There's a reason you're most likely to leave a casino with less than you started with: the games have a house edge. That is to say, the payouts to the various games are not equal to the odds. However, with a bit of practice and perseverance, you can find two games that will, in the long run, yield more than what you started with. These games have a negative house edge, and one of these games is blackjack. (Please see my article, How to Win at a Casino: Play Video Poker, for the second game.)
Although blackjack with card counting has a negative house edge when played correctly, bear in mind that this is not a guaranteed win. Much like how lucky players walk away with million dollar jackpots at slot machines with horribly high house edges, you can very well leave with nothing even though you may be at an advantage. Bet responsibly.
The most popular table casino game, blackjack, is often advertised as having one of the lowest house edges in the casino. However, that's not really the case if you don't play with a correct blackjack strategy, which is one of the reasons why casinos keep it. Tourists who are looking for the thrill of a table game will likely choose it for two reasons: the simple blackjack rules, and blackjack's wide availability. They will also earn the casino quite a bit of money since they lack knowledge of how to maximize earning potential. You, on the other hand, can know better.
It should be noted that the use of any device other than your brain for counting cards in blackjack is illegal. In addition, casinos have the right to kick anyone out for any reason, and card counting is often one of those reasons. I will tell you how to card count while minimizing your chance of being kicked out by casino security.
Blackjack is a game with many variants, so I will only outline the basic gameplay. Both the players and the dealer are dealt two cards, and the dealer shows one of his cards. The goal for the players is to get closer to 21 than the dealer without going over. Going over 21 is called "busting," and results in your loss. Aces may count as 1 or 11; hands where neither value would cause busting are known as "soft" hands (i.e. an Ace and a seven is soft 18, which means it can be 8 or 18). If you stand on a soft hand, the higher value is considered for evaluating win or loss.
To get to 21, players may either "hit" (take another card) or "stand" (stop taking cards). There are also special actions players may do, which depend on the rules of the table you play at:
- Double. On your first move, you may double your bet and receive one card, then be forced to stand. Although many tables allow you to double on any first two cards, some only allow doubling on certain hands.
- Split. If your first two cards are of equal value, you may split them and place another, equal bet on the second hand. Special rules are in place for aces, since they are the most likely cards to get 21. Although some casinos allow for you to play split aces, many force standing after the hand receives its second card.
- Surrender. Tables that offer surrender allow a player to take half of his bet back and forfeit the hand.
Players who are dealt 21 from the get-go (a blackjack) typically get 3:2, but some casinos have a lower payout of 6:5. The worst tables only pay 1:1 on blackjack.
In order to make any profit off of card counting in blackjack, players must follow what is known as Basic Blackjack Strategy. This strategy varies depending on the rules set of the game. You can likely find a card to buy at the gifts shop at the casino, or find one online. I recommend this Blackjack Strategy Calculator at Beating Bonuses for determining the strategy.
Also, you should only play at tables that offer 3:2 on blackjacks.
Unlike what you may think (or what Hollywood would have you think), card counting in blackjack is not about having a photographic memory and memorizing all the cards that have been dealt. Rather, the emphasis is on the count. Since a deck full of high cards makes you more likely to get high totals and the dealer more likely to bust, you will give cards different scores and add them up as you see them, keeping a running total in your mind that guides you on how to size your bets to increase your advantage.
There are various approaches to card counting in blackjack, and the basic rule you can use is that the more complicated the approach, the higher edge you will have. However, the risk of losing track of different, complicated counts, as well as trying to look nonchalant as you're maintaining these counts, can be difficult. Therefore, I'm more apt to advocate a simpler count. Although the player edge may be less, you're less likely to screw up and ruin the whole purpose of the count. Here are the steps to the method I prefer, typically called the Hi-Lo method:
- For every card 2-6, subtract 1 from your count.
- For every card 10-A, add 1 to your count.
- When the count is negative, reduce your bets.
- When the count is positive, increase your bets. Be careful never to jump your bets too high, or you may attract attention from security and be asked to leave. Keep your bet jumps less than double.
- Reset the count when the dealer shuffles.
To be successful counting cards in blackjack, you must simply remember three things:
- Employ basic strategy.
- Be attentive, and make sure you see when the dealer shuffles.
- Never attract unwanted attention -- reduce the chance of that happening by never increasing your bet by double or more.