10 Sep

Ace Sequencing the Tommy Hyland Way

Cursory examination and analysis of Tommy Hyland’s Blackjack Ace Sequencing technique.

Born in New Jersey in 1956, Tommy Hyland grew up about 50 miles from Atlantic City, and he’s said to have begun gambling at the age of ten or eleven. In 2002, he was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame as one of seven inaugural members, widely considered the most successful blackjack team manager in the history of the game.

Apart from card counting, Hyland taught his team members to use an advantage play technique known as “shuffle tracking”—watching the dealer shuffle the cards in an attempt to determine where a high concentration of Aces and face cards might be positioned prior to the next deal. A very specific form of shuffle tracing is called “ace sequencing,” and it was this practice that got Hyland’s players arrested for alleged cheating in Windsor, Canada in 1994.

Fortunately, the judge who heard the Hyland case took a different view from the casinos regarding ace sequencing. He ruled that the players’ blackjack winnings were the result of “intelligent strategy,” not cheating. It was a landmark decision, and ever since that day, although casinos can still ban “undesirable” players like card counters from their tables, nowhere is the use of skill illegal, including ace sequencing.

Methodology of Blackjack Ace Sequencing

The underlying assumption behind ace sequencing is that during a minimal shuffle, such as two riffles of the deck, there is a high likelihood that cards discarded together will still be in close proximity for the next deal. The player will watch as Aces are discarded during play and take note of the two or three cards that are placed immediately on top of them—the so-called “slugs.” When the new deal begins, the player simply watches for the slugs to appear, knowing that an Ace will soon be following.

By one estimate, a player who knows an Ace will be dealt as the first card in his/her hand gains a 50.4% advantage over the dealer. That includes a 30.8% chance of drawing a blackjack (21) along with a high probability of making a strong hand with any other total. In much the same way, knowing that the dealer’s hole card is likely to be an Ace can help the player in deciding to hit, stand, split, double down or surrender, should the option be available.

Putting the Strategy to Work

Specifically, consider the case when the Jack of clubs and the seven of diamonds are placed atop the Ace of hearts in the discard tray. When the dealer shuffles, if two riffles are performed perfectly, then exactly three unknown cards should be inserted in the gaps between the tracked cards, creating the sequence 7♦–x-x-x-J♣–x-x-x-A♥. Concurrently, the ace sequencing player will follow the relative position of slugs within the deck through the shuffle to have a rough idea when the sequence is likely to appear.

In Hyland’s case, he would have a full team of five players facing the dealer. Their “big player” would be in the middle occupying seats 3 and 4, playing two hands and wagering near the table maximum. The players in seats 1, 2, 5 and 6 would be betting near the minimum with the job of steering Aces to the big player. They would also serve as blockers, making sure to keep the Ace away from the dealer.

Once the first slug appeared (7♦ in this example), the team would begin guiding the Ace of hearts, selectively choosing to hit, stand or split, even if it meant violating basic strategy. It should be noted that this blackjack ace sequencing technique works best against a six-deck or eight-deck shoe with a weak shuffle procedure in place.

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