The whole blackjack section of Gaming the Odds was written to help you to beat the game of blackjack -- the information on this page explains how to increase your profits from what they are now. Every blackjack gambler be aware of these tips for their financial.
Choose the Game with the Least Decks
The less decks are in the shoe, the better your chances of winning. Games with fewer decks have a higher expected value when you play according to basic strategy (which you should always do).
The higher your expected value, the less house edge you have to catch up by counting cards, so all other things being equal, the first of my blackjack tips is to choose the blackjack game with the least amount of decks.
You'll also run into more beneficial situations when playing with fewer decks since fluctuations in deck composition are more significant. Getting five low cards in a row increases your advantage way more in a single-deck game than it would in a multi-deck game. (A concept also known as Composition-Dependent Strategy.)
Go for High Deck Penetration
Deck penetration means the point where the dealer shuffles the deck. For example, an 80% deck penetration means the dealer shuffles the deck when 80% of it has been dealt.
The basic idea is that the higher the deck penetration, the more chances you'll get to make profit out of the deck. If the deck was shuffled after every hand, you'd have zero chances of making profit by counting cards, and the more cards the dealer is willing to deal until shuffling, the more your chances of winning increase.
Here is an example of the importance of penetration. You can get similar numbers yourself with Blackjack Count Analyzer. Your advantage is 4.8% or more at counts per deck of+8 or more. For one player at the table in a two-deck game, that count per deck occurs 0.7% of the time with 52-card penetration, 3% of the time with 76-card penetration, and 40/0 of the time with 82-card penetration. Stanford Wong, Blackjack Secrets
Leave Horrible Games
Every now and then a game becomes so so bad that the only smart thing to do is to look for another game. In other words, the good cards have already been dealt and the amount of bad cards in proportion to good cards is too high.
The dealer must operate on a margin of safety and therefore never deals the deck or shoe until the very end because it would be impossible to predict how many cards you, the dealer or other players in the game decide to hit.
Say you're in a 2-deck game, the other deck has already been dealt and your count is way below zero. You also know that the dealer is not going to deal the second deck as a whole -- for example, we can assume a deck penetration somewhere around 80%, so roughly speaking the dealer has about 30 cards left to deal and it seems unlikely that the count will become beneficial.
Therefore the third of my card counting tips is: when a deck has turned really bad, just leave the game to take a break or to join another game. Getting away from bad decks will surely increase your blackjack profits.
Make Cover Plays... But with Caution
With that said, sometimes you must knowingly make an unprofitable play in order to convince the casino staff that you don't know how to count cards. This is one of the card counting tips that you should take with caution since making too many bad plays knowingly will, of course, put a dent to your blackjack profits.
Bad plays that are made to knowingly fool the casino staff are called cover plays. If you're suspected of counting cards (and eventually you will be), your only hope is to give the impression that you're, in fact, not counting cards at all.
Card counters have different ways of making cover plays when they think they're being watched by the casino staff -- some make individual errors on purpose, others keep the same bet size regardless of the count and only play according to basic strategy.
Act As If You're a Recreational Player
I've seen and heard of aspiring card counters who undervalue the importance of acting. In reality, learning how to act like you're not counting cards is one of the most important card counting tips to learn since whether you'll be able to take an advantage of a game for a long enough time period depends on your acting skills.
Ken Uston -- one of the better known card counters -- used to act like he was drunk often when he played blackjack and got away with huge bet spreads. That's just one example but you're going to need some strategy to make it look like you're making uneducated decisions.
This is especially important if you only have a few casinos around. You need to be able to return to those casinos time and time again so make sure to develop a good "act" all the way from the beginning, otherwise you'll soon have no place to go for blackjack profits.
Never Take Insurance
Some casinos offer "insurance" as a side bet and you should never take it regardless of whether you have a strong or a weak hand. Many assume that it's better to take insurance with a strong hand which is a false assumption -- but then again, it makes little difference since you should never take insurance.
Count Cards Quickly
"You have got to be able to count cards quickly and you have got to be able to do it without moving your lips or doing anything else that gives away the fact that you are counting. You must be able to go through a deck of cards in less than 30 seconds, and it is possible to do it much faster." Stanford Wong, Blackjack Secrets
Anyone could count cards if all it took was knowing the theory. In reality, however, you need to learn how to do it in practice, and counting cards fast is one of the critical aspects that you need to master to win money at card counting.
Stanford Wong suggests that you take a deck of cards face up and start going through the cards one by one. As you can tell from the quote above, you should be able to count the whole deck in 30 seconds at most but preferably even faster.
Choose a simple and balanced card counting system like Hi-Lo and start counting. At the end of the count you should arrive at zero, and if you don't, you've made a mistake.
A less tedious way to learn how to count cards quickly would be to use software -- that would obviously eliminate the need to shuffle the deck, deal the cards, etc. A software could also deal the cards quicker than you, making the practice harder and therefore more effective at the same time.
Obviously there's no substitute for practicing card counting in general. Eventually you'll have to learn to automatically assign values to cards as they're dealt -- with single-level card counting systems, you can fairly easily just divide cards into groups: good cards (-1), bad cards (+1) and neutral cards (0).
With Hi-Lo Count, for example, you simply have to remember that 7, 8 and 9 are neutral cards which affect the count in no way (their value is zero) and all the cards below those are valued +1 while all the cards above those are valued -1 (aces belong to the group above those numbers). Doing the same with multi-level card counting systems is more complicated, of course, but you can apply the same idea to most simple systems, and it helps you to count cards quickly.
Updated: January 2, 2020.