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SHUFFLE TRACKING 101 – Part 1

by Mark Billings

Mark Billings is the author of the book "The Ultimate Edge," which tells the little-known story of four men who became instrumental in changing the face of contemporary professional blackjack, winning the admiration of players the world over, and the disdain of casino bosses everywhere (available on amazon.com).

Billings has written for numerous professional gambling publications under a variety of pseudonyms, and is well regarded as an expert in the community of professional gamblers. In addition to "The Ultimate Edge," he is the author of "The Biased Wheel Handbook," widely recognized as a seminal work on the game of roulette. Mr. Billings lives a quiet life with an edge in the Vancouver, B.C. area.

 

In "The Ultimate Edge" (written and directed by yours truly), one of the methods used by the main characters to obtain an edge over the casino is "Shuffle Tracking." In this series of articles, I will introduce the concept and review how to track cards through the shuffle.

There are at least three methods that may be considered shuffle tracking:

  • traditional shuffle tracking - involves tracking clumps of cards through the shuffle
  • key carding - involves tracking one, or a small number of individual cards, through the shuffle
  • interleaving - involves tracking most cards through a specific kind of shuffle

Over the course of the next several issues of the Blackjack Insider, I will review what I refer to in the first bullet point above: traditional shuffle tracking.

The edge that you can obtain by shuffle tracking is based upon the same principle that underlies card counting; that is, a preponderance of big cards remaining to be dealt is good for the player, whereas a preponderance of small cards remaining to be dealt is bad for the player. The main difference is this: instead of maintaining a running count through a six-deck or eight-deck shoe as you would in card counting, with shuffle tracking you will count your way through one or more "clumps" of only 50-70 cards.

Although the edges developed by shuffle tracking and card counting are based upon the same underlying principle, shuffle tracking offers two huge advantages over card counting. They are as follows:

1. In card counting, an advantageous clump of cards (that is, a clump of cards consisting of more tens and aces than normal) may be located behind the cut card, never to see the light of day. However, with shuffle tracking, you will play most advantageous clumps right down to the bone.

2. In card counting, you must start a shoe betting small, and wait until a number of small cards emerge. There are at least two down-sides to this:

(a) Many shoes may be completed before a sufficient number of small cards emerge to provide an edge over the casino, and

(b) This makes the card counter obvious to any casino employee who knows the first thing about card counting.

However, with shuffle tracking, you can often make your large bet(s) off the top of a freshly-shuffled shoe. This doesn’t affect your overall edge per se, but it can increase your playing lifetime. "Everybody knows" that players who play with an edge do not bet off the top of a shoe.

I would like to introduce the concept of shuffle tracking by explaining how it came about for one group of players — the result of one particularly disastrous (fortuitous?) shoe that occurred in the summer of 1981 at the Sands casino in Las Vegas.

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