If you are familiar with counting cards in blackjack and have spent a little time playing blackjack in a live casino, you’ve probably heard the term shuffle tracking a few times. Shuffle tracking in blackjack is sometimes referred to as card clump tracking because the strategy involves the blackjack player making an effort to keep track of groups of cards or “clumps” during a shuffle. Because it relates precisely to the shuffling of cards at a blackjack table, shuffle tracking is most effective in live games that deal from a six or eight-deck shoe.

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The Premise of Shuffle Tracking

All card counting methods and blackjack strategies are based on a premise, or theory. The theory behind shuffle tracking is that it is possible to predict the location of cards in a shoe. If the theory is correct, shuffling at the blackjack table does not produce the random arrangement of cards that the casinos require to maintain their edge in the game.

Today, most live casinos are making use of automatic shuffling machines like the ones used in games such as poker and Let it Ride. The reason for this is that the old method of having the dealer shuffle the cards by hand was time consuming and did not always produce the best results. Dealers simply did not have time to be thorough. There are still some live casinos, however, where dealers shuffle by hand. This is mostly found in smaller casinos.

There are various methods for shuffling the cards by hand in blackjack but a casino usually has guidelines that they expect their dealers to follow. Some shuffles can be quite complex and produce a more random arrangement of cards while others can be quite simple. The effectiveness of shuffle tracking is definitely influenced by the thoroughness of the shuffle.

The Basics of Shuffle Tracking

Shuffle tracking really begins with card counting. A player without the requisite card counting knowledge and experience will find it impossible to shuffle track accurately. You can find a wealth of information on card counting here at Counting Edge but for the purpose of our shuffle tracking discussion what you really need to remember is this:

  • In blackjack tens and aces are good for the player. The more of them that are in the deck the higher the count goes.
  • Low cards like 4, 5, and 6 are good for the dealer. They can allow the dealer to “draw out” and are seldom a part of a winning hand.

Card counting is a way for a player to know an approximate ratio between the high cards and low cards at any given time during play.

In a live casino the cards are dealt from a six or eight-deck shoe. When the cards are shuffled and placed into the shoe, a yellow card is inserted near the rear of the shoe to mark the “cut off” or point where the cards must be reshuffled. The cut off is usually about ¾ deep, meaning that it contains the last ¼ of cards in the shoe. These cards never come into play during a blackjack game. Using a cut off is primarily done to prevent card counters from reaching a point where their count becomes super accurate. The accurateness of a count improves with deck penetration.

Let’s say a player is using their favorite card counting method at the blackjack table and the count is +6 when the cut off is reached. If the player has kept an accurate count this means that the packet of cards below the cut off has a count of -6, a count which is very bad for the player. This means that there are a lot of low cards in that pack. In blackjack shuffle tracking a player will attempt to track that pack of cards as they are taken from the shoe and incorporated into a fresh shuffle. By tracking that pack the player can then note when they begin to appear as the cards are dealt from a new shoe. If the cards tracked were low, the player will reduce their bets during this string of cards. If they were high, the player will bet big and try to capitalize.

The Problem with Blackjack Shuffle Tracking

While we don’t totally discount shuffle tracking as a blackjack strategy (and take our word that there are many publications out there that specifically address this strategy), we would like to point out a few problems with it. Aside from the fact that a player must almost be a genius or wizard to maintain the count, basic strategy, and a shuffle track, here are some issues:

  • The technique is worthless in online blackjack because online blackjack does not use a shoe or a shuffle that the player can see.
  • Many live casinos have replaced the hands of the dealer with an automatic shuffler. example las vegas casinos.
  • The theory behind shuffle tracking has not been substantiated in the same way that card counting has. In short, there is little proof of its effectiveness.

Further reading: does a player generally have a slight edge when playing with just one deck?

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