Plus One, Minus One—Card Counting Explained

There are many myths associated with card counting and blackjack. Some are associated with cad counting in casinos. Others are associated with learning this blackjack strategy:

You have to have a photographic memory.
You can’t count into a six deck shoe.
You have to be highly intelligent to count.

The truth is that these are all false.

You do not have to have a photographic memory.
You can count into a six deck shoe.
You don’t have to be highly intelligent to count.

Basic card counting is a simple skill to learn. It does take a lot of practice to get to the point that you don’t alert casino employees that you’re counting. But first you have to learn. And so many players are intimidated by this skill—perhaps after hearing of the legendary MIT blackjack team or seeing Dustin Hoffman in ‘Rain Man.’

About those two: 1. The MIT students were not operating as individuals, hence ‘team,’ and 2. Dustin Hoffman was playing an autistic man whose mind didn’t operate like yours and mine does. Because of those and other media representations, cad counting has taken on this reputation as a difficult skill to learn.

But don’t worry. There are many seasoned blackjack players out there. Think about it, if this skill could only be used by a handful of blackjack players casinos wouldn’t feel threatened by it.

The point is that card counting is as easy as elementary arithmetic.

Card counters assign values, sometimes called tags, to cards. In the most basic and easiest system to learn, tags are assigned as such: 2-6 are plus 1, 7-9 are neutral and have no value, and 10-Ace are minus 1.

Now for the basic math:

You have been dealt a 6 and a 4. Both of those are plus 1, so you add +1 to +1 to equal +2. You hit and are dealt a 10. A 10 has a tag of -1. Add that to your +2 to equal +1. It looks like this:

6, 4 and 10 becomes +1, +1, -1 = +1

It’s like the basic adding and subtracting of positive and negative numbers you did in elementary school. Card counting is that easy. You simply add or subtract the tags of your cards, other players’ cards and the dealer’s cards.

But then what do you do?

Keep an eye out for Plus One, Minus One—Card Counting Explained Part II