What Automatic, Continuous, and Hand Shuffling Methods Mean For Blackjack Players

Posted By Derek Helling on October 7, 2021

Novice gamblers at Pennsylvania casinos probably ignore a lot of components of games that veteran players pay close attention to. Like with anything else, there’s a learning curve. The various card shuffling methods and how they affect games are part of those lessons.

Most casinos will use either automatic, continuous, or hand shuffling according to their preferences. Those aren’t just aesthetic choices. The different practices can have a real impact on a game like blackjack and your likelihood of winning.

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Explaining the different card shuffling methods

Before explaining how the various approaches can affect games and odds, it’s important to understand exactly how each works. That includes how they differ and are similar to each other.

  • Hand shuffling is exactly what it sounds like. Usually, the dealer will wait until the end of a game or until the draw pile gets very small before shuffling. However, it’s possible that the dealer could shuffle earlier based on house rules.
  • Automatic shuffling follows the same pattern of normally happening when a game ends or players use the vast majority of cards. However, instead of human hands doing the shuffling, a machine mixes the cards.
  • Continuous shuffling again is easily explained by its name. Used cards are instantaneously re-inserted into the pile of cards available for use. Typically, a machine does this. It isn’t unheard of for a human dealer to handle that duty, though.

So, how can these methods change up gameplay? That depends partially on exactly what game is on the table. Blackjack is one of the best games for demonstrating the disparities.

How Blackjack changes depending on the shuffling method

Counting cards is one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to playing blackjack. If you can remember what’s already been played, you can make educated guesses as to what’s left in the draw pile. It is also frowned upon at casinos and if suspected, can get you kicked out.

Casinos use continuous shuffling to make that far more difficult. Because discarded cards go right back into the draw pile, it’s a lot harder to know what’s coming. There are nuances to automatic and hand shuffling too, though.

Automatic shuffling tends to produce a more random array of cards as compared to hand shuffling. If a player got a King-Ace in the last hand, for instance, it’s more likely that those cards will be separated in the next deal if a machine is doing the shuffling.

That doesn’t automatically mean hand-shuffled games give the best odds for players, though. As a matter of fact, these differences can often be quite negligible. There are many other factors at play.

Differences in probabilities tend to be small

Studies suggest that continuous shuffling can increase the odds for players but by a very small margin, like half of a percent to one percent. It makes sense if you think about it. The randomness of which cards are coming up increases for the house as well as the players at the table.

Why then, where there is a small weakening of the house’s edge, would a casino use continuous shuffling? The insurance that it gives the house against card counting overrides that small concession in the odds.

At the same time, however, blackjack players might see some significantly better results. The more randomized nature of the game can lead to players getting more 10s and thus forming more blackjacks. For that reason, casinos tend to only use continuous shuffling in lower-stakes games.

Other factors, like a player’s decision to double down and the experience level of other players at the table, can have just as much of an impact on a particular game. It’s always best to go into each game knowing as much as possible about how things work. If you do have questions about table games rules while playing at a casino in PA, your dealer or the pit boss (table games supervisor) are usually happy to answer your questions.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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