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.
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:
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.
If you are a card counter, keeping an accurate count can go hand in hand with shuffle tracking to perhaps offer you an added edge. Let’s say that you have counted into a six-deck shoe and found the count to be +6 when the cutoff is reached, the shuffle tracker would assume that the cards below the cutoff are not favorable to the player. The reason for this is that the final count of a completed deck in many basic systems should equal zero. It then becomes imperative to track that clump or packet of cards as it is shuffled by the dealer for the next round. If the tracking has been successful, the player will note the placement of these unfavorable cards as they begin to appear and assume a “clump” is likely.
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: