I’ve been writing game analysis, gambling strategies and casino news for more than a decade now. I can’t even begin to estimate how many people I know in my personal life who’ve asked me, “Can you teach me to count cards in blackjack?” They seem to think I’m a magician with magical powers to win, and teach others to win, at the casino.
Does blackjack card counting work? Yes. Can it really give players an advantage over the house? Yes. Will it guarantee you a profit? Absolutely not! There are never any guarantees in gambling.
As for whether card counting is an effective strategy, that depends on your idea of ‘effective’, and just how long you intend to sit at the table to witness those ‘effects’. Blackjack is not like other casino games, where a single lucky play can afford a big jackpot.
Any genuine blackjack pro will tell you the game is a grind. You have to play very long hours to gain an edge and make a decent profit. And that profit will only be around 10% to 15% of their starting bankroll. For a good player, that’s a great day on the felt.
The true value of card counting in blackjack is calculated at about 0.5%. That’s the advantage counting cards will give you over the house if you do it properly, and combine it with a strict play-by-play strategy.
The best blackjack games have a return to player (RTP) of around 99.5%, with perfect strategy. That leaves the casino with a house edge of 0.5%, which is all they need to guarantee they will always win in the long run. But by counting cards successfully, the player can eliminate the house edge, generating an RTP of 100.5%.
That 0.5% isn’t the type of advantage that will make anyone rich, unless they’re rich to begin with. Think about it. If you have $500 to play with, and are posting $5 bets, after 200 hands you can expect to increase your bankroll from $500 to $505. Placing $20 bets for 200 hands would, theoretically, increase your bankroll to $520.
200 hands is an awful lot of time to invest for a profit equal to your bet size. You would have to wager $100 per hand to (theoretically) win $100 after 200 hands. And with a bankroll of $500, that’s a huge risk. Variance exists in every gambling strategy. A few straight losses and your $500 is down the drain.
If you count correctly, and increase/decrease your bet size at just the right moments, you can increase the profit rate. But again, variance can be a killer. The long term player, grinding hour after hour, day after day, is the only one who’s going to generate a decent profit.
Pros that claim to have made hundreds of thousands of dollars counting cards in blackjack only got that far because they had huge bankrolls to begin with. Most of them are part of a bigger team of savants who stake out the tables, and are backed by investors who supply those lofty bankrolls. Many of them have been banned from major casinos all over the world, too.
At that point, when their face is so recognizable no casino will take them, they either become investors for new teams, or write books to supplement that income. If you’ve ever searched for blackjack strategy books on Amazon, you’ll see just how many card counters have taken this route. And therein lies the other true value of blackjack card counting. It sells books!
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