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How to Count Cards in Poker? Tricks & Tips Explained

In the casino business, card counting is one of the most controversial game strategies being used. The practice of counting cards first emerged in 1962, when Edward O. Thorp, an American mathematician, developed this trick in a blackjack game. Today, card counting is more popular in the poker game. It helps players in determining how the next hand could be of an advantage to them. Card counting is also used to find out whether the hand has a probable advantage for the dealer. In 2020, there are millions of card counters among professional gamblers in the world. These people play to their advantage and attempt to make maximum profits on every game. They use card counting as a practical strategy to challenge the casino house or the poker room by enjoying a winning streak. Based on the tally of high and low value cards, card counting helps a poker player bet more when the count favors or avoids losses when the count is unfavorable. Card counting enables the players to alter their decisions based on how the remaining cards are composed. In mainstream poker culture, card counting is also popular as card reading. It is observed as a counting system where the player obtains a sufficient count on the number or distributes the count to locate the high-card. Trick-taking games such as poker are the best games to count cards and optimize the winning.

How Counting Cards Work?

How Counting Cards Work

Professional poker players have mastered the practice of counting cards. Several online poker forums explain how to count cards. There’s no particular way to count cards at poker. And, it is not similar to the way players count cards at a blackjack game. The cards are shuffled after every hand of the poker game. So, the card count in hand does not determine what’s going to happen next. Card counting in poker is more or less the practice of the art of count outs, wherein you learn how to count cards that can make you win the game.

Counting outs in poker involves calculating the unseen hands and the hands with the winning potential and comparing them. Let’s say a player is on the run with a flush draw, wondering whether it is wise to hit a flush on the river right now. There are 52 cards in a standard deck, 13 cards of each suit – diamonds, spades, hearts, and clubs. On a flush draw, the player has four cards of the same suit. This means that there are nine cards of that suit remaining to be dealt with. The player needs to hit one more of the remaining nine cards to complete the flush. When the turn comes, the player has already seen the two cards in hand and the four cards on the board. Now, there are 46 cards to be seen before hitting the right card.

To count cards in poker, a simple calculation needs to be done. The 9 remaining cards out of the 46 give a 20% chance to hit the flush on the river. (9 divided by 46 is 0.20). This calculation works for the most popular format of poker, the Texas Hold’em game. In Texas Hold’em poker, it is important to avoid double-counting the outs. That is something every player must remember when they learn how to count cards in poker.

In the above example, let’s consider that the player has 6 and 5 hearts in hand, and there are two more hearts on the board, which has 2-7-8-J. The player can either make a flush draw or a straight draw. There are 46 unseen cards, which makes nine flush outs. With all the fours and nines combined, it makes eight straight outs. The Nine outs, when added with the eight outs, give the count of having 17 outs combined. However, it is important to remember that two of the straight outs are also flush outs. The 4 of hearts and the 9 of hearts are applicable for a flush draw and a straight draw. This means that the player needs to subtract these two from the total outs and avoid the double-count, leaving the final card out with 15 outs.

This increases the probability of winning and helps the player get the best card out at the draw. In poker, this probability is called pot equity. It is the portion of the pot that could be yours based on the percentage or likelihood of you winning the hand at some point in time. Pot equity is technically the percentage of the time you win a hand.

What is Back-counting?

While learning how to count cards in poker, it is important to master the back-counting tricks. Popularly known as wonging, back counting in poker consists of standing behind the players at the table and counting the cards being dealt with them. Proposed by Stanford Wong, the idea of back-counting allows the player to understand how the hand of other players will change in the next round.

In back counting, the player enters the game when the count reaches an advantage for the player. Then, the bets can be raised if the advantage keeps increasing. Similarly, the bets can be lowered if the advantage goes down. Back-counters consider placing a flat-bet. Once they enter the game, they only bet the same amount. Others will stay till the game is shuffled at the table, while some may leave if the count reaches a level of no advantage for them.

Advantages:

  • It is a traditional form of card counting, and the players do not need to play every hand they see
  • The players do not play hands with no statistical advantage
  • The total advantage of the players increases with every hand
  • The players do not change their bet size, which saves them from losses
  • Variations in bet size help casinos are detecting card counters, but this threat is eliminated with back-counting

Disadvantages:

  • The player may frequent less at the table, long enough to earn complimentary from the casino
  • Some players may get irritated with others who may have “superstitiously” interrupted the flow of back-counting 
  • The running count could become negative if the card composition turns unfavorable at the last hand
  • Many players may use up fewer cards per hand
  • if the advantage slips in the middle of the game, the running count of favorable cards gets used negatively 
  • If the player attracts unwanted attention from poker personnel, other back-counters may get busted

Card Counting in Poker – Advantages

Card Counting in Poker Advantages

Like back counting, card counting in poker also has various advantages to it. There are several ways a card counter can apply a counting system to their advantage.

  • Shortcuts: It may take time for individuals to become better in this practice, but things become exciting ever since the first time you count cards at a poker game. While counting cards individually at every card, there are some shortcuts. These tricks work based on the type of hand the player holds. The shortcut running count for a flush draw is 9 outs, and for an open-ended straight draw is 8 outs. Together, they have 15 outs. The gutshot straight draw has a running count of 4 outs, while 2 overcards and 1 overcard running count is 6 outs and 3 outs, respectively. The bottom pair has 5 outs or 2pair per trip. Memorizing this list helps the players avoid spending time calculating. 
  • The Rule of Four and Two: After knowing the number of outs, the pot equity can be established. Poker card counting allows players to calculate the exact pot equity. It tells the likelihood of winning the hand and raking the pot. With a simple rule, pot equity can be calculated. This rule is called “the rule of 4 and 2,” and it works perfectly on the flop and turns. It is not to be used at a pre-flop or when there are no cards to add on the river. On the flop, multiply the number of outs by four and calculate pot equity. In turn, multiply the number of outs by two for calculating the pot equity. In the previous example, the player had around 12 outs. Hence, the pot equity can be calculated by multiplying 12 by 4 at the time of the flop. As a result, there is an estimated 48% chance of hitting the flush card. 
  • Easy Counting: There is significant misinformation that poker card counting is difficult. While the practice is not that easy, there are still different ways to learn how to count cards. At the same time, people good in maths can find this practice quite easy. It is similar to counting things with value, and all it takes is the practice to excel in poker card counting. Some players may find it difficult due to lack of practice, while some may experience considerable improvement with every game or practice session.
  • Better Understanding of The Deck: Like blackjack, players need to understand the composition of the deck in poker. A card counter must be able to determine the value of hole cards at the table. This practice determines if the deck is abundant in high cards or low cards. When it has more high cards, the player is at an advantage.
  • Exciting Practice: Poker card counting is a lot more exciting than blackjack card counting. There are more players in the poker game compared to blackjack. And, the table is always hot with bets and raises. At the blackjack table, the potential victory comes at the end of the deck. In poker, card counters can bring in the win within a few hands. 
  • Strategized Counting: In poker, high cards are lucrative for the win. If the running count is rich in low cards, then the player may strategize to lower the bets on the hands and wait for the right time for a high card to show up.
  • Online Advantage: Online poker rooms are the best places to practice card counting. They can allow players to make small bets and count cards in a focused manner. There is no chance of getting caught at the online platforms. The count in your head can be written down to keep track, which makes winning on every hand quite possible. Online poker rooms also allow players to play in free mode and practice card counting as long as they like. There is no distraction of casinos, and a cocktail waitress or a free drink would not be in the way of counting cards. Professional card counters can make millions online as they get to stay away from alcohol, which is a big problem for their counting abilities.

The foremost advantage of poker card counting is the high probability of winning the game. Unlike blackjack, poker has a more predictable deck. The card counting involved in blackjack or other casino games is riskier. But, a good strategy in poker card counting can guarantee a win, regardless of the luck. Many players believe card counting is a way to make our luck at the game.

Card Counting in Poker – Disadvantages

Card Counting in Poker Disadvantages

The legal status of card counting is its biggest advantage. The worst part is that poker card counting is not illegal at every casino or state. Under British law, card counting is not considered illegal. It is not under the federal or the state laws of gambling. In the United States, poker card counters may be viewed as criminals. There is no specific law that dubs this practical as unlawful in the US. No law prohibits a player from using an external counting device or another person to assisting in counting cards.

Even so, casinos have a set of rights reserved to object to this practice and consider it a major loophole. Several casinos have banned players under the suspicion of being counters. There have been cases where a deck gets changed if the table offers huge wins to the same player repeatedly. The pursuit of casinos in identifying the card counters goes a long way. In Las Vegas, several casinos have misidentified card counters and detained them unlawfully for hours. If a player makes big wins at the table and gets caught counting cards, the wins get discredited. Casinos have on-floor personnel call pit bosses who get informed by the surveillance personnel about the practices. With video surveillance through the casino’s security cameras, a pit boss can go to a table and detain a player on the charges of card counting. There are proofs backed by computer analysis that help casinos in pressing these charges under the gambling commissions.

The indicative behaviors of card counters are also quite evident. Poker counter-strategies are easy to learn, and these players can be recognized by analyzing their patterns. Many casinos keep databases of these players to ban them or deem them undesirable under the gambling commissions.

As countermeasures, casinos have the rights reserved to thwart card counters at poker tables. These countermeasures prevent card counters from benefiting in blackjack, poker, and other card games.

  • Decreasing penetration in the cards dealt before a shuffle
  • Shuffling at the time of increased wagers 
  • Preferential shuffling based on the composition of remaining cards in the deck
  • Banning known counters from playing poker, blackjack, and all card games
  • Restricting the entry into a casino property 
  • Changing the rules at the table’s stakes 
  • Canceling complementaries of the counters
  • Detaining counters in backrooms
  • Confiscating their chips

High-end casinos have adopted semi-automated systems that detect counters at poker tables. The MindPlay system and the Shuffle Master Intelligent Shoe system are two of the most effective systems in detecting card counters at poker games.

The Future of Poker Card Counting

Despite the controversial nature of card counting in poker, the practice continues to be exercised by players globally. Some players have mastered this practice to an extent where they win poker tournaments and bagging million-dollar prize pools. In the years to come, the chances of card counting being criminalized are quite low. This technique is not only a way for the players to win big at their poker games, but it is also a remedy to stop casino houses from looting their customers to great extents.

Card counting gives players an advantage of up to 50% in poker. At the same time, card counting has a crucial difference when it comes to poker and blackjack. In poker, the deck is re-shuffled after each hand, each round, and all the cards may go back into the deck. In the future, there could be a possibility that memorizing the running count would be rendered useless. Even so, people will learn how to count cards in poker and try their best to beat the gamble.

Xiang Han

Xiang Han is a journalist at CapitalBay.News and has hands-on experience in the poker industry. He frequently plays online poker games and serves as a tournament consultant for popular online poker rooms.

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