Did you know that a single deck of cards has to be shuffled between twenty and thirty times for a truly random dispersion of cards? Now apply that number to a casino where they’re using six-deck shoes, and you’ve got a mind-blowing 120-180 shuffles! I only point this out because some people are under the impression that shuffling a deck of cards once randomizes that deck, while the truth is it takes a lot more shuffling than that.
As a kid playing Go Fish, Crazy Eights, War or Solitaire, you doubtless saw shuffling as something that had to be done before you could start playing the next round of cards, and you patiently waited it out, or perhaps enjoyed the spectacle of your mother or father showing off that fancy bridge they knew how to do.
But in the high-stakes game of Blackjack, the shuffling itself has much to do with who wins and who loses. The term given to the process of watching where specific cards end up during and after the shuffling process – with an eye towards either playing these cards or cutting them out of play – is “Shuffle-tracking,” and it’s one you’ll be hearing more and more of.
Shuffles that are good for the player are shuffles which allow the cards to be mixed very well. For instance, in a one deck game, that deck should be divided equally into 26 cards and shuffled together at least three times. Shuffles that are bad for the player are those that stop the cards from being well mixed.
What’s a “bad” shuffle? The Unbalanced Shuffle, for one. This is when the dealer divides the deck into two unequal stacks, say 31 in one stack and 21 in the other. Why does he do this? Well, if he does the shuffle from the bottom of the stack up, then the top ten cards in the stack of 31 will remain just as they are – unmixed with any of the other cards.
Now, these ten cards are the same cards that caused the player to lose to the dealer before – because there was a clump of low cards in them. If the player allows these cards to stay unmixed, he will get them again – they will be his first two hands, and he will lose again. But if he is paying close attention, he can turn this “unbalanced shuffle” to his advantage. When he is asked to cut the deck, as he will be, he can do so at the end of those ten cards, and they will now be put at the bottom of the deck. At this point, he can avoid them altogether and utilize his knowledge that the first 3-4 hands – abundant with tens in the part of the deck that will be used – will be good for him, and he can increase his bet size in accordance.
The Unbalanced Shuffle can also be known as the House Shuffle since frequently dealers are required by their casinos to use it. They do so because they know that most players are not watching so carefully and will not see how to cut the bad clumps out of play – a distinct advantage for the casino.
There are other shuffle methods too – the Strip Shuffle, for instance, and the Stutter Shuffle – but perhaps the most common shuffle method, used only in multiple-deck or “shoe” games, is called the Zone Shuffle. Depending on just how many decks are being used, the shoe is split into between 4 and 8 piles. Each pair of half-deck sized stacks is shuffled periodically, with prescribed picks from each pile being done in a quite methodical manner.
The point of all this is to regroup the cards in basically the same part of the shoe they occupied previously, effectively allowing clumps of cards to remain unmixed. The dealer of course will continue in this manner if he sees that it is working to his advantage (i.e., he’s won 40 hands and the player’s won 20), and it will go on like this until the player has no money left. If the player has a hefty bankroll, it is conceivable that after so many games and so many shufflings, the unfavorable bias disappears or perhaps reverses, and then the Zone Shuffle starts working towards the player’s advantage.
The dealer will be watching carefully and if by some chance he sees that things are working in the opposite way (i.e., he’s won 20 and the player’s won 40), he will be quick to do whatever he can to reverse this trend. He may shuffle in a different way, a way that will allow him to randomize the cards.
Another way he can shake things up is by “stripping” the deck, meaning he’ll take off one card at a time from the shoe, dropping them on the table and letting them fall on top of one another. In this manner he reverses the order of the cards and gets rid of any clumping (a bunch of tens clumped together, for instance) that might be working to the player’s advantage.