Blackjack is one of the very few casino games where players can gain an edge over the house and effectively use this advantage to generate consistent profits in the long term. Resourceful gamblers have come up with many ingenious ways to exploit the game over the years, with card counting being the most popular and broadly implemented approach. It is sometimes used in conjunction with another advantage play technique, known as shuffle tracking.
Like card counting, shuffle tracking calls for a good deal of practice, persistence, and patience. Some would even say mastering and effectively applying this technique at the blackjack table is far more difficult and time-consuming than learning to count cards. Nevertheless, learning to shuffle track is well worth the effort because it can give you a greater edge when used in combination with card counting.
Shuffle tracking is a great way to take your blackjack game to the next level. Continue reading if you are interested in this method as SuperCasinoSites explores the basic premise behind this sophisticated approach and explains the different types of shuffle tracking techniques. Is this form applicable in online live-dealer blackjack? Stay with us to figure out.
What Is Shuffle Tracking?
As the name itself suggests, shuffle tracking is a technique that requires the player to track certain cards or clumps of cards during the shuffling process. This approach is believed to work most efficiently in hand-shuffled games where six or eight decks are in play.
These usually have a simpler shuffle when compared to single-deck and double-deck variations because accomplishing a complex, fully random shuffle is very time-consuming when multiple decks are in play.
The goal of the player is to locate clumps of cards and try to identify where they will end up after the reshuffle. The player would then use this knowledge to their advantage. Shuffle tracking is predominantly used in blackjack although it is also applicable to other casino card games.
It follows the advantage swings in favor of the player the more low cards leave the shoe and vice versa, the dealer gains the upper hand when the shoe is depleted of high cards. The player can determine the ratio of high to low cards through card counting, a technique that is sometimes used in conjunction with shuffle tracking.
The player keeps track of the ratio of high to low cards in one or several sections of the shoe. Careful observation and shuffle mapping are required to determine which sections to track. The chosen card sections are known as tracking zones. The player follows these clumps through the shuffle, which creates play zones containing the majority of the cards from the tracking zone.
Once the dealer completes the shuffle, the player would insert the cut card in such a way so as to cut low-card clumps out of play or vice versa, making the situation tougher for the dealer. The opposite is done with the clumps of high cards, i.e. the player strives to cut these into play to gain an edge over the dealer. Betting decisions are then made in line with the changed composition of the shoe.
A Few Words on Shuffles and Randomness
Most people who gamble recreationally assume the shuffling of the deck ensures complete randomness, which makes it impossible to predict the order of the cards. However, this rarely is the case, even more so in hand-shuffled games where multiple decks are in play.
Dealers are not necessarily as thorough when it comes to shuffling as the house wants you to think. A thorough shuffle requires more time and thus, slows down the pace of the game. A slower game results in patrons going through fewer hands per hour. Fewer hands per hour are equal to less profit for the house.
Some casino experts suggest that it takes 20 to 30 shuffles to ensure randomness and unpredictability when one uses a single deck of cards. If the table utilizes a shoe with six or eight decks, the dealer will have to reshuffle the packs 120 to 180 times until the sequence becomes truly random. This would be annoying for the patrons and less cost-effective for the house.
Since both card counters and shuffle trackers are a thorn in the casino’s eye, an increasing number of establishments have started to introduce shuffling machines to baccarat and blackjack tables where multiple card decks are in play. This furthers the speed of the game while at the same time rendering any form of advantage play impossible.
Basics for Beginner Shuffle Trackers
If interested in learning this form of advantage play, you need to first master the art of card counting as the two techniques usually go hand in hand. There are different card counting systems but most advantage players prefer using Hi-Lo because it is simple and effective at the same time.
The Hi-Lo is a balanced level-one system where high cards (Ace, King, Jack, Queen, and 10) are assigned a value of -1 whereas low cards (deuces through 6) are counted as +1. Medium value cards 7, 8, and 9 are neutral and have a value of zero because they give advantage neither to the player nor the dealer.
The system is balanced because if you count through a full 52-card deck, the result will be zero. The higher the positive count is, the more advantageous the game is for the player and vice versa. The player makes larger bets when they identify such advantageous situations.
Of course, shuffle tracking will work regardless of what card counting system you choose to implement. Here is a simplified example of how the tracking technique works. Suppose you have arrived at a count of -10 when the dealer decides to reshuffle the cards. This means the cards that remained to be dealt are predominantly low in value, with a total of +10.
The goal is to track and identify where this clump of low cards ends up during the cutting and reshuffling. You bet small when this clump approaches because low cards are better for the dealer. The opposite is also true. You would bet big if the approaching clump consists of high cards.
The main premise of shuffle tracking is that it enables the player to predict when certain groups of cards will come up and adjust their bet size and strategy accordingly. The technique also allows you to remove certain clumps of cards from play when you cut the shoe.
The situation calls for a bet increase during the first half of the shoe although the count will most likely begin to drop. The first half will have a count of -10, i.e. there will be more high-value than low-value cards.
If you read carefully, you have probably noticed one interesting discrepancy. Shuffle tracking is kind of the opposite of card counting. A shuffle tracker keeps a tab on the cards that remain to be dealt while a card counter would normally do the opposite, i.e. they track the cards that have already left the shoe to determine the rest of its composition.
Shuffle tracking can be a bit counter-intuitive and difficult to grasp, especially if you are new to using this technique. Unlike the card counter, the shuffle tracker hopes to see more high-value than low-value cards leaving the shoe.
Types of Shuffle Tracking Techniques
We can distinguish between several subtypes of shuffle tracking such as key card location, ace sequencing, zone tracking, and ten steering, all of which are equally difficult to master. Zone tracking is used when the player wants to identify certain slugs of high or low cards.
The player follows the slug during the reshuffling process and adjusts their bets accordingly when the clump approaches. Playing and betting decisions become more accurate when you track more sectors of the shoe. Some players use their casino chips for orientation when tracking multiple card sectors.
With the key card location technique, you pick a given card and commit the cards that follow to memory. These are your target cards. The shuffle tracker knows these cards will appear in play soon after the key card hits the felt and acts accordingly.
The purpose of ace sequencing is to try and determine when an ace is about to hit the felt. Aces are of extreme importance in the game of 21, along with ten-value cards like King, Queen, Jack, and 10, because they give you blackjacks for higher payouts of 3 to 2.
The player gains an edge of a little over 50% if the first card in their hand is an ace because this increases their chances of acquiring a blackjack or another strong hand. To use this technique, the shuffle tracker must determine what segments of the discarded cards are likely to remain intact after the dealer reshuffles the shoe.
The player needs to watch closely as the aces are put in the discard tray within a given segment. Then he or she commits to memory the value of the two or three cards the dealer puts on top of the ace in the discard tray.
Once the dealer reshuffles, the player waits for the memorized cards to appear because the ace is likely to get dealt after them. Bets are increased in anticipation of the ace appearing on the felt. Tens steering is similar to ace sequencing but ten-value cards are tracked instead. The purpose here is to steer the tens in such a way so that they end up in the dealer’s hand, causing them to bust and lose the round.
Is Shuffle Tracking a Viable Technique in Online Casinos?
Skilled blackjack players are frowned upon and persecuted at landbased casinos despite the fact most forms of advantage play are perfectly legal. Nevertheless, it is possible to use techniques like card counting and shuffle tracking as long as you take the necessary precautions to avoid detection and the back-offs that follow.
The question arises is shuffle tracking a viable technique when playing online? The short answer is no. The same goes for card counting. Many of the available online blackjack games run on a Random Number Generator. This ensures the full randomization of the shuffle. The dealt cards are added back to the shoe and all decks in play are automatically reshuffled by the RNG software at the end of every single round.
The bottom line is you start each hand afresh from a neutral shoe. Neither card counting nor shuffle tracking is possible under such circumstances. The best you can do is follow basic strategy to the tee but even so, you are still playing at a slight disadvantage of around 0.5%.
But what about online live casinos where the cards are dealt by actual dealers and the action is streamed to your computer screen in real-time? Is shuffle tracking possible there? We regret to say the answer is still no, or at least not at most live blackjack tables. Card counting is applicable in some cases but is pretty much useless.
As for shuffle tracking, many live casinos prefer to use automatic or continuous shuffling machines rather than letting the dealers shuffle the decks by hand. This saves time and ensures a higher expected value per hour for the casino. The problem with shufflers is they are opaque which makes it impossible for the player to track how cards are shuffled and cut.
Unlike human dealers, the machine shuffles with great precision and selects each card at random. This ensures the composition of the shoe is haphazard and different after each reshuffle. If any cards clump, the cluster will not necessarily be preserved or intensified after several reshuffles. If you insist on putting your shuffle tracking abilities to the test in a live casino make sure you find a hand-shuffled game. These are rarer but still available in some live-dealer casinos.
Other Advantage Play Techniques in Blackjack
We already spoke about how you can improve your chances of beating the game of blackjack with card counting and shuffle tracking but these are not the only techniques versed players use to their advantage.
Hole carding is another approach that can help you gain an edge but is mostly applicable in landbased casinos. With this technique, the player catches a glimpse of a card that is otherwise supposed to be hidden from view. The player gains a significant advantage over the house since the card in question is usually the hole card of the dealer.
As for the legalities of hole carding, the practice is generally considered legal as long as the player does not use any devices to obtain that knowledge. Hole carding is not possible with all dealers. We recommend you look for sloppy, inattentive or rookie dealers if you want to implement this approach.
Edge sorting is another form of advantage play, applicable to games like blackjack and baccarat. It got a lot of press in recent years, particularly around the case with poker superstar Phil Ivey, who used edge sorting to win $9.6 million while playing baccarat at the Borgata Casino.
A person who uses edge sorting relies on their trained eye to spot these irregularities. In turn, this allows them to identify the values of certain cards even if they are dealt face-down. The trouble is this is not possible with all card decks.
Casinos have adopted a variety of countermeasures to hinder players who rely on edge sorting. Some establishments implement perfectly symmetrical decks while others or use new decks each time they deal.
To wrap things up, shuffle tracking and some of the other techniques discussed in this article are not for everyone. It requires lots of efforts, patience, and practice to master and mostly works in landbased casinos. If you still insist on learning and applying this technique in online live-dealer casinos, be sure to find a table where the cards are shuffled manually by the dealer.