The big question on your mind must be - can you count online blackjack? The good news is the answer is yes, but you might come across a few obstacles along the way. The first of which is if you are willing and able to put in the time to learn how to count cards? Unless you are using software to do it for you, and often such programmes are banned by online casinos, you will have to put in some effort to train your mind.
Risks and challenges
Unlike a physical casino, when playing online blackjack you don't have to worry about the casino catching on to your new skill and throwing you out! That said, there are still a few ways that even online casinos try to protect themselves against card counting. While it is technically not cheating, it will give you an advantage against the house when done correctly. To even the playing field, you will find many sites will shuffle the deck after each hand making it significantly more challenging to use your counting skills.
To practice counting, it should go without saying that you are going to need to play games. A lot of games, in fact. Fortunately there are plenty of free play sites out there that use either the same or similar software to the cash based casinos. These are great places to test out your skills until you become competent and confident enough to start risking real money. Even with practice at the free tables, the action of adding real money makes for a different experience so it's better to start off small.
How does it work?
While there are a few different techniques, the simplest and most often taught is the lo-hi method. Rather than actually trying to remember every card that has come before, you will be assigning simple values to groups of cards. This is usually -1 for high value cards, 0 for mid range and +1 for low value cards. This means that when you start out your total deck value is zero. From this point, every time a card is shown you change your running total as needed, starting from 0 when everything is shuffled again.
If you want to add even more accuracy to your odds, you could also try a more advanced version of the lo-hi system. The Omega II system uses the same -1, 0 and +1 system but adds more values to more specific cards. In this case, 2, 3 and 7 have a value of +1. 4, 5 and 6 have a value of +2. The 9 card has a value of -1, while the 10 and all face cards are -2. This leaves the 8 and ace with a value of 0.
Do it yourself or use a programme?
There are a number of different card counting programmes available, some free and some you need to pay for. While the algorithms used are naturally going to be a lot more complex than the systems mentioned above, most advertise an advantage given of around 1%, which isn't much better than the hi-low system. When using a programme you also have to consider the chance that the casino will ban you if their system identifies the using of card counting software, something you definitely don't want to happen!
Learning to count by yourself has several advantages, even though you do have to put the effort in to train your brain and integrate the background counting into your style of play. First of all, counting yourself lets you take your skills to any location, whether online or offline if you get good enough. It also lets you avoid having to worry about the rules of the casino, since they will be unable to see if you are counting, either mentally or with a pen and paper.
Is it worth it?
While there is nothing stopping you from counting cards, some people still consider it to be cheating. You also need to weigh up the time it will take you to become good enough to count cards and the slight advantage it will give you. Even the best system, including software, will only give you a 5 percent edge over a non-counting player. That said, the simpler systems are quick to pick up and do work quite well. Just remember to bet when the counting value is high and stop when it's low!