Monday, November 9, 2009

Casual Card Counting

Card Counting.  Such interesting language connotations.  Cheaters.  Skillful probability manipulation.  Just annoying.

Can I count cards in BlackJack?  Yes and no.  I know how to do it.  I have the ability to train my mind to keep a running count.  I haven't invested the man hours to actually hammer the skill into my brain.  And I don't think I ever will.  I just don't like the atmosphere in a casino and I'm happy with the money I make in my day job.

Do I count cards in casual gaming?  It depends.  Probably the most classic case is in Acquire.  You can play with open or closed stocks in Acquire.  When I play with closed stocks, I usually strive to track most player's holdings.  Can I track everything everyone owns?  No.  Not even close.  But really, I'm usually only deep into about 3 companies.  And so I really only need to track what other players have invested in those 3 companies.  And usually I'm only competing with 2 other people per company, so I'm usually tracking 6 numbers in my head.  That's doable, but it does mean paying strict attention to what other players purchase on their turn.

What brought this up?  I played a couple games of R-Eco with my wife a few nights ago.  R-Eco has the curious feature of being able to exactly track what cards an opponent has added to their hand.  This means that if you "count cards" you should be able to know almost exactly what your opponent has to play with.  (There is a minor glitch where their first 3 cards are unknown, but they generally dump their entire hand at some point and you can know for certain from that point onward.)

In the first game of R-Eco, I played like normal, not really tracking her cards unless she picked up 4 red in one go and I knew she could blast red.  I got creamed.  I dumped early and got all sorts of the undesirable goals.

In the second game I counted cards and tracked her hand.  It made a huge difference.  I knew what colors to not leave low hanging fruit on.  I knew what colors to clog up with trash to make her dump.  In the end, I won handily without even dumping.

Will I count cards the next time I play R-Eco?  Probably not.  It adds a bit of an unfair advantage if one player does and the other doesn't.  I'll do it occasionally though.  It's a fun challenge and a good mental exercise.


  1. I'm not a fan of the "Card counting gives an infair advantage" arguement...

    You know what else gives an "unfair advantage?" Being smarter than the opponent. Or better at logic, or at tactical stuff, or logistics... shall we handicap everyone in every respect because their particular skills constitute an unfair advantage vs someone without those skills?

    People make the same argument about memory aspects in games. It' snot fair if one player has a better memory than the other? Bullshit. If it's fair that I can figure out what role you're likely to pick in Puerto Rico (better than you can do the same), then it's fair if you remember better than me how many cubes we each put into the tower in El Grande.

    If paying attention to trackable information is useful, then it's up to the players to use that information - it's not an "unfair" advantage if one of th eplayers doesn't bother.

  2. I suppose I shouldn't have called it an "unfair advantage". It just gives an advantage.

    Most games are more fun to me if there is a close fought battle. Card counting in certain games could give an unsurmountable advantage (R-Eco appears to be one of these).

    I mainly just meant if I'm in a casual gaming environment and I know I'm going to be the only one considering counting cards, then I'm probably not going to do it.

    In a competitive environment, anything goes :)

    Thanks for commenting!


Behave. Your mamma could read this.