Recalling card counting's history is a difficult task, as the practice has a somewhat blurry history. There is an accepted father to it -- that being American mathematician Dr. Edward O. Thorp -- but even before his 1962 book Beat the Dealer went mainstream, folks in Las Vegas and elsewhere had figured out that a little mental math could help them cheat the blackjack system.
Since Thorp began spreading the word, players such as Ken Uston have gone on to receive mass publicity for their parts in successful blackjack teams. More recently, MIT grad Jeffrey Ma earned himself a place in the national spotlight as a member of a successful blackjack team portrayed in the Hollywood blockbuster 21.
Card counting is actually a fairly simple endeavor -- the tricky part is being able to execute the strategy amid all the bells and whistles of a real casino. The premise is this: high cards (10, J, Q, K, A) are all more beneficial to the player than the casino, and the opposite is true for low cards (2, 3, 4, 5, 6), which are all more likely to lead to dealer victories.
The goal is for players to identify when a deck is hot, or loaded with high cards. To do this, players keep a simple count in their head for every card that's turned over. Low cards will count as a plus-1 in a players' mind, while high cards will count as a minus-1 and middle cards (7, 8, 9) count as zeros. When the count becomes especially negative, players should begin gambling more money and expect more victories.
There are a number of complicated variations on this. Some strategies prefer to count 2s as zeros, while some add points for 7s or subtract two points for 10s, Js, Qs and Ks. Players could also use a "backcounting" strategy, where instead of counting while they play, they hover behind tables, keep a count and only begin playing when the deck seems favorable.
While it's easier to count cards and make money when working as a team, it's not necessary. With practice, a player can learn to keep an accurate count in his or her head and react accordingly at the table. Given enough preparation, anybody should be able to keep a count at a standard 6-deck table and cheat the system into some extra winnings.
Players need to be careful, though. While counting cards isn't illegal, it is frowned upon by casinos, and those casinos have the right to eject players they identify as card counters. While the "backcounting" strategy sounds nice in theory, it's an easy way for players to get noticed and caught.
Another note is that card counting won't work at your favorite online casino. Unlike their brick and mortar brethren, online casinos can simply reshuffle the entire virtual deck between every hand, meaning every hand is completely random. There aren't any hand-to-hand patterns with online blackjack dealers, meaning counting would be a worthless task.
For more ways to win the game, check out our way of beating the Blackjack dealers.