Experienced Blackjack players are always looking for new ways to gain an edge. One of the more recent is called “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. A good shuffle tracker can then cut the deck so that those cards will be put into play early and bet accordingly.
Most casinos have shifted from single-deck tables to multiple-deck ones, which might seem to make it much more difficult for even the most observant players to track the shuffle. However, exactly the opposite is true. Shuffling six or eight decks takes a long time, so dealers do not shuffle each group of 52 cards quite as many times as they would when only a single deck is involved. As a result, the cards are not mixed as thoroughly.
Shuffle tracking is often conducted by teams of two or more players working together. Each player is responsible for watching a certain portion of the deck. As cards are played, they will keep track of the number of Aces and tens that come up. When an especially large number appear, they will mentally “mark” them in the discard tray, keeping an eye on those cards when the shuffling begins.
Throughout the shuffle and the cut, the Ace-ten rich section of the deck must be watched. One the cards are positioned in the shoe ready to deal, the section that has been tracked is referred to as a “zone.” When it eventually comes into play, the shuffle trackers will increase the sizes of their bets in anticipation of high-value hands.
High cards are not the only cards tracked. If a section rich in low cards in noticed during the tracking, a player may attempt to cut the cards so that it falls to the back of the deck and does not come into play. This increases the percentage of high cards players will receive.
Other Types of Tracking
A more specific form of shuffle tracking is known as “Ace sequencing.” The tracker will watch for a number of Aces to be discarded during play and remember the two or three cards that are placed immediately on top of them—so called “slugs.” During a minimal shuffle, there is a high likelihood that the cards will still be in close proximity in the deck after the shoe has been reloaded. It is then a simple matter to watch for the slugs, knowing that an Ace will soon be following.
It has been estimated hat when a player knows an Ace will be dealt as the first card in his/her hand, a whopping 50.4% advantage is gained—including a 30% (4/13) chance of drawing a blackjack plus a good possibility of making a strong hand otherwise. By the same token, knowing that the dealer is likely to hold an Ace as the hole card can help the player know when to hit, stand, split, double down, or surrender, if the option is available.
Another form of shuffle tracking is “card steering.” This can only be accomplished when the player has seen the card or cards that are last in the deck after the shuffle and is able to control the cut. At that point, the tracker attempts to cuts the cards exactly one full deck from the end. He/she will then know the value of the 52nd card to be dealt, long before it comes into play.
Unfortunately, casinos are aware of such attempts to track shuffles. They have countermeasures, such as instructing their dealers to mix the cards more thoroughly or bringing fresh decks into play more frequently. Also, automatic shuffling machines are now in vogue at many casinos. They shuffle the discards continuously, so there really is no way to know where a certain card or cards might appear in the deal.