Portrayed in multiple blockbusters including Rain Man and The Hangover, counting cards in blackjack is not as difficult as it seems in movies. Anyone with rudimentary knowledge in arithmetics and enough patience to practice can master this craft and apply it successfully at the blackjack tables.
More importantly this approach provenly reduces the house edge and tilts the advantage in favor of blackjack players. One question that commonly arises concerns the efficiency of card counting in baccarat, another popular shoe-dealt casino game. In today’s article, we are looking at the applicability of card counting in baccarat and address its effectiveness.
First Things First – What Is Card Counting?
Contrary to popular belief, card counting is neither illegal nor does it require one to be a mathematical genius or a savant. Rather than remembering each card removed from play as some people think, the practice involves keeping track of the ratio of high to low cards that remain to be dealt.
To achieve this, most card counting systems assign value tags to the high, low, and neutral cards in the shoe. The simplest and most commonly used system is the Hi-Lo which uses the following tags:
- Aces and ten-value cards (10, King, Queen, Jack) are tagged -1
- 2s through 6s are tagged +1
- 7s, 8s, and 9s are tagged 0
The player keeps a running count by adding up these values as cards are removed from play to determine the current ratio of high to low cards in the deck. For example, if A, J, 2, and 9 leave a freshly reshuffled deck, you are looking at a negative running count of (-1) + (-1) + 1 + 0 = -1. Most blackjack games are dealt out of a shoe containing multiple decks, however.
The player must, respectively, divide the running count by the number of remaining decks to calculate the true count, i.e. the ratio of high to low cards in the current deck. Counters make playing decisions and size their bets based on the current true count. The edge swings in favor of players whenever the true count gets higher than +1. Continue reading to see how this helps them gain a statistical advantage over the house.
Why Does Card Counting Work in Blackjack?
The rules, structure, and card values in blackjack render it highly vulnerable to counting. This is because certain cards work to the advantage of players whereas others heavily tilt the winning odds in the dealer’s favor.
2Aces, Tens, and Faces Help Players
Tens, faces, and aces help the player. Their preponderance means high positive counts, which results in more player blackjacks, more dealer busts on hard totals, and more opportunities for successful splits and double downs. Players make larger bets during positive counts since they stand better chances of winning.
3Cards 2 through 6 Help Dealers
Likewise, the abundance of low cards 2 through 6 leads to negative counts. These are advantageous for the dealer because they decrease their probability of busting with stiffs and help them make more winning hands.
In such circumstances, the player is more likely to suffer lousy splits and doubles and will get fewer blackjacks. Counters are logically seeking to expose less money to risk during negative counts by placing smaller wagers or not betting at all.
4Neutral Cards 7, 8, and 9 Help Neither
Cards 7 through 8 receive tags of 0 under the Hi-Lo counting system because they are neutral. As such, they favor neither the house nor the player because their presence does not have a pronounced impact on the outcome of a round.
Is Card Counting Applicable to Baccarat?
Now, let’s see whether this approach is applicable to baccarat. Excluding the Tie bet which carries an enormous house edge (14.36%), there are two main wagers you can make here – on Player (1.24%) and Banker (1.06%). Baccarat is theoretically countable but requires a system with different tags than those used in blackjack because the cards are assigned different point values.
Is Card Counting Effective in Baccarat?
Card counting is applicable to baccarat and can potentially reduce the house edge for the two main wagers by a fraction of a percent. However, you need very liberal shuffle points and deep enough penetration for this to happen.
Thorp’s system, for example, produced negligible results during the above-mentioned simulation where the dealer inserted the cut card 14 cards from the shoe’s end. The chances of this happening in the real world are zilch as baccarat dealers are generally instructed to place the cut card at least one deck from either end of the shoe.
While gaining a minuscule advantage over the house through counting is theoretically possible, baccarat players will almost never witness the counts that can yield it. Counting cards in this game is impractical, laborious, and largely ineffective as multiple experts (Shackleford and Jacobson included) have confirmed.
MacLean, L. C., Thorp, E. O., & Ziemba, W. T. (2011). Kelly Capital Growth Investment Criterion, Theory and Practice. World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd. 63
1Rare Yet Negligible Edges Combine with Crushing Variance
As Thorp bluntly puts it, baccarat generally is not a favorable game from the perspective of the player. Advantageous situations arise once in a blue moon, not to mention players face enormous variance as they must risk huge amounts to compensate for this rarity of occurrence. At the same time, risk exposure is massively disproportionate to one’s expected value which amounts to meager cents at best.
2Player and Banker Are a Coin Toss
Furthermore, baccarat is a game of almost perfect symmetry where the winning chances of the Player and Banker are concerned. The two main wagers are pretty much a coin toss, with the Banker side having a negligible edge over the Player. No cards benefit either side massively as is the case of blackjack.
3Counters Must Overcome Higher Initial House Edges
Baccarat players must overcome greater initial house edges which further adds to the impracticality, ineffectiveness, and futility of counting this game. The Player and Banker give the casino advantages of 1.24% and 1.06%, respectively, for a combined house edge of 1.15%.
By contrast, blackjack games with liberal playing conditions can produce house edges of less than half a percent. The low edge percentage combined with the greater effect of card removal makes it easier to profit from card counting in blackjack.
4Baccarat Plays by Fixed Rules
The house rules for drawing cards to the Player and Banker hands are fixed which further destroys the efficiency of counting cards in this game. There is almost no decision-making here since players must only determine which side to back and how much to bet.
This is not the case in blackjack where you can choose from several moves, based on the strength of your hand and the current shoe composition.