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Shuffle tracking 101

15 July 2011

A reader sent me this question:

"I've had a lot of success with card counting and I've heard that card counters can get an even greater edge by shuffle tracking. What's your opinion of shuffle tracking?"

Shuffle tracking, also known as "zone tracking," is an extension of card counting. It can give card counters a bigger edge than traditional card counting; however, it's not an easy skill to learn. Here's why.

Card counters track the small and big cards as they are dealt from the dealing shoe. When the count goes positive, it means the remaining unplayed cards contain an excess of high cards (e.g., 10s, picture cards and aces), which gives card counters the edge. However, it usually takes a few rounds before the count shifts positive (or it could go negative, meaning the unplayed cards are rich in low cards). If the count goes positive, the counter starts to bet more. The point is this: card counters don't bet big at the start of a new shoe. They usually start to increase their bets after several rounds have been played.

It's well known that casinos do not deal all the cards in a six-deck shoe. Most deal four to five decks and when the cut (or shuffle card) appears, the dealer will shuffle the cards. Suppose you are card counting and you have a very positive count when the cut card appears. Where are all the big cards that you expected? They are located behind the cut card. This usually frustrates card counters because they couldn't take advantage of that positive count, but for shuffle trackers, it's music to their ears. Here's why.

In the above situation, a shuffle tracker would know that the clump of cards located behind the cut card (the cards not put into play) are rich in high cards because the count was positive when the cut card appeared. What shuffle trackers do is carefully track this clump of high cards through the dealer's shuffling procedure so they know with great certainty where this clump lies in the freshly shuffled stack of cards. The shuffle tracker then cuts this 10-rich clump to the top of the stack. When the dealer places the cards into the dealing shoe, the shuffle tracker know that the first zone of cards that comes out of the shoe will have an excess of high cards; therefore, he makes large bets right at the start of a new shoe. (This also confuses casino personnel, because card counters don't normally make large bets on the first round.) In the early days of shuffle tracking, shuffle trackers were getting a big edge over casinos using this technique, especially casinos that had four-deck shoes with simple shuffling procedures.

Much research went in to refining shuffle tracking strategies. Shuffle trackers knew how much to bet, and they also developed a modified playing strategy for doubling down and pair splitting to take advantage of the 10-rich zone of cards. Shuffle tracking also went high-tech with shuffling tracking software (for example, the popular Casino Verite blackjack software program has a shuffle-tracking module). In practice, shuffle trackers usually played in teams on the same table to ensure that one of them would get the cut card, and also to get even more money on the layout when the first zone of a new shoe was loaded with high cards.

The key to being a successful shuffle tracker is to know the exact shuffling routine that the casino uses and then simulating this shuffle at home to know exactly where the clump of high cards ends up after the shuffling procedure (known as mapping the shuffle). Shuffle trackers know the different shuffling procedures that casinos use, and as long as a dealer doesn't deviate from this shuffling procedure, they're in business.

Once the casinos got wind of shuffle tracking, they started to implement counter measures. One of the first (which you will still see being done today in some casinos) was to "plug" the discards. The dealer would take the cards located behind the cut card, and insert them in small plugs in different locations in the discards before shuffling the cards. Other countermeasures involved implementing more rigorous shuffling procedures (with more garbs and crisscross shuffles), and using the ultimate deterrent to shuffle tracking, the automatic shufflers.

Now let me go back and answer the reader's question on my opinion of shuffle tracking. Personally, I believe that less than 1 percent of card counters have the skills to be successful at shuffle tracking. This is not an easy skill to master and here's the kicker: the possibility of errors is high with shuffle tracking. I've known many card counters who tried shuffle tracking and lost a lot of money due to errors.

Bottom line is this: Shuffle tracking is a much more complex skill than card counting and it requires more mental gymnastics to accurately follow the shuffling procedure. It's much easier to make a mistake at shuffle tracking, and a few errors could wipe out your big edge.

If you want to learn more about shuffle tracking, I highly recommend you read Arnold Snyder's book The Shuffle Tracker's Cookbook, and Bill Zender's book Advantage Play for the Casino Executive.

Recent Articles
Best of Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

Winning Baccarat Strategies

> More Books By Henry Tamburin