Is card counting illegal and should you use this blackjack strategy to get an edge at the tables? No, card counting isn’t illegal but, for a variety of reasons, it’s probably not the right strategy to use. Here we explain why you should avoid counting cards in blackjack and what will happen if you get caught doing so at a casino.
Reason #1: It’s Not Easy to Count Cards
Counting cards is easy in theory but hard in practice. In fact, hard might be an understatement.
To recap the basics of card counting, the aim is to establish when the decks are in your favor (they contain more high-value cards than low-value cards). You do this by assigning a count of 1, 0, or -1 to cards as they’re dealt. The counts are:
|2, 3, 4, 5, 6||+1|
|7, 8, 9||0|
|10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace||-1|
Almost all of us could follow these rules and establish a true count if we were sitting at home with a deck of cards. However, in the heat of battle, counting each card, remembering the running total, tracking how many cards have been dealt, then performing the necessary calculation to establish the true count is difficult.
To make matters worse, live blackjack dealers are trained to deal cards as quickly as possible and announce each one. This combination of speed and numbers being said out loud makes it hard to concentrate on the task at hand, ie counting.
Finally, when you add in the sounds of a casino and a myriad of other distractions, you can see why card counting is easy in theory but almost impossible to do correctly in practice.
Reason #2: Counts Don’t Always Equal Big Wins
The gains you can make by counting cards aren’t as significant as Hollywood would have you believe. Yes, it’s true that accurately counting cards in blackjack can reduce the house edge to zero and, in some cases, give you a small edge. To understand this point properly, let’s run some numbers:
- The standard house edge for blackjack ranges from 2% to 4% depending on the rules.
- The house edge for blackjack when basic strategy is used correctly can be as low as 0.5%.
- The house edge for blackjack when you count cards successfully is 0% and, depending on the conditions, you might gain a 1%-2% advantage.
There’s no doubt that counting cards correctly can give you an advantage but, as you can see, it’s not a huge advantage. Of course, any advantage is better than no advantage.
However, based on what we’ve already said with regards to card counting and how difficult it is to do correctly, it’s a lot of work for a relatively small reward. Moreover, an incorrect count can actually hurt your chances of winning, as we’ll explain in the following section.
Reason #3: Mistakes Make You Worse than a Novice
Counting cards perfectly can give you an edge in blackjack but doing it incorrectly can cost you money.
As we’ve said, the aim is to generate a true count that tells you whether or not the decks are in your favor. You increase your bet size when the decks are in your favor to take advantage of the fact more high-value cards are likely to be dealt, and decrease your bets when they’re not stacked in your favor.
Let’s assume you’ve got a running count and perform the necessary calculations to establish a true count. You increase your bet because the numbers suggest the deck is stacked in your favor. Unfortunately, after 10 big bets you’re losing money because the cards have been awful. There’s a chance it’s just how the decks are configured, and favorable cards will appear soon. However, there’s also a chance you’ve got the wrong count.
If that’s the case, you’ve increased your bet based on incorrect information and cost yourself money. Even a small miscalculation can lead to a big loss that eats into your overall profit/loss for the session.
So, unless you’re 100% confident you can perform a perfect count 100% of the time (all while under pressure), you should avoid card counting in blackjack.
Reason #4: You Need Friends
Card counting isn’t a solo pursuit. Yes, it’s true that all of the calculations are done in isolation and in your own head.
However, the truth is that you need a team of counters to get the best results. Watch a movie such as 21 and you’ll see that everyone in the team knows how to count but only one or two actually play. See the clip here:
One player might take the lead, another sits down and plays like an amateur, someone else acts like the amateur’s partner, and another person acts as a spotter (the one who keeps an eye on the security guards).
We’re not saying that you can’t count cards alone. However, history has shown us that teams typically have the best results.
Reason #5: Casinos Don’t Like It
Casinos frown on card counting because it hurts their cash profits. They’re in business of making money and you can see why they don’t want you using a blackjack strategy that might reduce their edge.
Unless you’re a professional card counter with years of experience, you’re going to get caught. The dealer and pit boss will notice (they’re trained to spot counters) and if they don’t, the eye in the sky will most certainly catch you, and that’ll be you getting whisked out by security.
So, if you’re someone who doesn’t like awkward confrontations, you should avoid counting cards. Of course, if you’re playing blackjack at offshore casinos, the house won’t know what you’re doing.
What Happens if You Get Caught Counting Cards?
You won’t get arrested for counting cards in blackjack, but a casino won’t look on you favorably. The biggest myth in casino gaming is that card counting is illegal. It’s not, but casinos don’t like it.
You’re on the casino’s private property, so they have the right to remove you at any time. Therefore, if you get caught counting cards, you’re almost certainly going to be removed from the game and asked not to return.
There’s also a chance you could be blacklisted, which means you getting banned from the casino and potentially other casinos too. When you consider the repercussions of getting caught and combine them with all the reasons why card counting isn’t a good idea, it’s a strategy that 99.9% of blackjack players should avoid.
What you can do, however, is learn basic blackjack strategy instead. There are other easier ways to gain an edge in blackjack that don’t involve counting cards and, more importantly, won’t get you blacklisted.