How To Count Cards In Poker – Can This Actually Work?
Last Updated: October 4, 2023
Checked by: Zvonimir Potocki
Card counting is a technique that is primarily used in blackjack to gain an advantage over the casino. Because this strategy impacts the house edge, most casinos will ban players who use it.
However, if you are wondering can this strategy also be used in other card games, you have come to the right place.
In this article, we explain what is counting cards in poker and how you can implement this technique to increase your win rate.
What Is Card Counting?
Counting cards is a unique approach to card games in which the player uses the information about the cards he saw to determine which cards are likely to come and base his decisions on that.
In blackjack, for example, players assign different values to different cards depending on if they are more beneficial to the dealer or the player.
Based on statistical evidence, high cards are better for the player while low cards are better for the dealer.
When counting cards, players assign each card some points based on the presumed value of the hand and track the sum of the points.
It is a common misconception that card counters track and memorize each individual card. In fact, they only track the sum of the values they assigned to each card.
How to Count Cards in Poker
So, can you count cards in poker? Yes, with slight adjustments to the strategy, card counting techniques can be used in other card games such as poker.
Counting cards in poker is known under different terms such as counting outs, using blockers, and calculating equity.
And while each of these terms sounds completely different, all of them are based on card counting techniques that allow players to get the additional information and gain an edge over their opponents.
Because poker players work with limited information, each strategy that involves card counting can be deemed instrumental for success at the poker table.
How to Count Cards in Texas Hold’em – Using Blockers
Texas Holdem is played with a 52-card deck, and thanks to this players can use the information about the cards they saw to make better decisions.
To do this, players need to keep track of the cards that have come out of the deck. In most cases, this means using the player's hole cards and the community cards to gain an estimate of the possible holdings of other players.
For example, if you are holding A♠K♦ and the board is 9♠7♠Q♠5♣6♦, you can be sure that your opponent can’t have the ace high flush since you are holding the ace of spades in your hand.
This technique of couning cards in poker is better known as “using blockers”, as it allows players to remove certain hands from their opponents' range based on the cards that they are holding or based on the community cards.
Knowing how to use “blockers” the right way in Texas Hold’em is one of the most underrated skills a poker player can have. It can often help players avoid big mistakes as well as make exceptional plays.
In the example above, you can use your A♠ blocker to make a big bluff on your opponent because you are aware that he can’t have the best possible flush in his hand.
How to Count Cards in Texas Hold’em – Counting Outs
Another concept that is somewhat related to counting cards in Texas Hold’em is counting outs.
In poker, unlike blackjack, counting cards is not a strategy that only a few players use. On the contrary, it is one of the fundamental poker concepts that all of the best poker players use, and it is impossible to be a winning poker player without this knowledge.
To show you how counting cards is related to counting outs in poker, we will use a simple example.
Imagine a situation in which you are holding a flush draw with A♦10♦ on 4♦J♦7♠ flop, and you want to find out how many cards in the deck will help you make a flush.
So, there are 52 cards in the deck made of 4 suits, and each suit contains 13 cards of different ranks.
In this example, four cards have already been exposed, A♦10♦4♦ and J♦, which means that there are nine cards in the deck that will complete your flush, K♦Q♦9♦8♦7♦6♦5♦3♦2♦.
Now, you might be thinking, knowing how many outs I have sounds cool, but how will it help me make better decisions or outplay my opponent?
Well, this is where the second part of counting outs comes, and that is calculating equity.
How to Count Cards in Poker to Calculate Equity
To explain further how counting cards can help you make better decisions, we will add additional information to the example we used above.
You are playing 1/2 NL Hold’em, there is $50 in the pot on the flop, and you are holding a flush draw with [invalid notations], and your opponent goes all in for $50.
You have $50 behind, should you call or fold?
Now, we already calculated that there are nine cards left in the deck that can help us make a flush, and since we are holding the A♦, we know that each of these cards will give us the best hand (the ace high flush).
To determine whether we should call or fold, we need to determine our equity in the hand and the odds we are getting on the call.
One of the rules that most poker players use in these situations is the rule of 2 and 4. This rule states that to calculate the odds of hitting one of your outs, you can multiply the number of your outs by 4 if there are 2 cards to come or by 2 if there is only one card to come.
In our case, since we are on the flop, we need to multiply the number of our outs with 4.
- 9 x 4 = 36%
So, in this example, the chance of you hitting your hand is 36%.
Now we need to calculate the odds we are getting based on how much money is in the pot and how much money we need to pay to see the turn and the river.
There is $50 in the pot, and your opponent went all in for an additional $50 increasing the pot to $100.
f you were to make a call, the pot would be $150. To calculate the odds you are getting on a call you need to divide the amount you need to call by the total size of the pot after you call.
- 50 / 150 = 0.33 or 33%
As you can see, the minimum equity needed to make a breakeven call in this scenario is 33% and since the odds of you hitting one of your outs are 36%, the correct play would be to call your opponent's bet.
In this scenario, you used the strategy of counting cards in combination with counting outs and calculating equity to make the correct decision from a mathematical standpoint. Each time you make a correct decision in this situation, you are making money in the long run.
Is It Legal to Count Cards in Poker
Counting cards in Texas Hold’em and other forms of poker, in which players play against other players and not against the house, is not only legal but also necessary to become a winning player.
Unlike in blackjack, where only a small percentage of players use this approach to win money at the casino, in poker, all players who want to become winners count cards.
In Texas Hold’em, counting cards is a systematic approach that allows poker players to count their outs and calculate their equity.
These are some of the things that separate poker from other casino games and make it a skill game with elements of luck.
If you still haven’t started applying this approach during your poker sessions, we would strongly recommend that you begin as soon as possible.
Counting cards is one of the most common techniques casino players use or at least try to use in order to beat the casino in table games.
However, it is important to distinguish games in which players play against the casino, like blackjack, from games in which players play against other players, like poker.
Only in games where players play against other players, counting cards is allowed, and if you try to do this in other game types, expect to be banned from the casino.