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Best of Mark Pilarski

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The sweet sound of the shuffle

17 February 2006

Dear Mark,
Could you please explain the physical process of shuffling that casinos use in blackjack? Also, why when a new deck is brought in, do some casinos place them face down and swish them around like we did as a kid when playing the game of Fish? Richard C.

Casinos differ on shuffling procedures used to prepare a deck or decks for continued play. They may include "riffling" or "stripping" the cards as well as "washing," "plugging," "boxing" and other idiosyncratic techniques. The ultimate goal, when a dealer shuffles up, is to achieve some level of randomization in the order of the cards. I'll discuss the three most commonly used shuffling methods used in casinos today: Riffling, stripping and washing the cards.

Riffling the cards is the most commonly used shuffling technique used on all casino card games. To accomplish a riffle, the deck is divided roughly in half, then the dealer will pull the card corners up with the thumbs and let the two halves "riffle" together, interleaving the two halves into a solid deck. Sometimes called "zipping" the cards, riffling a deck can range from a fine riffle to a coarse riffle. Dealers usually riffle the cards between three and five times before dealing the next round.

Stripping is a shuffling technique that reverses the sequential order of groups of cards in the deck. Say for instance a dealer took the first card off the top of a deck and placed it on the table, and then took the second card off the top and placed it on top of the first card. Continuing this process through the entire 52 cards would exactly reverse their order. This characterizes the basic process of stripping.

Dealers don’t strip cards one at a time, but instead they rapidly pull small clumps of cards off the top of the deck, actually altering the order of cards in the deck. The number of cards in the clumps determines how fine or coarse the stripping process is. Stripping the deck is a procedure that some casinos make their dealers employ before riffling the deck.

Washing, per your Fish question, where cards are placed face down and fanned out to form a stock, is where the dealer spreads the cards on the table face down and then proceeds to commingle the cards in a washing-like motion before collecting them up and performing a more conventional riffle shuffle. Card washing is intended to remove any consistencies in the sequencing of the cards, and are typically washed, Richard, when new decks are brought into a game.


Dear Mark,
I sat next to a player who began with $100, and over a three hour period had won over two thousand. Then his luck turned and he lost it all in under 10 minutes. What makes a player give all his winnings back? Bud W.

In the poker world, Bud, it’s called "going on tilt." In blackjack, we call it "steaming." Either way, it's when a player loses emotional control of his game and starts betting more aggressively, often impulsively, in an attempt to turn his bad luck around. I’ve seen this reckless conduct far more often than you can imagine, that of a player trying to spin straw into gold, only to become so frustrated with how poorly his playing session is going, that he losses his entire bankroll in mere minutes. Canny players avoid that fate by setting and sticking to loss and gain limits.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week:
"People are by far the worse when it comes to superstitions. They have lucky charms, lucky jackets, lucky underwear, and God knows what they have in their pockets that's lucky." -- Tony Korfman

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.