Card Counting in Poker – Can You Count Cards in Poker?

Is card counting a good poker strategy, or is it only really applicable to the game of blackjack? Let’s review how counting outs can help you in poker.

Card Counting in Poker
Card Counting in Poker – Can You Count Cards in Poker?

Card counting is a technique used in blackjack to gain an advantage over the house. Can you count cards in poker with the same strategy to get an edge over other players?

We answer that question by explaining the maths behind card counting in poker as well as how card counting can be used to count “outs” in Texas Hold’em.

What is Card Counting

To know if card counting in poker cash games is possible, we must look at the method used in blackjack as started by Edward O. Thorp.

Setting the card value

Assign a value to 52 cards in a deck as follows.

  • +1 – 23456
  • 0 – 789
  • -1 – 10JQKA

Card values for other suits are also the same.

Counting the cards

Keep a score in your mind for every card dealt, including the ones that go to the dealer’s hand.

Here is an example of one random round in a blackjack game.

  • Dealer has 954 = +2
  • Player 1 has JJ = -2
  • Player 2 has 48K = 0
  • Player 3 has 327Q = +1

Your total score for this round comes to a +1. Take note of this score as we move to the next round.

  • Dealer has 4A5 = +1
  • Player 1 has 8K = -1
  • Player 2 has 2755 = +2
  • Player 3 has Q58 = 0

Within the second-round, you should have a +2. With the tally from the first round, you should have +3.

Using the score

When the dealer used more than half of the cards in the shoe, use the running tally on all the dealt cards up to the current turn. You are tallying the house and your edge as the remaining cards are dealt for the last few rounds before the dealer uses a new deck. A positive score indicates the players have the edge while a negative or neutral score is a signal of the house having the edge.

If the score is +4 or more, you can take advantage of the edge by betting big. Players should double down on a bet if their hand is within this range such as 82 or 47.

Can Card Counting be used in Poker?

Blackjack card counting for poker games does not work since the method is to calculate a player’s odds against the house. However, in poker, you are not playing against the house but against other players instead. Card counting in poker to determine your edge over other players is still possible through two different methods.

Counting Out cards

Outs are the cards that have yet to be dealt from the deck. Players waiting on a straight or flush draw require a specific out to form or improve their hands. Knowing how many outs are possible for one round can help you make critical decisions such as calling someone’s over bet or placing a value bet on the last two streets.

Doing Texas Hold’em card counting for outs comes down to just deducting how many variations of the cards you need to form a hand. For a gutshot straight draw where you need one numbered card regardless of suit, four outs will form your straight. Open-ended straight draws are better hands because you can form a hand with two numbered cards on the top or bottom end, requiring 8 outs to make a straight. Since there are 13 cards with the same suit, flush draws have 9 outs.

Card counting method is not limited to just straight or flush draws. In the case of a Q6 hand and a 4Q2, you currently have a pair and are waiting on a flush draw, triple queens, quad queens, a queen and six two pair, and more. Your total outs should be 15 cards when you consider all the possible hands you can make.

Out card counting in poker provides an insight into your edge against other players. With more outs waiting for you on the turn or river, the higher your edge will be during the showdown. Folding or checking in situations where you only have four or fewer outs to make a solid hand is a reasonable strategy.

card counting blackjack strategy
Card counting comes from the game of Blackjack.

Calculating Hand equity

Hand equity poker card counting is a method to calculate your share of the pot based on the strength of your hand. Your hand equity drastically changes in each of a game’ street where your hand may start as trash and ends up as winning hand at the river or vice versa. Knowing your hand equity can help you determine your probability of winning against your opponents in one round.

You can already see your hand equity during the pre-flop through the strength of your hole cards. Pockets 10’s or higher tend to have better odds during this stage even if your outs are only two for quads or triples since you already have a hand at this point. Sequential cards with the same suit are the next best hands in terms of odds because of their probability to form open-ended straights or flush.

On the post-flop, you will get a clearer picture of your pot equity. With a JJ hand and an 87Q flop, for example, your odds here are slightly good if you are against one opponent. If you are going against two or more, your probability of winnings goes down since one of them could be carrying a queen that can topple your jack pairs or triples.

Take note that your opponents’ hand, apart from your outs, also determines your pot equity. You can get an educated guess of your opponent’s hand by observing their betting behavior. Tight players who prefer a high range tend to bet with an 87Q flop if they are holding a queen’s, giving them better hand equity. Aggressive ones are comfortable with betting on 8 or 7 pairs and waiting on a possible triple or full house draw.

Example of Poker Card Counting Calculations

Let us put into practice what we learned by doing some Omaha card counting. For the sake of this example, all players have their hands revealed to everyone.

Pre-flop

  • Hero: 9Q57 – 47%
  • Villain 1: 31084 – 28%
  • Villain 2: 10857 – 10%

You are currently holding a hand with the high odds of winning due to the queen card. Villain 1 has the second-best hand due to the 3 10 hands that can form a flush. That player also has 3 4 to form an open-ended straight.

Post-flop

  • Flop: Q83
  • Hero: 9Q57 – 42%
  • Villain 1: 31084 – 47%
  • Villain 2: 10857 – 2%

Odds have shifted to villain 1’s favor thanks to the 8 3 cards that formed a two pair. Your odds have not drastically gone down like villain 2 thanks to the queen pair.

Turn

  • Flop: Q836
  • Hero: 9Q57 – 30%
  • Villain 1: 31084 – 52%
  • Villain 2: 10857 – 8%

With this latest development, villain 1 is securing a win since there is only one more street for your out card of either a Q, 9, 5, 7 to create a hand that will beat others. Villain 2 manage to improve their odds by forming an open-ended straight draw.

River

  • Flop: Q8365
  • Hero: 9Q57 – 100%
  • Villain 1: 31084 – 0%
  • Villain 2: 10857 – 0%

Fortunately, one of your outs appeared to form a queen high two-pair that beats villain 1’s hand.

card counting in poker and blackjack
The goal of card counting in poker is to tally up the score and make more informed decisions. However, poker card counting is not as useful as in blackjack.

Are There Card Counting Programs for Poker?

You can find several poker programs that can calculate hand equity based on players’ hand and community cards. One example is ProPokerTools’ Odds Oracle. You can recreate various scenarios for Texas Hold’em or Omaha and get the equity for each of them.

Odds Oracle recreation of various situations is much more than assigning specific cards to the two or more players and the community board. You can set the range of a player’s hand to have the top 5 to 15% card ranges during full-ring games. Going further, you can combine ranges or include rank spans on each hand.

Various Outcomes of each scenario are displayed through detailed charts. Odds Oracle even has interactive hand stats for the flop or turn where you can see the percentage of straight outs, back door flush, and various outcomes.

It is important to note that all card counting programs, including odds oracle, are intended for helping you calculate your odds of winning by yourself. Software for card counting in cash games that works with popular online sites is not available in the market. Once you get a handle on calculating your probability of winning, you can pull off card counting in WSOP live tournaments.  

Is Card Counting in Poker Cheating?

A common misconception of card counting is its connection to cheaters who can beat the house with their amazing math skills. If this is true, why are casinos letting their patrons count cards in their blackjack tables? One of the reasons is the lack of ruling under local or federal laws that makes the practice illegal.

One solid reason why casinos allow you to count the cards is the small edge of 1% to 2% that counters can only get. Even without counting the cards, players still have the edge against the dealer since they are required to only stand with a hand of 17 or higher. Casinos want players to believe they have the edge against the house to keep playing and filling the establishment’s cages.

In the case of using card counting tips for poker, it is not considered cheating by any players. Cheating involves methods that give one person an unfair edge against other players. A classic example is the use of marked cards and special glasses that allow the wearer to know the cards everyone is holding.  By seeing everyone’s hole cards, cheaters can fold when they see a strong hand or go all-in against a weak one.

Card counting is all about using the information available to you. People who have played several cash games can calculate their chances of forming a strong hand by determining the outs they need from their hole and community cards. Professional poker players take card counting further by getting a read on their opponent’s hand through their behavioral changes and betting habits.

Cheating in poker involves having more information than your opponents regarding the hands present during a game. However, card counting is a fair skill since counters have the same number of details to make an educated decision as everyone around the table has.

Poker Card Counting FAQ

Below are some bite-size info on using card counting in poker to answer some of the most common questions regarding the subject.

What is card counting?

Card counting is a blackjack method to know the current edge against the house or player. Counters simply assign value to each card as well as tally the total score for each card dealt with the dealer and players.

What are outs in poker?

Outs are the undealt cards that a player needs to form or improve their hand. If a player is attempting to form a flush draw, they require 9 outs to appear on the turn or river.

Can you use card counting in Poker?

When used in poker, card counting is calculating the odds of winning based on the outs required to build a hand and speculation on the card range an opponent is playing.

What exactly is hand equity?

Hand equity is a player’s share of the pot based on strength of their hand in each of the streets. Calculating your equity can give you a clear picture of your odds of winning a game.

Can you gain an advantage with card counting in poker?

Grinders who support their poker career through their winnings make use of outs card counting and hand equity in each game. Utilizing card counting can give them an edge against most types of players.

Poker has its card counting method that can give players the edge against their opponent. From a simple outs card counting to calculating the pot equity, players can utilize all information present to them when creating an efficient strategy.