How to Count Cards in Blackjack Like in the Film 21?

How to Count Cards in Blackjack Like in the Film 21?

Published Date · Sept. 23, 2020 · Last Updated · June 9, 2023 ·Read Time · 3 mins


The film ‘21’ is an iconic watch. There will be few blackjack players out there who have not watched, or at least heard of, the casino based movie. The film, which stars Jim Sturgess and Kevin Spacey, is based on a true story where an aspiring mathematics major is trying to find a way to pay for his tuition fees after earning a place at Harvard Medical School.

What is the storyline of 21?

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The main character in the film 21 is called Ben Campbell and he is desperate to find a solution to pay his school tuition fees so he can become a mathematics major. That solution lies professor Micky Rosa who has created a group of six MIT students to train them to become card counters. Ben then joins this group and develops an understanding of this blackjack technique. With Ben part of the group, they head over to Las Vegas and rinse the casinos there for millions of dollars thanks to a mixture of the card counting system and fake identities. However things get a bit excessive and they need to start being careful. You may well be wondering if card counting is a realistic strategy for the real life world, let’s find out…

How to Card Count

Counting cards is a blackjack strategy where the player tries to memorise the cards that have already been dealt. This means, when it gets down towards the end of the deck, they will know which cards are yet to have been dealt so they can hit or stand appropriately. If you can execute it effectively then you will be able to have a big advantage. However, it is very difficult to master. 

Is it Illegal?

In short, it is not an illegal tactic as it does not go against any of the rules of the game. However, casinos do not like card counters, they will do their utmost to try to catch anybody doing it and then ask them to leave the table. If a player is caught card counting  in blackjack on multiple times then it could be possible that they end up with a ban from the casino. It is important to remember that if you avoid being suspicious then you will not get punished in any form.

How to spot a card counter

Blackjack card counters will want to take advantage of the patterns and will naturally up their stakes should they be confident of what card will arise next. Therefore, if a player goes from low bets such as £5 to suddenly wagering £1000, it will trigger suspicion that they may be up to something dodgy. That is a clear sign of behaviour which would stand out but there are also some more subtle ways to be caught. A lack of focus from a player could raise alarm bells to casino staff. If they seem to not really be concentrating on the game, it could be because they are keeping a keen eye on which cards get pulled out. Once they trigger any alert of this, the staff will be right on their case.

What’s the verdict?

The card counting in 21 looks like great fun and really sells it well. But, it does not always work that well in real life. Casinos do not like it so they will do what they can to stamp it out – they have trained professionals looking out for it. Overall, the casino games should be fun and not guaranteed money, so the best thing to do is to play purely for fun and not risk big money on a technique which could backfire. There are many other blackjack tactics out there to blackjack card counting that can be less stressful and more fun.


Phoebe Greenwood

Content Writer