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6 Reasons Why Counting Cards Isn’t a Great Strategy

Popularised in such movies as 21, where a team of MIT students trained specifically to count cards and bring down the house, card counting could prove more glamor than substance in real-world scenarios.

Even learning how to do it can prove the biggest obstacle. Finding somewhere to showcase your skills without arousing suspicion can be an even bigger deal. The negatives vastly outweigh the positives, especially with so much security technology available to casinos nowadays. There are so many more straightforward, more profitable methods of beating the house at blackjack that card counting shouldn’t even enter your thoughts. Here are six specific reasons why.

Reason 1: Card Counting is Close to Impossible to Master

We already referred to the movie 21 and how a team of MIT students decided that card counting was a great way to earn some extra cash. That’s not Hollywood special effects. You really do need that level of mathematical proficiency and commitment to stand any chance of making card counting work.

There are numerous steps to learning all about blackjack, let alone how to count cards at the same time. Suitable tables are limited, so you need to know all about the different variants to stand any chance of finding a game. From there, you need to memorize the basic strategy. Card counting doesn’t work online, so you’ll be doing it in person. Croupiers don’t take kindly to players constantly referring to cheat sheets and references, so all that has to come off the top of your head.

Even serious blackjack players might struggle to memorize everything, and that’s before you’ve even learned how to count cards. When you do, you’ll need to be able to keep a count, make decisions based on fractions, change your strategy on the fly and work out how much to bet on any given hand.

It’s a lot to juggle simultaneously, especially when compared to potential returns.

Reason 2: You Have to Be Really Selective With Your Choice of Game

Even once you’ve mastered the strategy, you can’t just sit down at any table with an open seat and start counting. There’s a reason why many card counters operate in groups. They need eyes on multiple tables simultaneously to work out which one might be suitable for the strategy.

Casinos go out of their way to undermine card counting too. Most games are designed so that the house always wins, at least eventually. The rules make it so that card counting is either next to impossible or vastly unprofitable. They might change the value of hitting blackjack or use a unique way of positioning cards in the shoe between shuffles. Even the slightest tweak to how a game plays out can render card counting strategies worthless.

Reason 3: It’s Hard in Practice – It’s Even Harder Under Pressure

Most skills can be learned in private, and card counting is no different. However, when you’re alone, you have the benefit of time, no pressure at all, and mistakes don’t matter.

The real deal can be a different story.

Casinos are unlike any other place on earth. They’re packed with distractions, even for those playing fairly. The myriad of calculations needed for card counting is complicated with peace and quiet. But, with background noise, ringing slots, chattering patrons, and all sorts of other interruptions, it becomes highly taxing.

Losing the count at any point renders the rest of the shoe worthless. A player that decides to stop playing until the next shoe raises major red flags with casino employees, most of whom are specifically trained to spot counters from a mile away.

Reason 4: You Can’t Beat Random Luck

Short of seeing through the back of cards with x-ray vision, there’s no such thing as a sure bet in the casino, even with a successful count. Of course, counting can swing the odds in your favor, but it’s impossible to ignore the random chance associated with any card game.

Some experienced counters play for hours on end – a luxury in itself, given that being accused of cheating will quickly get anyone thrown out of a casino. Many ultimately turn a profit, such is the nature of the system. However, it’s an edge, not a guarantee. An estimated one in six counters will still fall behind after 500 hours of play.

Another reason why casinos like to root out counters as quickly as possible is that successful counting takes time. It’s a luxury that most counters don’t have, given that the house is against them in more ways than one.

It can require tens of thousands of hands played before even a veteran card counter can be confident that their bankroll has pulled ahead.

It’s essential not to underestimate the psychological impacts of losing streaks too. Many gamblers get into the habit of chasing losses. Even the most confident card counters can’t ignore falling behind. When there’s so much going on in their minds already, an additional, personal distraction is the last thing someone needs when attempting to pull off a complex strategy.

Reason 5: You’ll Eventually Get Found Out

Getting caught is all but inevitable. There are so many different factors working against card counters that it is impossible to plan for any kind of longevity at the tables.

No matter which casino you enter anywhere in the world, if players can enjoy shoe-based card games, there’s every chance that someone in the building is trying to count cards. Entire teams of people are trying to catch them in the act.

Don’t assume that croupiers are there just to deal cards. They’re the public-facing part of the casino and their first defense line against anyone who isn’t playing by the rules. New dealers have been trained on the warning signs, and experienced ones have seen it all before. So they can tell when something isn’t right.

Knowing those warning signs isn’t enough. Some things are impossible to avoid when counting. Someone alone, deep in concentration and refusing every offer of alcohol, is enough to raise suspicion. However, when counting cards, players don’t have the mental capacity to hold a conversation simultaneously, let alone attempt complicated mental gymnastics while under the influence!

Casinos are less ‘not in my house’ when it comes to card counting and more ‘not in my industry’. Being branded a card counter involves more than having your name added to a list and distributed around the local area. Unless you’ve managed to perfect card counting from a bathroom stall, you have high-definition cameras focused on you at all times. Those images are added to databases used by casinos far and wide.

Getting caught once can make the already tricky task of finding a suitable table next to impossible, rendering your hard-earned knowledge useless.

Reason 6: It’s Simply Not All That Profitable

With all the challenges covered already, it would be reasonable to think that card counting is the key to untold riches, right? Wrong. Without going too deep into the mathematics behind it, card counting with even a maximum bet of $100 can often result in making a few hundred more at most over a span of several hours.

In practice, card counting usually pays just under the same as flipping burgers every day. Sure, it might be a more pleasant working environment, but it’s vital to consider that the rate is only available while playing. Traveling to and from casinos, scoping out the perfect tables to hit, and working out profit and loss after each session are all voluntary yet essential jobs.

Factor in that most card counters can expect to play for a couple of hours at most each session, and the lack of profitability can make anyone wonder whether it’s worth the effort. After all, that’s the part where Hollywood often decides to use some creative license in the movies.

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