# How Does Card Counting Work?

Counting Cards Explained

Until now, most of what I've written about blackjack strategy has been written for beginners. Today I want to get into some more advanced blackjack strategy, but this is still aimed at beginners. This post is about how card counting works.

The first thing you should understand about counting cards is that you don't have to be a genius in order to count cards. It doesn't require exceptional memorization skills at all, in fact. You do need to be able to concentrate in stressful situations though.

In a game of blackjack, a player wins more money when he's dealt a natural 21. Those bets pay out at 3 to 2 instead of even odds. Certain cards make getting a natural more likely, while all the other cards make getting a natural less likely. The only way for a player to get dealt a natural is to receive an ace and a ten, so those two cards are the most important cards in the deck.

Card counters track how many aces and tens have been dealt out of the deck already. The fewer aces and tens are left in the deck, the less likely it is that you'll be dealt a natural, so you should bet less in those situations.

On the other hand, lower value cards make it more likely that a player will be dealt a "stiff" hand. That's a hand that's likely to bust. Since the players bust before the dealer makes her playing decisions, having a higher likelihood of busting is bad for the player. In a deck with a lot of low-value cards, like twos, threes, fours, fives, and sixes, players should bet less.

This might sound confusing, but think about it from this perspective. If you took all of the cards out of a blackjack deck except for the tens and the aces, would you want to bet more money? Of course you would--your chances of getting a blackjack have increased tremendously.

On the other hand, if you took all of the tens and aces out of the deck, it would be impossible to get a natural. You wouldn't even want to play in such a game.

But what's important when counting cards is the RATIO of high cards to low cards, and that's what card counters track. And they do it a surprisingly simple way.

All of the low-value cards are given a value of +1. All of the high-value cards are given a value of -1. The counter keeps a running total based on this. When this total gets higher, then the counter bets more, in anticipation of the big payout on the blackjack. When this total gets low, then the counter bets the minimum, in order to minimize his losses when the deck isn't favorable.

All card counting systems use a variation of this technique. They might apply different values to different cards, but they all work according to the same principle--betting more when the deck is heavy with aces and tens, while betting less when the deck isn't.