POKER TIPS & STRATEGY

What is Card Counting in Poker?

By David Huber
December 28, 2023

A counting cards poker strategy can be one of the most effective ways to distinguish yourself from casual, beginning players. This is especially true in “door card” games such as Seven Card Stud, where so much information can be obtained and used to one’s advantage.

In this article, we’ll explain how players increase their poker skill level by counting cards, how to count cards in Texas Hold’em, and why this practice is encouraged in player-versus-player poker (rather than frowned upon) compared to house-edge games like blackjack.

ran man card counting

Card Counting Poker – The Single Deck Element

Some might ask, “Can you count cards in poker?” or “Can you tell me how to count cards in poker?”

As mentioned above, not only is this practice encouraged, it is outright necessary. The single deck element of poker games allows players to use known information in a way that can sometimes heavily sway one’s advantage over players who do not keep track of face-up cards (or one’s own hole cards).

There are a total of 52 cards in a standard poker deck, with jokers discarded. Thirteen cards for each of the four suits: Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades.

This simplifies the poker card counting experience – at least when compared to a multi-deck casino game such as blackjack. Once a card is revealed, that card is guaranteed to NOT appear at any other time during a poker hand.

For example, let’s say you are dealt two red aces in a Texas Hold’em game. This means that the Ace of Hearts and Ace of Diamonds are removed from the possibility of being dealt to another player or appearing as community cards.

So already – before any community cards are dealt – you KNOW that the chances of any other specific card appearing (as the burn card, or next card in the deck) are 1-in-50, and NOT 1-in-52.

In Seven Card Stud, there is even more known information. If there are three players remaining in a hand before the final face-down card is dealt, then there are a total of 12 “door cards” that you can identify, plus your own two hole cards.

This is the beauty of single deck poker. You can (and SHOULD) use all known information when competing at a poker table. Players who don’t do this will find themselves at a disadvantage when facing competitors who correctly count cards in poker.

What is Counting Cards in Poker? (Sample 7 Card Stud Hand)

To start, let’s say you’re playing a heads-up Seven Card Stud hand as Player 1.

Player 1: (Ah-7h) 3h-2h-Kc-2c
Player 2: (xx) Qh-Th-5h-4h

As it currently stands, you have One Pair: Twos. Your opponent has four-to-a-flush but otherwise no pairs.

However, you also know that you are drawing to an Ace-high Flush, and all you need to complete this hand is to receive one of the remaining hearts as your final, face-down card.

If you considered your hand ONLY, then there would be nine hearts remaining in the deck. However, you must also consider your opponent’s face-up “door” cards. Your opponent has four of those remaining nine hearts showing.

So this means that there are only FIVE hearts that can possibly be dealt to you as your final face-down card: Kh, Jh, 9h, 8h, or 6h.

Since you KNOW a total of 10 cards in this hand (the eight face-up cards along with your own two hole cards), there are 42 cards remaining that you could possibly be dealt. And since five of those possible cards are hearts, your odds of making your Ace-high Flush are exactly 5-in-42, or 11.9%.

You will only complete your Ace-high Flush on the river approximately 12-in-100, or 6-in-50, or 3-in-25 hands. The other 88.1% of the time, you will NOT make an Ace-high Flush. In the meantime, your opponent is most likely going to place a bet before the final, face-down card is dealt to both players. This is because your opponent has four-to-a-flush showing face-up.

To illustrate how this information might assist you in terms of Pot Odds, let’s show two possible scenarios.

SCENARIO 1: You are playing a $5/$10 Fixed Limit 7 Card Stud hand. So far, the action has been minimal, and the total pot at this time is only around $10. If Player 2 bets $10 into the pot, then you will be faced with a call of $10 (into a $20 total pot). The pot odds in this scenario are atrocious for Player 1, who can use the known information to fold.

SCENARIO 2: You are playing a $5/$10 Fixed Limit 7 Card Stud hand. Up to this point, there has been a lot of action – with multiple raises and re-raises on each street. This has resulted in a total pot of $250. Your opponent (Player 2), bets $10 into the pot. You now have a clear-cut CALL. You are only contributing another $10 into a now $260 pot, and the 11.9% odds of making your Ace-high flush are far greater than the $10-in-$260 (3.84%) odds that a call will cost you.

How to Count Cards in Texas Hold’em

To fully understand how to count cards in Texas Hold’em, you’re going to want to subscribe to one or more premium poker training sites and/or hire a specialized poker coach. These lessons are typically offered by players who have proven results in Texas Hold’em games along with experience in subtle Texas Hold’em concepts that are related to counting cards, such as “blockers.”

As far as “basic” Texas Hold’em card counting concepts are concerned, you should keep in mind that it is important – from a skill based perspective – to consider all known information in any given hand. Known information in Texas Hold’em games is limited exclusively to your own two hole cards plus any community cards that have hit the board.

This can be very helpful in Fixed Limit Texas Hold’em games, which by definition to not allow any player to exceed pre-established betting or raising amounts.

Counting Cards in Texas Hold’em Games (Sample Hands)

Assuming you’re playing a Fixed Limit Texas Hold’em game (as Player 1), let’s use the following sample hand as an example.

Player 1: Ts-9s
Player 2: xx

COMMUNITY BOARD CARDS: 8h-7d-2c-As

As Player 1, you KNOW that you are drawing to an outside, double-ended straight. Any SIX or any JACK will give you a Straight – and there are 46 unknown cards remaining.

This means that the odds that your “eight-outer” will be dealt on the River are precisely 8-in-46, or about 17.4%. If any one of your eight desired cards is dealt on the River, you will be holding the best possible hand for this board.

But again, you’ll only make the best possible hand 8 out of 46 (or 4 out of 23) times on average. And we can use this information to make clear-cut choices when facing a river bet from our opponent.

If the opponent’s (Fixed Limit) Turn bet represents less than 17.4% of the total pot, then you have a very easy call to make. In other words, you’ll gladly call a $10 Turn bet into a $200 pot and likewise, gleefully fold when faced with a $10 Turn bet into a $20 pot.

Of course, if you’re seeking an inside straight, the odds change considerably.

Player 1: Ts-8s
Player 2: xx

COMMUNITY BOARD CARDS: 6h-7c-2d-Ks

In this scenario, a NINE on the River will give Player 1 a guaranteed winning hand at showdown – but there are only four nine remaining in a deck of 46 possible cards. Four-in-forty-six equals (roughly) 8.7%. This means that you’ll need to “pay” less than that – in relation to the total pot amount – to justify a call before the river card is dealt.

Poker Card Counting: Application and Continuing Education

There is a LOT to be said about poker card counting, its application in real life scenarios, and continuing education.

Take our 2023 interview with longtime Brazilian poker pro Andre Akkari, for instance. Due to the unique need in Brazil to market poker as a “mind sport,” continuing education opportunities have flourished in that country since the mid 2000s.

So what happened in Brazil was the development of a lot of poker schools,” states Andre Akkari.

The soccer-dominated nature of Brazilian sports has meant that poker game hosts have had to find a unique way to market poker in a way that is both informative and competitive.

Whether that continuing education “attitude” can be incorporated into Mixed Games programming for a North American and/or European public audience remains to be seen.

Marketing games like Fixed Limit 7 Card Stud as a study tool could encompass a “one player only” setting; a concept that is deftly covered by knowledgeable poker coaches and in-depth poker courses.

Public Subsidizing of Mixed Poker Games Instruction

The following represents this author’s opinion related to gaining and utilizing public U.S. subsidies for Mixed Games instructive programming tied to arithmetic and mathematics.

“One player only” poker programming, however instructive, omits the competitive nature of the game. The same can be said for two-handed games in which compensated player-actors might reveal all their cards face-up to an audience.

There is also a possibility that subsidized public education would render casino-hosted small stakes Fixed Limit Mixed Games unprofitable for highly skilled competitive players.

For these reasons, the current approach of “tucking” poker educational content into private coaching endeavors is both logical and effective. By firewalling poker Mixed Games educational content behind privately sponsored paywalls (poker training sites), educational content can still be accessed – for a price – by individuals who wish to access it.

Given the state-based jurisdictional nature of U.S. commercial casino and online poker legalization, subsidized educational programming for poker would likely require a robust “game plan” to qualify as a public interest; a game plan that thoroughly contemplates the following concepts:

  • Arithmetic and Mathematics
  • Non-competitive, face-up illustrations (and/or)
  • Paid players/actors
  • In-depth knowledge of each state’s commercial licensing aims
  • Clear separation from Responsible Gaming facets of legalized gambling
  • Clear separation from house-edge games like blackjack
  • Willingness to “test” concept under the jurisdiction of a sole state
  • Incorporation and acceptance of existing regulatory infrastructure
  • Economic and educational benefits for existing regulatory infrastructure
  • Balance between (and in the interests of) both tribal and commercial U.S. casino interests
  • Discreet management assurances of any televised “poker dramas” that may arise

In other words, the current methods for marketing and relaying poker Mixed Games instructional card counting content will be superior to any subsidized programming – unless said programming justifies public funding by ticking off the boxes mentioned above (and then some, in my opinion).

Having Fun with Poker Card Counting

Of course, there is nothing stopping one individual from having fun with poker card counting on one’s own time.

Dealing hands face-up on your own time can be highly instructional, while giving you ample time to work out the odds manually for a variety of scenarios.

If poker card counting is something you’re interested in, you can establish multiple scenarios in private and subsequently calculate poker odds to increase your knowledge.

But there’s nothing quite like a competitive game of poker to “test” one’s skill against one or more human opponents. As long as you stay well within your bankroll, a low stakes, Fixed Limit home game could be a fun and instructive way to learn more about poker card counting in a competitive environment.

Have fun with the concepts of poker to make your poker educational journey more rewarding as you progress!

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David Huber poker author
Written By.

David Huber

David Huber has been involved in the poker industry for close to two decades: initially as a professional online poker player and later as an editor, consultant, writer, and forum manager. Known as “dhubermex” online, David’s poker-related work has been heavily published across numerous websites since 2004.

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