The Methodology Behind Counting Cards in Poker

counting cards poker image
Counting Cards. Image Credit: Shutterstock

While card counting in poker is not illegal, this strategy is often frowned upon by casinos for giving an unfair advantage to the players using it. 

Card counting has been a strategy employed by poker players to increase their chances of winning.  The question is, is card counting in poker illegal? Counting cards in poker is condoned since it is not done to gain an unfair advantage against the house. Since poker games are exclusively played against other players, casinos have no issue with counting cards during poker hands.

What is a Running Count?

A running count is how most players begin to formulate a poker strategy. Keeping a running count helps you to develop a sense of which cards are used during a game. To keep a running count, cards two to six are always valued at +1. Cards seven to nine are neutral, so they count as zero. Aces and face cards are counted as -1.

To become proficient in keeping a running count, you need a lot of practice. Begin with a deck of cards and flip them over one at a time to practice keeping the count. Most experts estimate that you should be able to count down a card deck within 30 seconds.

Difference Between True and Running Counts

The running count is the ranking, and the cards count within a deck of cards. But to bet effectively in poker, you need to convert the running count into a true count. For example, if you are playing with six decks, and the running count is ten, your true count with five decks undealt would be +2.

Playing any game with a single deck is more challenging to count than through multiple decks. When you count using a single deck, your true count will be a fraction, which is often more challenging to keep track of than a whole number.

Counting Cards with Distractions

Once you have mastered the true and running counts, it’s essential to learn to maintain a true count with distractions. Casinos often distract their clients with different sights and sounds, like loud music playing in the background. The slot machines are also noisy and have flashing lights that distract people, and alcohol flows freely at casinos.

To combat the constant distractions, a casino can throw at you, practice card counting and keeping track amidst distractions. You could train in areas with continuous lights and sounds, such as restaurants. With practice, you should master counting cards without letting other players know what you’re doing.

What is a Bet Spread?

To become a proficient card counter, you need to practice bet spreads to know when to bet a lot of money and when to bet less. The difference between small bets and large bets is the bet spread. The trick with a bet spread is to ensure that your spread doesn’t tip off a dealer that you are counting cards.

Dealers are likely to become suspicious if their bet spread is greater than eight. For example, if you are willing to bet CA$100 on good hands and CA$10 on bad hands, your bet spread is 10:1, which is a little high. Most gambling experts agree that if the bet spread is larger than eight, you may raise suspicion—the larger your bet spread, the bigger the profit but with higher suspicion from the dealer. You could work on increasing your bet spread gradually, which would generate less suspicion.

How to Select a Good Table?

Any game you pick to count cards must consist of two crucial components. Firstly, the bet spread at that table should be within eight, as discussed above. If it appears the bet spread is larger than eight, this table may not be the optimal spot from which you would want to begin play.

Secondly, you need to evaluate the penetration of the card decks to ensure that a high percentage of cards are being dealt in each hand. Some casinos allow a dealer only to deal three out of six decks to ensure that the count doesn’t get too high. The higher the deck penetration, the better your winning odds.