It’s misunderstood by the general public, vilified by the casinos who consider it cheating, and absolutely necessary for professional blackjack players. Counting cards in blackjack is a skill, and this is what it entails:
Card counting represents an attempt by a blackjack player to follow what cards are no longer in play, and to thereby assess the value of the other cards that remain in the deck. These cards are still to come out of the shoe, and a professional blackjack player has a general idea as to whether those remaining cards will help or hinder him.
On a very basic level, the more high cards (Tens and Aces) left in the deck the better the odds are for the player winning. The more low cards (Twos through Sixes) left in the deck the worse the odds are for the player and the better they become for the blackjack dealer.
When the deck has plenty of Tens and Aces left the chances of being dealt a Blackjack increase. The dealer naturally has the same increased likelihood of drawing a Blackjack, but here is the crucial point: when a dealer gets a Blackjack the player loses 100% of his bet, but when a player gets a Blackjack he receives 150% of his bet, paid out at odds of 3:2. So, if you were to trade Blackjacks constantly with the house you would end up a big winner. The dealer is also constrained as to how he must play his hand. If he has 16 he must take a card. If a player has 16 and knows there are lots of Tens and Aces left to come he can stand and avoid going bust. The dealer is not as fortunate. Finally, a blackjack player can vary the size of his wager, and also has the option to double-down and split during a hand. By varying bets when the deck is favorable (increasing them), and taking defensive action when the deck is unfavorable (decreasing wagers to the minimum), the player increases his edge to the point where blackjack favors the good player more than it favors the house.
The only reason why blackjack card counters are banned from casinos and treated as criminals is that they have an advantage over the casino and will beat them in the long run. This is skill as opposed to cheating, and although card counting is by no means a way to get rich quick, on the contrary it is a grind and a long, hard way to make a buck, it is a noble and legitimate pursuit.
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