bankroll management.

Many online casinos offer blackjack variations with side bets or slightly different rules to keep the game exciting. Some even offer live dealer games, streaming a human dealer to your device in real-time, allowing you to enjoy your favorite online casino game in a live setting – from your home!

Alternatives to Card Counting in Online Blackjack

So, now we’ve determined that – can you count cards in online blackjack? No, you can’t. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use tips at an online casino to improve your odds of winning. Below, we’ll look at some tips for playing blackjack online – without worrying about counting cards!

Firstly, there’s a basic strategy. Basic strategy is one of the most crucial aspects of successful blackjack play. This involves making mathematically optimal decisions based on your hand and the dealer’s up card. Adhering to a basic strategy can reduce the house edge and minimize your losses over time. You can find many online resources that offer basic strategy charts that you can study and memorize to improve your gameplay.

Seeking out blackjack variations with more favorable rules is another factor to consider. Some online casinos offer games with rules such as “Surrender,” which allows you to forfeit half your bet and avoid playing out a weak hand, or “Double After Split,” which enables you to double down after splitting a pair. When used correctly, these rules can lower the house edge and improve your chances of enjoying a winning session at the blackjack table.

Online casinos frequently provide bonuses and promotions that can boost your bankroll. These may include welcome bonuses for new players, reload bonuses for existing players, or cashback offers based on your losses. However, it’s crucial to carefully read and understand the terms and conditions associated with these bonuses, as they may have wagering requirements or restrictions that impact their overall value.

You can also consider exploring alternative blackjack variations that offer unique gameplay features or side bets. For example, some online casinos offer “Blackjack Switch,” a variation allowing you to switch the top cards of two hands to create stronger ones. While these variations may have a higher house edge than traditional blackjack, they can sometimes offer higher win potential – and be more exciting, too.

How to Count Cards in a Land-based Casino

If you’re interested in learning how to count cards in blackjack – want to learn card counting strategies – or simply want to know more about what blackjack card counting is all about, this section is for you.

Card counting is a technique used by skilled blackjack players to gain an advantage over the house. While it’s not illegal, casinos frown upon the practice and may ask players to leave if they suspect them of counting cards.

The Fundamentals of Card Counting

At its core, card counting is a system that assigns a value to each card dealt, allowing players to keep track of the composition of the remaining deck. The most common system is the Hi-Lo count, which assigns the following values:

  • 2 through 6: +1
  • 7 through 9: 0
  • 10, face cards, and aces: -1

As each card is dealt, the player keeps a running count by adding or subtracting the corresponding value. A positive count indicates a deck rich in high cards, which benefits the player, while a negative count suggests a deck with more low cards, favoring the dealer.

Choosing a Card Counting System

While the Hi-Lo system is the most well-known, several other counting systems exist, such as the KO (Knockout), Omega II, and Wong Halves. Each system has its own level of complexity and effectiveness. Beginners may find the KO system easier to learn, as it eliminates the need for a running count. At the same time, more advanced players might prefer the Omega II for its higher level of accuracy.

Practicing and Perfecting Your Skills

Before attempting to count cards in a casino, practicing extensively at home is crucial. Start by dealing cards slowly and keeping the running count. As you become more comfortable, increase the speed and add distractions, such as music or television, to simulate a real casino environment. You can also practice with online blackjack trainers or apps designed specifically for card counting.

Avoiding Detection

Casinos employ various methods to detect card counters, including surveillance cameras, floor managers, and even AI technology. To avoid drawing attention, follow these tips:

  1. Keep your bets small and gradually increase as the count becomes more favorable. Sudden, drastic bet changes can alert the casino staff.
  2. Don’t always bet the table maximum when the count is high. Vary your bet sizes to appear more like a recreational player.
  3. Avoid playing for extended periods at the same table. Move around to different tables or take breaks to reduce the chances of being noticed.
  4. Don’t discuss card counting with other players or casino staff. Keep your strategy to yourself.
  5. Be aware of your body language and facial expressions. Maintain a calm, neutral demeanor, and avoid drawing attention to yourself.

Is card counting illegal? Generally speaking, no. However, blackjack card counting is frowned upon by live casinos, and they will ask you to stop playing – or severely limit your wagers – if they suspect you of doing so.

Managing Your Bankroll

Effective bankroll management is essential for long-term success in blackjack, especially when counting cards. Set aside a dedicated bankroll for blackjack and divide it into session stakes. A common guideline is to have at least 100 times your minimum bet. For example, if your minimum bet is $10, your bankroll should be at least $1,000.

It’s also important to set win and loss limits for each session. A win limit helps you walk away while you’re ahead, while a loss limit prevents you from chasing losses and using up your bankroll too quickly.

Knowing When to Walk Away

Even with card counting, there will be losing streaks and tough sessions. It’s essential to maintain emotional control and stick to your predefined limits. If you are on a prolonged losing streak or feeling frustrated, take a break or end your session. Chasing losses can lead to poor decision-making and ultimately damage your bankroll.

Practice and Adapt!

Card counting is a skill that requires constant practice and refinement. As you gain experience, you may want to explore more advanced techniques, such as true count conversion, ace tracking, or team play. Additionally, stay informed about any casino rules or procedures changes that could impact your strategy.

It’s also important to adapt to different playing conditions, such as variations in rules, number of decks, or dealer’s skill level. Be prepared to adjust your strategy accordingly to maintain your edge.

The Importance of Discretion

While card counting is not illegal, casinos have the right to refuse service to anyone they suspect of using this technique. If you are caught counting cards, you may be asked to leave the casino, and your information could be shared with other casinos, making it difficult for you to play in the future.

To minimize the risk of being detected, being discreet about your card-counting activities is crucial. Avoid drawing attention to yourself by keeping a low profile, blending in with other players, and not discussing your strategy with others.

Before attempting to count cards in a casino, it’s essential to understand the legal implications. While card counting is not illegal under federal law, some states have laws that prohibit the use of devices to aid in counting cards. It’s crucial to research the specific laws in your jurisdiction and ensure you are not violating any regulations.

Additionally, be aware that casinos are private property and have the right to refuse service to anyone they suspect of counting cards or engaging in other advantageous play. If you are asked to leave a casino, it’s best to comply politely to avoid legal issues.

Card counting can be an effective strategy for gaining an advantage in blackjack, but it requires dedication, practice, and discretion. By understanding the fundamentals of card counting, choosing a suitable system, and practicing diligently, you can improve your chances of success in a land-based casino.

However, it’s crucial to remember that card counting is not a guaranteed path to profits and comes with inherent risks. By managing your bankroll effectively, maintaining emotional control, and knowing when to walk away, you can minimize these risks and enjoy the game of blackjack while potentially gaining a slight edge over the house.

Famous Card Counters and Their Online Experiences

Throughout the history of blackjack, several notable card counters have made a name for themselves by beating the odds in traditional casinos.

The MIT Blackjack Team, a group of students and ex-students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, used advanced card-counting techniques and teamwork to win millions of dollars in Las Vegas casinos during the 1980s and 1990s. Their story has been the basis for various books and movies, and they are some of the most well-known gamblers in history.

Edward O. Thorp, a mathematics professor, is another well-known figure in card counting. Thorp is credited with inventing the first card-counting system and published his findings in the book “Beat the Dealer” in 1962. His work revolutionized the blackjack game and inspired countless players to learn and apply card-counting techniques.

While you can’t count cards in blackjack online, some players have tried to go beyond live casino blackjack and try. Stanford Wong, a renowned blackjack author and player, has written about his attempts to count cards in online games. While he talked about how difficult it was, he did see limited success – although this was quite a while ago before online casinos had the technology that they do now.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while card counting is theoretically possible in online blackjack, it’s virtually impossible – especially as online casinos today have better technology and detection methods. Also, random number generators, continuous shuffling, virtual deck compositions, and faster gameplay present unique challenges that make it harder for card counters to gain any meaningful advantage online.

As online casinos continue to evolve and incorporate new technologies, card counting is likely to become even less viable in the virtual world. However, this doesn’t mean that players cannot enjoy and potentially profit from the game. By employing basic strategy, seeking out favorable game variations, and practicing responsible bankroll management, players can still have a positive and enjoyable experience playing online blackjack.

Ultimately, the key to long-term success in blackjack, whether played online or in a traditional casino, is approaching the game with a clear understanding of its rules, strategies, and limitations. Try to memorize as much basic strategy as possible, always look for tables with the lowest house edge – and gamble responsibly!

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Blackjack Card Counting FAQs

Is card counting illegal in brick-and-mortar casinos?

While card counting is not illegal, casinos have the right to refuse service to anyone they suspect of counting cards. A card counter may be asked to leave the blackjack table or even banned from the casino if caught.

How does the remaining decks affect the running tally in blackjack card counting?

The running tally becomes more accurate as fewer decks remain in the shoe. This is because the card counter has a better idea of the concentration of high and low cards left to be dealt.

Can you effectively count cards when you play online blackjack games?

Counting cards online is much more challenging than in a real casino. Most online casinos use software that shuffles cards after every hand, making it impossible to keep an accurate running total.

Do blackjack dealers at live dealer tables shuffle cards differently than in regular online blackjack games?

In live casino blackjack, the real dealer may shuffle the cards manually or use an automatic shuffler, which can affect the shuffle order. However, shuffling frequency is usually higher than a real casino, diminishing any real benefit of card counting.

How does the cut card affect the true count in blackjack card counting?

The cut card placement determines when the dealer will shuffle the deck(s). A deeper cut allows more cards to be dealt before shuffling, giving the card counter a slight advantage as the true count becomes more accurate.

Is it easier to master card counting with a single deck or multiple decks?

Card counting is easier with fewer decks as the count is more volatile, and the card counter can more accurately gauge the true count. The counting process becomes complex with more decks, and the house edge increases.

Can you make more money by counting cards in online blackjack games?

Counting cards in online blackjack games is generally ineffective due to the random number generators (RNGs) that shuffle the cards after each hand. This means that the cards are randomly generated, and previous hands do not influence the outcome of the next hand, rendering card-counting strategies useless.

Does card counting work the same way in live dealer blackjack as in a real casino?

While live dealer blackjack offers a more realistic experience, the card-counting process is affected by the higher frequency of shuffling and the presence of multiple decks. This makes it harder to maintain an accurate count and gain a significant advantage over the house.

How many decks are typically used in online blackjack games?

The number of decks used in online blackjack games can vary, but most online casinos use between 4 to 8 decks to deter card counting and maintain a higher house edge.

What are the card values used in the Hi-Lo card counting system?

In the Hi-Lo system, cards 2-6 are assigned a value of +1, cards 7-9 are valued at 0, and 10s, face cards, and aces are assigned a value of -1. The card counter maintains a running count by adding or subtracting these values as each card is dealt.

Is it possible to have a positive expectation when counting cards in online blackjack games?

Due to the frequent shuffling and the use of RNGs in online blackjack games, gaining a positive expectation by counting cards is practically impossible. The random nature of the dealt cards negates any advantage a card counter might gain in a real casino setting.

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