When to Hold ‘Em

from the afterhours section of Playboy Magazine, April 2008

How to Count Cards

It Isn’t Rocket Science, But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Easy

Dustin Hoffman counted cards to win at blackjack in Rain Man. Kevin Spacey and a gang of MIT whizzes will count cards in 21, a film based on Ben Mezrich’s book Bringing Down the House. But how exactly do you do it? Here’s an explanation from Semyon Dukach, who was president of one of the MIT blackjack teams that won millions from casinos in the 1990s and who today runs Blackjack Science seminars:


-When the dealing starts, begin counting at zero. For every low card that comes up (two, three, four, five, or six), add one to your total. For every high card that comes up (10, jack, queen, king, or ace), subtract one. Sevens, eights, and nines are worth zero.

-If your running total is positive, bet high; a lot of high cards are left in the deck. If your total is negative, bet low. There’s no need to memorize specific cards; just keep track of that one number.

-To an extent, that’s all there is to it–counting cards is not about complex mathematics. What must be honed is the ability to do all that adding and subtracting on the fly, with a cocktail in your hand and just the briefest of glimpses at the cards as they’re played.

-Try not to look like an Ivy League number cruncher. To make any money counting cards, you have to play a lot ofhands of blackjack, so avoiding detection is as vital to the process as anything else. Card counting is not cheating; it’s just being smart. But the management can throw you out for it if they want. “Try dressing like a big-shot businessman and walk in with ladies on each arm,” Dukach says. “The bosses never expect a guy like that to be a stingy card counter.”

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