Shuffle Tracking

Shuffle tracking is an offshoot of card counting that gives the most accurate possible indication of where the good cards are in a shoe. It’s used in a variety of card games, but most notably Blackjack because this is where the technique gives most advantage.

Blackjack is the favourite game of card counters and shuffle trackers because a deck of cards is often not shuffled until it reaches its end. From a card counting perspective, this allows you to literally count what you’ve seen dealt, giving you enough data to accurately predict what might be coming.

Multiple Decks

To thwart the effectiveness of card counting, casinos will often deal from a shoe that contains 6 or 8 decks. The idea is that if you can be distracted at all during play (and casinos provide plenty of distraction), you’ll lose your place in the count, making it impossible to recover until the start of the next shoe. But although the cards appear to be mixed, each deck is in fact shuffled separately.

This has to happen, because if all 8 decks where shuffled together, it’s completely possible to come up against impossible hands like 2 Aces of Spades pushing 2 Aces of Spades. So when shuffle time comes, the shoe is split back into its 8 constituent decks (52 cards each), and shuffled.

The beauty of this is that it becomes possible for a smart card counter to count multi-deck shoes as if they were single decks, simply by memorizing where the splits are. But there’s a second Achilles’ Heel here too.

Greed Creates the Window

Casinos are all about the profit margin. If you spend a lot of time shuffling cards, that’s time wasted which could be otherwise spent taking money off punters. Therefore, most casinos will forgoe a long shuffle in favor of getting the deck back in play more quickly.

It’s this that makes shuffle tracking possible.

The basic theory of shuffle tracking is that card shuffling is not random at all. Different methods of shuffling will actually create patterns within the deck, and many sequences of cards that have already been observed will in fact be preserved. Another corollary says that even where a machine is shuffling, the mechanical nature of that shuffle means that the new sequence can be pre-empted and predicted.

The Specifics

Look at it this way. Let’s say the blackjack deck is mechanically shuffled by a machine that effectively splits the deck in half, and then creates a new order by restacking the cards such that every second card comes from the other half. This is the most common form of shuffling, even among real dealers who achieve this by flicking the corners.

But if you know, from having counted the deck once, what order the cards were in before it was shuffled, the very nature of this shuffle means that you now know exactly what sequence the deck is in after the shuffle. It requires huge mental training, but it is by no means impossible.

Armed with the knowledge of the current order of the cards, you can then adjust your betting strategies to take maximum advantage of the cards coming your way, because you’ll know what they are before the dealer does.