Learning the techniques of card counting (meaning, accurately keeping track of the cards as they are played out) can be mastered by most serious players. Yet, most counters often fail to become successful because of one (or more) of the following blunders:


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve observed this happen to fledging (and even experienced) card counters. They sit down at a $25 minimum blackjack table with a $250 session bankroll and expect to win hundreds of dollars every time. If you don’t know how many sessions and long-term bankroll you should have for your betting level, to minimize the risk of going broke, you are making a big mistake. I’ve yet to meet a successful card counter who doesn’t know about risk-of-ruin and doesn’t have an adequate bankroll. (An experienced card counter told me nearly 50 years ago that to be successful at card counting your needed “B&B.” When I asked what that meant, he wryly responded, “Brains and a Bankroll.”)

Card counters' calculation


I’ve seen counters play six- and eight-deck games with only a 1 to 4 unit bet spread. I’ve seen others play casino games with a terrible mix of playing rules, such as no doubling after pair splitting, no soft doubling, and dealer hitting soft 17. Likewise, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed counters playing a multi-deck game where the cut-card penetration was, at best, 50%. You must have a good mix of playing rules and acceptable penetration to gain a respectable edge on the game.


Many counters can’t come to grips with pushing out a big bet when they have their maximum edge. The reason: a player’s emotional bankroll has been exceeded. I’ve seen players break out into a sweat with hands shaking when making a max bet. You must make those big bets regardless of whether you are having a losing session or any other excuse you can think of.  You can never be successful at card counting if you don’t adhere to the bet spread designed for your card counting system. You will have losing sessions (plenty of them) when you card count but successful counters understand that today’s score means nothing because card counting is a lifetime journey.


Two issues here doom counters. The first is that card counting requires concentration, and the longer you play, the more likely you are to make mistakes that can wipe out the small edge you have. The second issue is the preservation of your longevity. When a counter sits at the same table for a long period of time it gives the casino ample time to evaluate his or her skill level. This is something that you, as a card counter, want to avoid, so adhere to the principle of playing short sessions to keep under the casinos’ radar.


Most card counters will look intently at the cards being dealt, never show any emotion when they lose a hand, and never talk to the casino dealer or a fellow player. Your best cover is to look and play like a typical gambler. Learn to talk to your fellow players and the dealer while keeping the count, whoop it up when you win a hand, congratulate the brilliant play made by the third base player that resulted in the dealer’s busting, talk about how unlucky you were to lose a hand with a big bet, and while you’re playing, go ahead and make a modest tip bet for the dealer on your hand once or twice each hour. Emulating the play of the majority of (losing) blackjack players is the best cover for a counter.

Blackjack table with flying numbers


Casinos want and like losers. If you are having a rough session and losing, don’t try to bet more or play longer to get “even.”  Go ahead and book the loss, making sure you let the casino bosses within earshot know that you were just unlucky, again (booking a loss will give the perception to them that you are a loser).  (Remember what I wrote earlier: blackjack is a lifetime endeavor so you’ll have plenty of opportunity going forward to recoup your losses.)


This may seem corny, but trust me, it isn’t. Ever see a professional baseball player (or any professional sport) play his best if he parties all night the day before a big game? Keeping track of the cards as they are dealt in a casino environment requires concentration. You need to be well rested to be able to maintain your concentration during a session, period; otherwise, I guarantee you will be making costly mistakes in either your count, how much you bet, the play of your hand, or all of the above.

You can find more tips on card counting, how to disguise your skills, and what countermeasures the casino may take when they suspect someone is card counting by reading Chapters 10.11 and 10.12 in my Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide.

About the Author

Henry Tamburin is one of world’s most respected blackjack experts and a world-class player. He is the author of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide, and Blackjack: Take The Money and Run. He edited the monthly Blackjack Insider Newsletter, and was a featured blackjack columnist for Casino Player magazine, Midwest Gaming and Travel magazine, Gaming South magazine, Southern Gaming magazine, New England Gaming News, Jackpot, Bingo Bugle, and Casino City Times.