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Blackjack card counting

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If you are relatively new to live blackjack, you may have heard about card counting. If you are an experienced blackjack player you already know about this technique. But in this guide, we cover both the basics of card counting and some more advanced stuff like types of blackjack card counting.

live blackjack card counting

This guide can here to help you understand exactly what card counting is, and whether you should count cards when you play live blackjack.

What is Blackjack Card Counting?

Let’s start by answering some basic and frequently asked questions on this subject.

What is Card Counting?

Card counting is a card game strategy used primarily by blackjack players to determine whether the next hand is likely to give an advantage to the player or to the dealer.

Is it illegal to count cards?

There is nothing illegal in Card counting as long as there is no use of an external card counting device or person assists the player in counting cards. However, land-based casinos don’t like players counting cards and might remove you from their premises if they suspect you are.

Is it easy to count cards in Blackjack?

It all comes down to practice and how good you are at counting. You can read more on our guide to find exactly how you can count cards.

Can I get away with counting cards in live Blackjack?

The truth is that you can’t really count cards when you play online. There are many reasons for that but the main ones are the Number of decks, shoe penetration, auto shuffling.

How to count cards in blackjack explained in simple terms

During a game of blackjack using a single deck of cards, the house edge is virtually zero. This ensures that if you follow a strict strategy and are careful you can win and break even in the long term.

With card counting in blackjack, what you are actually doing is keeping track of the cards that have appeared.

Then you wait for the right moment and place a large bet to win big. When you repeat this every few rounds you end up with a profit.

Counting Cards Techniques

If you are still up for trying card counting at your local casino or online the main card counting technique is known as Hi-Lo. This is the classic card counting system. It was originally invented by Harvey Dubner in 1963.

This is how you can implement it:

  • Assign a tag of (+1) to every card with a face value of 2- 6 and a tag of (–1) to every card with a value of 10-A.
  • Start your count after the shuffle and add the tags to each card that is pulled from the deck.
  • When the running count is positive after any round, the undealt cards are richer in large cards; you should increase your bet size.
  • When the running count is negative after any round, the undealt cards are richer in small cards; you should decrease your bet size.
  • When the total count is low then players are advised to bet low, when there is a high count of cards then a higher bet is placed.

Sounds amazing right?

The MIT team have made a fortune with that strategy. But this was years ago when card counting was something relatively new for everyone, players and casinos.

Too good to be true…

The truth is that today, blackjack counting and shuffle card are much more difficult and live blackjack counting is not possible.

Why blackjack card counting is not possible in live casinos

Here are some of the reasons why you can’t count cards when you play live blackjack:

  • Live casinos are using software monitoring and can detect counting patterns from players.
  • Live blackjack tables are usually using 6 or 8 deck cards and have 50% shoe penetration. This makes it very hard to keep counting.
  • You need players to be playing with strategy in order to succeed with card counting (This is why the MIT team was playing in groups on the tables)

The alternative way to blackjack card counting

Ok, you might be able to count cards successfully when you play blackjack with live dealers online, but you can still do something to increase your chances of winning.

Play with blackjack strategy!

If you use some basic blackjack charts and play with blackjack basic strategy, you can reduce the casino house edge and get an RTP of 99.5%. You can also use some more advanced blackjack betting strategies and increase your chances for long term success!

The MIT Blackjack Team

Since we mentioned the MIT team in the article let’s have a look at the story behind his team and what they have achieved with card counting for a good 2 decades!


Teams come and go. Some leave a lasting legacy while others are forgotten pretty fast but the legacy of the MIT Blackjack Team endures.

This team was comprised of a group of students and former students of, among others, Harvard School of Business, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The team is known to have used card counting techniques and more complex methods to beat land-based casinos at blackjack worldwide.

This team enjoyed tremendous success from 1979 through the initial years of the 21st century.

The story of the MIT team

It is well documented that 6 MIT students trained themselves in card counting in 1979.

Strong-minded to put their newly discovered expertise to work, the group of 6 travelled to Atlantic City during the spring of 1979 to win their riches.

After working together as one team in spring, the group members went their separate ways when most of them graduated from college in May. After this, some of the original group members never gambled again.

Two members, Jonathan and Massar, nonetheless, maintained an enthusiastic interest in card counting and chose to make Cambridge, MA, home to MIT, their permanent residence.

How did the group form

In November 1979, a proficient blackjack player contacted Massar. His intention was to convince Massar to form a new group to travel to Atlantic City. The mission of the new team was to take advantage of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission’s ruling.

The commission had held that it was illegal for Casinos in New Jersey to ban card counters in general. According to the commission, casinos could only ban individual players.

The new group (consisting of four players and an investor who invested $5000) travelled to Atlantic City in December 1979.

The group played continuously through May 1980 and multiplied the $5000 capital four-folds.

The MIT Blackjack Team played on and off after 1980, but interest faded as casino regulations, weakened management focus, and player fatigue, caused the group to lose key players and eventually stop playing.

A network of Blackjack card counters

In its entire course, The MIT Blackjack Team ran more than 20 partnerships for a decade, from 1979 to 1989. At least 70 players played on the team in a certain capacity (either as key players, card counters or as support staff) over the team’s course.

Surprisingly, every partnership was profitable during the entire course. With all expenses paid, the partnerships enjoyed returns ranging from 4 to over 300% per year.

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