The art of blackjack shoe shuffling and its importance to players.
Blackjack is considered to be one of the easiest cards games in any casino, online or on land. The concept is simple enough. If you can count to 21 and do the most basic addition in your head, you’re already equipped with the mental capacity to play the game.
Invoking strategic ways to win blackjack, however, takes a bit more calculation and, for world class pros, the ability to keep a proper count of the cards. For this reason, understanding a casino’s shoe shuffling policies is critical for skilled players.
Blackjack Shoe Shuffling
In casino card games like baccarat and blackjack, a number of decks are utilized in order progress the speed of the games without constantly reshuffling. It’s not uncommon for a blackjack game to utilize 8 decks; a total of 416 cards. This convergence of decks, and the plastic encasement that holds them, are known collectively as the “shoe”.
The art of shuffling the shoe is something every casino dealer must have down to an exact science. It’s not just about shuffling the cards well enough, or enough times, to produce a wholly random and unpredictable lay of the cards. It’s more about the placement of the cut card, and how it directly impacts a player’s ability to bet with or against the count.
Why Placement of the Cut Card Matters
Professional players count the cards in blackjack because the best results come from an uneven count. For example, if there is a significantly higher number of aces and face cards than there are low cards remaining, the player knows to bet high in anticipation of receiving more valuable hands, like a natural 20 or 21. If the opposite is true—more low cards than high—the player will place smaller bets, expecting fewer valuable hands.
A shoe is much more likely to reach a significant swing in high or low cards when deck penetration is deeper. In the right circumstances, it can give players an edge over the house, actually pushing the RTP over 100%. But when the cut card appears within the first half of the shoe, or even at a depth of 50%, it becomes incredibly difficult to use the count to your advantage.
Live Blackjack Dealer Cut at 50% Penetration
Unfortunately for strategic players, live blackjack dealers generally must place the cut card midway into the shoe; an approximate 50% depth. Once the dealer gets to the cut card, the game pauses. All previously dealt cards and the remaining shoe are swapped out for a new, freshly shuffled shoe.
The live dealer blackjack tables at Evolution Gaming and Playtech studios all use this midway cutting method. Players can observe the size of the shoe at all times, and actually see the cut card when it appears. They have the privilege of watching another employee step in to shuffle the previous shoe, ensuring there’s no funny business (i.e. deck-stacking) going on.
Things work differently at some live casino studios, like NetEnt. There, the shoe encasement is an impenetrable black; a much larger contraption that mechanically reshuffles the deck as soon as the required depth is reached. The process is so automated that players never know when the cut card is reached, or even when the cards are shuffled. Thus, by NetEnt’s blackjack shoe shuffling policies, card counting will do you absolutely no good whatsoever.
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