It sounds kind of like a crazy question. Of course you can’t count cards when playing online blackjack as ever deal is determined by a random number generator, right? Well, kinda.
If you prefer a game of skill over a game of chance, blackjack may be one of your favorites at any casino. With blackjack, you can get a house edge under 0.50% (varies depending on the number of decks used and the house rules), which is one of the lowest in the casino.
What a lot of beginners do not realize about this house edge however is that it is contingent upon perfect play. As you know, the goal of blackjack is to make it closer to 21 than the dealer without busting. There is a way to maximize your chances of doing this, and if you are effective with the strategy, the blackjack house edge will stay under 0.50%. If however you are not an effective blackjack player, the real house edge will actually be higher.
What Is Blackjack Card Counting?
Card counting is a strategy which you can use while playing blackjack to determine whether the next hand is likely to give you the advantage or the dealer. It is sometimes also referred to as “card reading.”
There are a number of different card counting systems in existence, but the basic principle behind them is this: high cards—particularly tens and aces—are more beneficial to you than they are to the dealer. Low cards meanwhile—3s, 4s, 5s and 6s—are more beneficial to the dealer and tend to be disadvantageous to you as the player.
A major misunderstanding about card counting concerns memorization.
A lot of outsiders to card counting assume that you need to memorize the locations of specific cards and track them through play. This obviously would require incredible mental powers, so many people assume that card counting is impossible for them to learn. They ascribe an almost mystical quality to those who can carry it out. The origin of this myth appears to be the 1988 film Rain Man.
How card counting actually works is this:
- 1. You assign a point value to each card. This is an estimate of the value of the card.
- 2. You keep track of the sum of these point values. This is called a “running count.”
- 3. Using the running count, you calculate the count per deck, also called the “true count.”
- 4. You adjust your bets accordingly as play unfolds.
It does take time and effort to learn how to count cards effectively, but if you become really good at it, you can ensure that you take advantage of blackjack’s low house edge. In fact, if you are really good at it in a game with six decks you can actually get a 1% advantage over the casino. This can translate to excellent profits if you are able to play through a lot of hands quickly, even with a relatively small bankroll. With a larger bankroll, the sky is the limit.
So you might think, “Wow, online gambling presents an awesome opportunity for card counting. Nobody will be able to look at me and see that I am counting, and there will not be a time limit, so I will have as much time as I need. I can take notes and everything, and the casino will be none the wiser. I can totally clean out the house.”
It is certainly a nice thought … but reality is a bit more complicated. Let’s examine why.
Deck Penetration Gets In the Way—Usually
Card counting successfully in blackjack relies on good penetration.
“Penetration” refers to the percentage of the cards which are dealt before the deck is reshuffled. The higher the percentage, the more accurate your count will be. This is common sense. The more cards you are able to look at, the more accurate your estimation will be regarding what is left in the deck.
Online casinos are not going to offer you high penetration and the chance to sit there counting cards at a leisurely pace. However smart you are, the house is twenty steps ahead of you.
This is why the majority of online casinos are set up so that the deck will be reshuffled after every single hand. This means that penetration is ridiculously low, so it is impossible to get a strong running count.
Can You Use Software to Count Cards?
There are some online casinos which are have higher penetration than this. As you might guess, some savvy programmers have even written software to try and exploit this and run the numbers for you. Using that software, you can play through your hands with next to no effort; the software tells you the ideal play, you make it, and you profit.
But before you run off and download that software, a word of caution—online casinos which offer higher penetration blackjack are on the lookout for card counting, and have algorithms that help them to detect the use of such software. If they catch you, they will throw you out—and they will not let you back.
What About Counting Cards in Live Dealer Blackjack Games?
Now, when I say “higher” penetration, I still do not mean high penetration. For an example of this, we can look at live dealer games like those you can find at Live web cam casino Mybookie.
If you are not familiar with live dealer games, they are exactly what they sound like. You play at an online casino, but instead of a computer program dealing your cards, a real live person does it for you. A livestream is set up so that you can actually see and interact with her. So it is the same basic experience as playing at a brick-and-mortar casino, only you are doing so from the comfort of your home. You can read more about it here.
So live dealer blackjack online is a lot like offline blackjack. There is no software program continuously reshuffling the deck. So the penetration is better than you would typically find online—but still not great, as you will see.
There are three major disadvantages to live dealer blackjack online:
1. The pace is really slow.
Even if you were able to count cards effectively online, it would still be hard to make a profit unless you had a larger bankroll. Why? The games are really slow. Pulling in a reasonable hourly rate would be difficult as a result.
2. You are only allowed to bet on your own hand.
I am not sure whether this rule is universal or not, but it is common online to only be able to wager on your own hand. Offline, you have the chance to bet on other players’ hands if you detect they are doing well.
3. Penetration is still unreasonably low.
Again, this may not be universal, but it seems almost ubiquitous. Most live casinos have their dealers shuffling the shoe after they have dealt half of the decks. That means that if you are playing a six deck game, after just three decks the shoe will be reshuffled. If it is an eight deck game, after just four decks, the dealer will reshuffle, and so on. This gives you 50% penetration, which simply is not high enough to get an accurate count.
So even though there is a real shoe, a real dealer, and higher penetration at live dealer games online than there is with other online blackjack games, you still are not in a position to be profitable counting cards.
Blackjack Can Still Be Fun and Profitable (But card counting online isn’t going to work)
If you are super serious about making a living playing blackjack, you will do much better playing the game offline at land-based casinos. That said, you can still learn a lot playing blackjack online, and you can still have a lot of fun doing it. And even though you will never have the advantage over the house, you are still looking at one of the lowest house edges in the online casino. So if you enjoy strategy and want to maximize your chances of making money gambling online, blackjack remains an excellent choice!