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by Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is editor of the Blackjack Insider Newsletter and author of Ultimate Guide to Blackjack ( The following appeared in a national magazine in the hopes that it would dispel the myths surrounding card counting.


Card counting has always intrigued the general public because of its classic David (the card counter) vs. Goliath (the casinos) aspect. Unfortunately, too many folks have the wrong idea about what card counting is and how it works. Misinformation about card counting has appeared in books, magazines, on the Internet, and even in movies. These myths have been passed along from one generation to the next and they hinder average players from learning how to win at blackjack. My aim in this article is to dispel some of these myths and set the record straight about what card counting is and what it isn't.

Myth: Card counting is illegal.

Who do you think propagates this myth? Unfortunately, some casinos do because they are afraid of losing money to card counters. The fact about the legality of card counting is this: There is no law in any state that prohibits a player from using his brains when playing blackjack. In other words, there is nothing unlawful about card counting. (What is illegal is using an electronic device, such as a concealed computer, to aid a player in card counting.)

Myth: You must have a photographic memory to be a card counter.

The general public believes that a card counter memorizes every card in the deck (just like Rain Man did in the movie). The fact is that card counters don't memorize every card. What they do is assign a "tag" to specific cards (like +1 or -1), and then add or subtract the tags as the cards appear on the layout. Card counting, in fact, requires nothing more than simple addition and subtraction (in some counting systems, a little division, too).

Myth: You've got to be a mathematical genius in order to be a card counter.

The movie "21" portrays card counting as an intellectually difficult task that can be learned only by top-level students with high IQs. Hogwash. If you have average intelligence (meaning you can read, write, and can mentally add and subtract), you can learn card counting.

Myth: Card counters win all the time.

Rain Man did. So did the MIT students. Don't believe everything you see and hear in the movies. The fact is that card counters have a small mathematical edge (roughly one-half to one percent) over the casino, and even though they will win more money than they lose over time, they certainly can't and won't win every time they play.

Myth: It's impossible to card count when the casinos use 6 and 8 decks of cards.

Isn't that what the casino security person said in the Rain Man movie? Yes he did, but it isn't true. Remember that card counting is nothing more than mentally adding plus cards and minus cards, and you can do that with 6 and 8 decks of cards as easily as you can with a single deck of cards.

Myth: You need a tremendous bankroll to be a card counter.

Not so. If your bankroll is meager, you just need to play at a lower minimum bet size. What is important is that you have enough bankroll in relation to your bet size to withstand short-term losing streaks (remember, you can't win every time you play).

Myth: It takes months to learn card counting.

This is true with traditional card-counting systems like Hi-Lo. But nowadays, there are simpler card-counting systems for casual players (e.g., Speed Count) that can be learned in roughly the same amount of time it takes to learn the basic playing strategy, and can give them a slight edge over the casino.

Myth: The casinos will kick you out if they catch you card counting.

Although it's true that in some gaming jurisdictions a casino can ask a card counter to stop playing blackjack (or tell him to leave the property), if you learn how to discreetly card count and not be greedy when it comes to winning, the chance that you will be "kicked out" is very slim.

Let me close with this personal comment: One of the best things that I ever did in my lifetime was to learn how to count cards, and I've never regretted doing so. Enough said.


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