How Hard is it to Count Cards?

Counting cards is a technique used by skilled blackjack players to gain an advantage over the casino. It involves keeping track of the cards that have been dealt and adjusting your bets and playing strategy accordingly. While it may sound like a simple concept, counting cards effectively requires a combination of skill, practice, and a deep understanding of the game. In this article, we will explore the intricacies of card counting and determine just how hard it is to master this technique.

The Basics of Card Counting

Before delving into the difficulty of card counting, it is important to understand the basic principles behind this strategy. Card counting primarily revolves around keeping track of the ratio of high cards (10s and Aces) to low cards (2s to 6s) that remain in the deck. The reason for this is that a deck rich in high cards is advantageous to the player, as it increases the probability of getting a blackjack or a hand close to 21, while a deck rich in low cards favors the dealer.

Card counting systems assign a value to each card. The most commonly used system is the Hi-Lo system, which assigns a value of +1 to low cards and -1 to high cards. The player keeps a running count of these values as the cards are dealt. A positive count indicates that there are more high cards remaining in the deck, while a negative count suggests the opposite. The player then adjusts their bets and playing decisions based on the count.

The Difficulty of Card Counting

While the concept of card counting may seem straightforward, executing it effectively in a casino environment is far from easy. Here are some factors that contribute to the difficulty of card counting:

  • Concentration: Card counting requires intense concentration and focus. Players must keep track of the running count, calculate the true count (running count divided by the number of decks remaining), and make quick decisions based on this information. Any lapse in concentration can lead to errors and costly mistakes.
  • Speed: In a casino, the pace of the game is fast. Dealers are trained to deal cards quickly, and players are expected to make their decisions promptly. Counting cards effectively requires the ability to maintain accuracy and speed simultaneously.
  • Distractions: Casinos are designed to be visually and audibly stimulating, with bright lights, loud noises, and attractive waitresses. These distractions can make it challenging for players to maintain their focus and keep track of the cards.
  • Heat from the Casino: Casinos are not fond of card counters, as they can significantly reduce the house edge. Skilled card counters may attract unwanted attention from casino personnel, who may employ countermeasures such as shuffling the deck more frequently or even banning players suspected of counting cards.

Given these challenges, it is evident that card counting is not a skill that can be acquired overnight. It requires hours of practice, both at home and in a casino environment, to develop the necessary skills and instincts.

Success Stories and Case Studies

While card counting may be difficult, there have been notable success stories of individuals who have mastered this technique and made significant profits. One such example is the famous MIT Blackjack Team, a group of students and ex-students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who successfully employed card counting techniques to win millions of dollars from casinos in the 1980s and 1990s.

The team, led by Bill Kaplan, used a sophisticated card counting and team play strategy to beat the casinos. They would send in members to different tables, with each member counting cards and signaling the “big player” when the count became favorable. The big player would then join the table and place large bets. This collaborative approach allowed the team to minimize the risk of detection and maximize their profits.

Another notable success story is that of Edward Thorp, a mathematics professor who wrote the groundbreaking book “Beat the Dealer” in 1962. Thorp’s book introduced the concept of card counting to the general public and provided a mathematical framework for analyzing blackjack. His work laid the foundation for future card counting systems and inspired countless individuals to try their hand at beating the casinos.

Before attempting to count cards, it is essential to understand the legal and ethical implications of this technique. While card counting itself is not illegal, casinos have the right to refuse service to anyone they suspect of counting cards. In some jurisdictions, using electronic devices or employing a team to count cards may be considered illegal.

From an ethical standpoint, some argue that card counting is unfair, as it gives players an advantage over the casino. However, others argue that since card counting is a skill that can be learned by anyone, it is a legitimate strategy to employ. Ultimately, the legality and ethics of card counting vary depending on the jurisdiction and personal beliefs.


Counting cards is undoubtedly a challenging skill to master. It requires a combination of concentration, speed, and the ability to handle distractions. While success stories like the MIT Blackjack Team and Edward Thorp demonstrate that it is possible to beat the casinos using card counting, it is important to remember that these individuals dedicated significant time and effort to develop their skills.

If you are considering trying your hand at card counting, be prepared for a long and arduous journey. Practice extensively, study different card counting systems, and familiarize yourself with the rules and strategies of blackjack. Remember, success in card counting is not guaranteed, and it is crucial to approach gambling responsibly and within your means.


1. Is card counting illegal?

No, card counting itself is not illegal. However, casinos have the right to refuse service to anyone they suspect of counting cards. In some jurisdictions, using electronic devices or employing a team to count cards may be considered illegal.

2. Can anyone learn to count cards?

Yes, anyone can learn to count cards with enough practice and dedication. However, it is important to note that not everyone will be successful in implementing this technique effectively in a casino environment.

3. How long does it take to become proficient at card counting?

The time it takes to become proficient at card counting varies from person to person. It depends on factors such as the individual’s aptitude for numbers, their ability to concentrate, and the amount of time they dedicate to practice. Generally, it can take several months to a year of consistent practice to become proficient.

While card counting itself is not illegal, casinos have the right to refuse service to card counters. The legality of using electronic devices or employing a team to count cards may vary depending on the jurisdiction. From an ethical

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