Card counting in Blackjack has been portrayed in movies like Rain Man and The Hangover to be an impenetrably complex mathematical feat, something which requires the memory of an elephant and the calculating power of a supercomputer. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. The only mathematical skills you need to start counting cards are adding and subtracting. Once you’ve learned the method, you need only to practice until it becomes second nature. Camouflaging and otherwise not attracting attention from the pit boss are skills you will need to develop, but that is separate from actually counting cards.
Legendary Blackjack player Arnold Snyder devised what he calls the Red Seven Count, a strategy that captures most of the power of much more complicated schemes, but is very easy to learn. In card counting, every card value gets a number. The Red Seven Count assigns them thus:
- Tens, face cards, and aces: +1
- Twos through sixes: -1
- Red sevens: +1
- Black sevens, and all eights and nines: 0
- Every deck starts at -2, so two decks start at -4, and so on
Start with a single freshly shuffled deck, and the count of -2. Now flip one card over at a time, calling out the values as you go. Once you make no mistakes, try silently saying the values to yourself and adding and subtracting them as you go. If you do it correctly, you should end up with a count of 0. If you don’t get 0, you messed up somewhere. Do it again.
In fact, do it again and again and again. Practice until you can count down a 52-card deck in 25 seconds or less. One satisfying way to see if you’re on the right track is to stop when you have one card not overturned. If the count is 0, then you know it’s a black seven, an eight, or a nine. If the count is 1, you know it’s an ace or 10-value card. If it’s -1, then you know it’s a low-value card.
How to apply this in the casino environment is to step up your bet when the count is above 0. That’s because there is a surfeit of 10s and aces in the deck at that point, which is the optimal situation for the Blackjack player.