Skip to main content

Hi-Lo Blackjack Card Counting Strategy Explained

Margaret Cooper | January 29, 2021 | Updated on: February 1st, 2021

hi-lo blackjack card counting explainedNot many people are aware that many types of card counting strategies exist. The most popular strategy of all is the Hi-Lo blackjack count strategy. The method is so widely used by beginner blackjack players because it is considered the easiest card counting strategy to learn.

Generally, professional players don’t use this method because it isn’t as effective in high-stakes environments where a load of other variables may be in play. But knowing how the hi-lo strategy works could still prove beneficial in more casual games.

Play Blackjack Online

How to Count Cards in Blackjack Using the Hi-Lo System

Card counting is often portrayed as this unbeatable strategy in popular films and television shows. However, this isn’t true. Card counting severely reduces the edge you face in a game, but you can still lose.

In fact, losing some games is part of the process. You’ll see what we mean after we have explained how to count cards using the hi-lo system step-by-step.

Step 1: Assign Values to Cards Based on Their Rank

The hi-lo system assigns values to each card in a blackjack deck. To count cards effectively using this system, you will need to study these values by heart.

Card Value
A -1
K -1
Q -1
J -1
10 -1
9 0
8 0
7 0
6 +1
4 +1
3 +1
2 +1

The purpose of assigning values to the cards is to give you a better idea of when to place bigger bets and fold. You make this decision based on the running score you accumulate.

Step 2: Play Your First Game and Start Your Count

As soon as you play your first game, you need to start counting. This is known as the “running count”. As the game is played and cards pop up for the dealer, you, or other players, you increase or decrease your count.

For example, if you are dealt an Ace and a 9, your running count is -1. You cannot use a cheat sheet when you are in a real game, which is why it is important to learn the figure attached to each card.

hi lo blackjack strategy

Step 3: Determine Your True Count

Nowadays, few blackjack games are played with a single deck of cards. Perhaps, if you’re playing a friendly game at home with a group of friends, you’ll use only one deck. But casinos know that single-deck games are a haven for card counters.

It’s literally for this reason that most modern blackjack variants use six to eight decks. Thus, if you are playing a game with multiple decks, you need to factor in this number to get a real indication of when to bet.

This may seem complex, but all you do is take your running count and divide it by the number of decks in the game. For example, if your running count is 16 and the number of decks used in the game is 8, then your actual running count is 2.

Don’t be put off by the arithmetic involved in this. While it does take some getting used to, it is by no means comparable to doing a calculus equation. All you need to do is practice, and it will become nature in time.

Step 4: Bet Appropriately

If your true count is a high positive value, you should increase your bet. However, if it is 0 or below, you should bet minimally. As explained above, card counting doesn’t mean you will win every bet or every game you play.

Rather you are simply making educated guesses based on the pattern of the cards in play. There are some patterns that professional blackjack players identified that you can use to supplement the technique, but we’d approach these with caution. Remember that any book in blackjack hacks you can buy, the casino can too.

So, following Edward Thorpe’s suggestions may not be a good idea. Yes, he is a very successful blackjack player who has helped many others, but his techniques were invented in the 1970s and are widely known by casinos at this point.

Is the Hi-Lo System Worthwhile?

As stated above, most professional blackjack players don’t use the Hi-Lo counting strategy when they play in tournaments or casinos. They prefer more involved strategies that allow for better decision making.

However, if you have never tried card counting before, it should give you a slight edge in most casual games and put your foot in the door to learn more advanced strategies.

However, we cannot stress enough that card counting is a strategy. It is not a foolproof plan to win every single game you play. Strategic losses are part of the process. So, don’t learn this strategy with misguided expectations.

Check out our other blackjack guides: