Steps to Counting Cards Without Using Negative Numbers

Blackjack Table and Card Counting Method

Counting cards isn’t the easiest thing to do, but there’s a particular issue with most systems that makes it almost impossible for many people. The good news is that there’s an easy way to work around this issue.

Most card counting systems use a count that starts at 0, and a few start at a negative number. The systems that start at 0 require counters to use negative numbers. Many people struggle to use negative numbers correctly. For these people, learning how to count cards is so difficult that many of them give up.

Here’s a 6 step system you can use to count cards and never have to use a negative number.

1 – Why Card Counting Works

You probably know that games you play in casinos are set up so that the casino makes more money than you do. But what you might not know is that there’s a way to play real money blackjack that actually helps you win more money than you give the casino.

This special method of play is called card counting. While you don’t technically need to understand why counting cards works, it’s helpful if you know why you should use this method.

Card counting works because the way the rules are designed, when the remaining cards in the show or deck have more high cards than low cards you have an advantage. When the high and low cards have an equal ratio, and when the remaining cards are more high than low, the casino has the advantage.

Most blackjack gamblers don’t know that they can get an edge based on the remaining cards, and even fewer know how to track the cards so they know when they have an advantage.

Knowing when you have an advantage isn’t the only thing you need to know. You also need to know how to play using perfect strategy and how to find the right blackjack tables.

2 – How Card Counting Works

You just learned that card counting works because you have a mathematical advantage when there are more high cards in the shoe or deck than low cards. But this doesn’t explain how you can get a monetary edge overall.

The way that card counting works is that you track the low and high card ration as cards get played. When you see that the deck or shoe gives you an advantage, you bet more money.

If you always bet the same amount of money the small edge you have in these situations isn’t enough to make up for the edge the casino has all of the other times. This is why most blackjack gamblers are losing money.

But when you bet more money when you do have an advantage than the amount you bet other times, you can win enough to overcome all of your losses on smaller wagers.

Most card counting systems start with a count of 0 and add 1 every time you see a low card and subtract 1 every time you see a high card. This means that often your count goes below 0.

When the count goes into positive numbers you start gaining more of an edge.

3 – Popular Counting Systems

Dozens of card counting systems exist. Some of them are extremely hard to use, while most of them are just difficult. A couple fairly easy counting systems exist, but they aren’t as effective as more difficult systems.

The most accurate counting systems are so hard to use that almost nobody is able to use them. The good news is that many of the slightly less difficult systems are almost as effective. These mid tier systems are the most popular because they give you better results than the easy systems, and their results are almost as good as the extremely complicated systems.

Here’s a quick overview of popular card counting systems:

  • Ace 5 – The ace 5 system is the easiest system to learn and use, and it’s not a bad place to start. But the other 3 systems in this section give you better long term results, so eventually you need to switch to 1 of them.
  • Hi lo – This is the most popular counting system. It’s called a balanced system, so you have to make an extra number conversion.
  • Knock out – This system is an unbalanced system so you avoid the need for an extra conversion. It’s a powerful system and a good alternative to hi lo.
  • Red 7 – Another unbalanced system, the Red 7 is my favorite card counting system.

4 – Pick Your Counting System

Many beginning card counters stress about what system they’re going to use too much. The truth is that most counting systems work well if you learn how to use them correctly. The 4 systems I listed in the previous section are all you need.

If you’re worried about being able to count cards you can start with the ace 5. It’s really easy to learn and use, and it’s a good starter system. But you want to advance to 1 of the other systems as soon as you can.

I recommend starting with either the knock out or red 7. These systems are both unbalanced so you can skip the extra conversion step used in hi lo. And both of these systems are as powerful as hi lo. But hi lo is the most popular system for a reason. It’s easy to use and powerful, and there are more articles and books about it than any other counting system.

Do some research on each of these systems and decide which system you want to use. You’re not going to make a bad choice, because there isn’t a bad option.

5 – Start Your Count at 10

Most card counting systems start the count at 0. This creates a situation where many times you have to deal with negative numbers. Negative numbers aren’t used by most people, so this leads to mistakes.

You can use a simple adjustment to avoid ever needing to deal with negative numbers. Instead of starting at 0, start at 10. Or you can start at 20 or 100. It doesn’t matter where you start as long as you adjust the numbers your system says to use.

For example, if your system starts at 0 and says to double your bet size at +2, you double your bet size at 12 if you start at 10. If you start at 20, you double your bet size at 22.

You can use this simple method with any card counting system. And this helps you avoid subtracting and adding numbers below 0. And because you always bet the minimum amount when a number is negative in counting systems, you know that you always bet the minimum amount when your count is below your starting number.

If you’re using an unbalanced system that directs you to start at a negative number, like – 20, all you have to do is start your count at 10, and set the break even number 20 higher. In this case you start at 10 and the number that triggers a bet is 30.

6 – Practice Counting until You’re Perfect

When you know how your system works and have picked a number to start with and adjusted all of the numbers in your system, the only thing left to do is practice until you’re perfect.

In many areas of life you don’t have to be perfect to be effective, but when you count cards your goal needs to be perfection. This means that you need to be able to count with 100% accuracy no matter what’s going on or where you are.

This isn’t as hard as it sounds as long as you put in the practice time. Grab a few decks of cards and start dealing and counting. Keep doing this faster and faster as you practice.

Most gamblers can learn how to do a decent job counting in as little as 10 hours. And just about anyone can get really good at counting in 40 to 50 hours of practice time. Just put in the work and you’re going to reach your goal of 100% accuracy.


Card counting is the best way to make money playing blackjack. But if you use most popular counting systems the way they’re taught, you have to be able to use numbers less than 0. Now you know how to get around this problem.

You learned how card counting works and a little bit about popular systems. Now you just need to choose a system and adjust it to start your count at 10 instead of 0. This way you never have to use a negative number when you count cards.

The only step left is to practice until you can use your system perfectly.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.