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Why I Don’t Count Cards

Home » Darren’s Den » Why I Don’t Count Cards

Why I Don’t Count Cards

cards at the ARIA poker classic

“Do you count cards?”

This is usually one of the first questions I’m asked by non-poker people when I mention I play poker for a living. I’m sure a lot of the readers have encountered this as well. Whether it be making small talk with a neighbor in the park, chatting with a curious Uber driver, or just meeting a new acquaintance, this question always seems to come up. It tends to be lobbed in early in the typical civilian salvo of “poker questions” along with “Do you get free hotel rooms” and “Have you ever played with X”? 

Today I wanted to set the record straight once and for all. (Not that it will do any good in deterring this line of questioning in the future, but at least we’ll have something in ink.) The source of this question and understanding the audience from whom the question is coming is quite simple. The average civilian who does not play poker and does not gamble in casinos has simply conflated the games of blackjack and poker.

This crowd has also been keyed in on the various Hollywood blockbusters over the years which love to draw attention to the mystical art of card counting. Combine these casino spectacles from the movies with a lack of understanding in the different games, and it starts to make sense why we encounter this question so frequently.

The Confusion Over Card Counting

So what is counting cards? And why isn’t it done in poker? To understand why poker players are triggered by this question we first need to understand the mechanics of counting cards. In blackjack, expert players are able to observe the exposed cards while the dealer is dealing out a shoe (a stack of cards that is being used to deal the players’ hands) and adjust their bets according to the distribution of cards left in the shoe.

Typically experts will have some sort of mathematical system where certain cards are +1 and others are -1 as they look to exploit favorable situations deeper in the shoe. A system like this was most famously used by a group of students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the book “Bringing Down the House” and its later movie “21.” But regardless of the system and whether it is done in teams or on one’s own, this is counting cards.

Why Counting Cards Isn’t Possible in Poker

While this may be a helpful strategy in the game of blackjack, counting cards is nigh impossible in most formats and variants of poker. In most poker formats, there are simply not enough cards exposed face-up for anything to be counted or any edge to be gained. If we were to use the game of Texas Hold ‘Em as an example, we never get to see our opponents’ hole cards in any situation but a showdown at the end of the hand. Also, the only “exposed” cards would be the five community cards which players are using to make their hand. In short, there is nothing to even be seen to be counted.

There are also no systems of counting which could give a player an advantage as the mechanics of the game are completely different. The only exception would be Stud games in which players keenly observe the other players’ up cards in an attempt to calculate how many cards may be left in the deck to help improve their hand. Nonetheless, if you asked a stud player if he “counts cards”, I’m quite certain the answer would be “No”. These players are merely observing the action as all good players do. 

In conclusion, card counting is a technique that is used in blackjack and not poker. Feel free to refer any question-askers to this article to educate themselves on the subject. Or for an even better time, play along with the line of questioning and watch their awe as they hear that you can count eight decks. Either way, your audience will be satisfied.

To play poker online, register at BetMGM Poker.

Pro poker player Darren Elias shares why there actually is no card counting in poker, and why it’s something you shouldn’t attempt.