Counting cards playing live dealer blackjack
June 15 2009, Staff writer
Blackjack is one of the few casino games which, when played optimally using a
sound counting method, can offer players a mathematical house edge over the
casino. This is precisely why casinos reserve the right to refuse service
to player identified as being proficient at counting cards. The following
discussion first touches on how to count cards, and second whether this skill
can be effectively applied to live dealer casino blackjack.
How to count cards
There are a number of methods employed to count cards, and contrary to
popular belief, none of them involve memorizing every card that has been dealt
from a deck/shoe and computing each and every card still left. One of the
most commonly discussed and employed counting methods is the Hi-Lo method, and
you will certainly not need a photographic memory or rain-man like savant
abilities to pull it off...just the ability to add and subtract and pay
attention. The method works as follows:
- assign all cards in the deck a value or either +1 (2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 6s), 0
(7s, 8s, 9s), -1 (10s, picture cards);
- as each card is dealt, add the assigned value to a running count;
- employ blackjack basic strategy to your bet decision making (ie use a basic
strategy card - see right);
- increase your bets when you have a high (+ve) count towards the end of a
- decrease (stop) your bets when you have a low (-ve) count towards the end
of a shoe.
Underlying the method is the fact that a high card rich deck/shoe, combined
with optimal play, increases the mathematical return to player of blackjack.
This is because a high card rich deck results in more pat hands for the player
and increases the likelihood of dealer busts with forced hits on stiffs. The Hi-Low
method is simply a means of calculating just how high-card-rich the remaining
shoe/deck is so that you can bet accordingly.
A nice way to practice counting is to deal a deck to yourself and keep a
running count. If at the completion of the deal you have a count of zero,
you were spot on. Increase the deal speed until the count is pretty much
second nature and then you're ready to hit the casinos.
Can you count effectively at live dealer casinos?
Traditional casinos don't let players count cards. If they suspect a
player is counting cards - and they are pretty good at detecting bet patterns
consistent with card counting - they will ask that player to leave and not
return. But what about online casinos?
RNG (random number generator) blackjack games preclude the possibility of an
effective count because all online RNG games are dealt from a full shuffled
deck/shoe. Counting in this case is totally useless as you are playing to
a full deck/shoe with every deal.
The situation with live dealer games is slightly different though. This
is not a computer generated deck that can be automatically replenished and
shuffled every game. So is a count effective here? The answer to this
question lies in the blackjack game rules stipulated at live dealer casinos -
which are typically something like what you will find at BetFred (Playtech
"We offer eight deck Live Blackjack with a live dealer and a real Blackjack
table, with multiple players. The cards are shuffled when there are
approximately four decks left in the shoe."
Or at Victor Chandler (Evolution Gaming powered) ..."shoe is shuffled at regular intervals"
- in practice you will find this translates to an approximate mid shoe shuffle
In both cases players aren't able to penetrate deep into the shoe with their
Playing live dealer blackjack you aren't given an opportunity to effectively gauge how high card rich the
shoe is because the deal never runs to the (near) end of the shoe. Any
counting strategy, while good counting practice, will not enable you to gain an
edge over the house.
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