How Does Counting Cards in Poker Work [Pros & Cons]

Content Team 1 year ago
How Does Counting Cards in Poker Work [Pros & Cons]

Want to learn how to be better while playing poker online? Understanding how counting cards in poker works can help you win more games. Namely, card counting became popular thanks to movies, books, and groups of people such as the incredible MIT blackjack team. In case you want to learn more, watch the movie “21” or read the book “Bringing Down the House.”

First things first, you should get yourself familiar with the essential concepts in poker games, like straight outs, flop, river, odds, and blockers. In this article, I’ll specifically discuss card counting in poker games.

How Does Counting Cards in Poker Work?

Card counting is frowned upon by the casino when it comes to blackjack, but it won’t get you in trouble in any other game, especially poker.

In a casino game, counting cards means keeping track of which cards have come out of a deck. In all types of poker, there are cards that everyone can see (called “community cards”) and cards that only the player who has them can see (called “hole cards”). Note that when you do count cards in poker, there won’t be as many face-up cards as in blackjack, so you won’t have as much information to work with.

In poker, you can get a strategic edge if you consider everything you know. For example, if you have a certain card, you know that no one else at the table has it. So, how do you count cards in poker? I’ll explain in the section below to make it more understandable.

Counting Your and Your Opponent’s Outs

What is an out? It’s a possible card that can improve the strength of your deck. Outs are cards left in the deck that haven’t yet been dealt. When players are waiting for a straight or flush draw, they need a certain card to complete or improve their hands. Knowing how many possible outs there are in a round can help you make important decisions, like whether to call someone’s “over” bet or make a “value” bet on the last two streets. That’s where counting outs come in.

To count outs in Texas Hold’em, you have to figure out how many combinations of cards you need to make a hand. First, you need to establish how many outs several common flop drawing hands have vs. made hands:

  • A pair and a flush draw usually have about 12 outs, while a top pair draw usually only has two.
  • Compared to a made hand, a naked flush draw has about nine chances to win.
  • Most of the time, overcards have about six ways to win against a pair.
  • A pair and an overcard usually have about five chances to beat a top pair.

Counting the Pot Equity

In poker, “equity” means your “fair” share of the pot based on how likely you’re to win the hand. So, when you have a drawing hand, you can quickly figure out how much money you have by counting your potential outs. I’ve mentioned how many outs each typical draw has, so all you have to do to determine the likely equity is to use the rule of 4 and 2.

If you’re on the flop, multiply your number of outs by four to get a rough estimate of your chances of drawing a hand. On the other hand, if it’s your turn, multiply the number of outs by two, and you’ll determine the chance of a draw.

Counting Cards in a Tainted Deck

Still wondering how to count cards in poker? Note that there’s a difference between a clean out and a tainted out. You should focus on a clean out because tainted outs can improve your hand but help your opponent out even more.

I’ll give an example to help you understand this concept better. Say you have Ax-8x, and the flop is J-7-4 with two more spades, giving you a total of four to the nut flush. So, what you have now are nine solid outs: the unseen spades (13 – 4 = 9).

Also, you might think you have three more chances to catch another ace, but these are already used. If an ace falls on the table, a player with an ace and a higher kicker would “out-kick” you, leaving you with the worst hand.

That could cost a lot of money, so it’s best to think of the remaining aces as tainted, so you only count them as half as much as the nine unseen spades in the deck. Therefore, the total outs are 9 (the spades that are left) plus 3 x ½ = 1.5, for a total of 10.5.

When counting cards in Texas Hold’Em, it’s basically just deducting how many different combinations you need to for a hand. For a straight gutshot draw, you need one numbered card, no matter what suit. Thus, you need four outs. Open-ended straight draws are better because you can form a hand with two numbered cards, meaning you need eight outs to get a straight. Flush draws have nine outs because thirteen cards have the same suit.

Is It Legal to Count Cards in Poker?

Can you count cards in poker? Yes, it’s legal, and it mostly happens during the flop and turn. However, remember that counting cards isn’t used to beat others and win, but to make more money than other players.

It’s not only legal but also a crucial technique that all successful players use. I advise you to use your hole cards and the community cards to estimate the likelihood that your opponent will have a specific hand.

There are countries where this might not be the case, though. It’s also frowned upon sometimes, and Hollywood helped this happen. Some casinos discourage it and might ban you from using it.

Pros and Cons of Card Counting in Poker

Like with everything else in life, counting cards has both good sides and bad sides.

Pros Cons
You can gain an advantage over other players The advantage you can gain is less significant than in blackjack
Anyone can learn it It’s illegal in some places, and some casinos ban it
You can expand your knowledge
It makes you richer


Card counting can be a very lucrative hobby, especially for risk-takers. It’s much easier to learn than it might seem in movies; you just need practice and self-discipline. However, choosing something else is better if you’d like to feel more secure about your financial situation.

It will help you understand your equity and the equity of your opponent, and it’s known as the blocker effect. Thanks to it, you’ll get a strategic advantage by gathering all available information. The more layers you add to your card-counting strategy, the more money you’re likely to win.


Is counting cards illegal in poker?

It’s legal, but there might be places where it’s illegal, so you should check just in case. It’s legal in the US. However, it can be frowned upon in some places even though it’s legal, so keep that in mind.

How can you tell if someone is counting cards in poker?

There are several ways to tell. For example, if you notice that someone bets much more at the end of the shoe, that’s a sign that they’re counting. Another way to spot a counter is to notice that the bets go up when many low-value cards are played.

What’s a gutshot?

A gutshot is a straight draw with four outs to improve a hand. On an AT6 board, 87 is an example. To make a straight, you would need to hit a 9.

Share it:

March 24, 2023
Posted by Ilija Jaksic
August 10, 2022
Posted by Content Team
October 3, 2023
Posted by Ilija Jaksic
January 30, 2023
Posted by Content Team
Recommended for you
Kosta Tiodorovic
3 months ago
Content Team
1 year ago
Content Team
1 year ago
Content Team
1 year ago