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At the casino game of blackjack, anything that allows you a chance to improve your odds can be considered an advantage. However, the use of sophisticated Advantage Play became prevalent in the 1990’s when several blackjack teams implemented shuffle tracking into their repertoire. Prior to that, the only advantage beyond basic strategy and card counting was earned through illegal moves.

The casinos have long considered anything that diminishes their house edge to be bad. So much so that for many years (decades really), some clubs routinely chased down suspected counters and other cheaters and threatened and beat them. Most of those players went away bloodied. Some sued properties like Binion’s Horseshoe, and even legendary blackjack team player Ken Uston was beaten outside the Mapes casino in Reno (he needed surgery to repair a broken cheekbone).

We can’t advocate any illegal moves such as hole-carding or spooking, although their basis makes for good stories. However, it seems that anything the player can do legally to improve their chances should be considered good, even if the casinos hate it. Most Advantage play would disappear if casinos trained (and maintained) a better staff of dealers and Floor people, and changed to safer shuffle machines.  The cost of shufflers from Shuffle Entertainment (the number one machine manufacturer and seller in the world) can be very high, but for speed and safety, they usually pay for themselves. Those who buck the trend, well, they usually get what they deserve and pay a price they feel is justified. It’s always about the money – choosing the best financial option.

Ace Steering

The first type of regular advantage/cheating had to do with keeping track of the four aces in a single deck of cards, which most casinos used until the late 1960’s. If the player was able to notice a clump of tens and aces in one part of the deck, and the dealer was sloppy with their shuffling, the player could place the cut-card just above where they suspected the aces were. Cheating players bent or warped the aces when they held them in their hand and then cut right above them. Is that a big edge? Sure.

When you know you are getting an ace in your next hand you can take advantage of great odds (about a 60% chance of winning).  When casinos went to six-deck shoes, card counters devised mathematical formulas to adjust their running count to a true count for play and wagering purposes. And players who were proficient at memorizing a clump of tens and aces, or better still, several clumps played during a shoe, were happy to play and beat the shoe-game even without counting cards.

Fancy shuffling techniques were implemented to stop ace steering, but poor shuffling and even poorer shuffle machines prompted a new wave of ace players and a new name: Shuffle Tracking. Because a basic strategy player can find blackjack games where the house edge is very small, they can also afford to skip counting cards and just follow the ace clumps.

Shuffle Tracking

The art of shuffle tracking does have several advantages over card counting, including a higher hourly rate for an experience player. However, one popular form of shuffle tracking that can be used where certain types of hand shuffling is used is actually based on the running true count. In this type of play, the counter plays their usual game and varies their wagers according to their current odds, but enhances their play by knowing the count when the shoe is broken.

Imagine a six-deck shoe with the cut-card at a deck and a half and the final hand is played leaving a running count of minus 12. Now suppose the particular shuffle employed by the dealer takes that deck and a half and mixes it well, but it still stays together, and the player can use his cutting technique to cut right back to that clump. What happens now?

Well, good things for the player, because that clump will have cards that total plus 12, a good time for larger wagers by the players, so they make big bets right away. The same situation can happen when the counter knows there are extra aces in any part of the discards of the remaining decks beyond the cut-card. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were 12 aces in the clump of a deck and a half and you could play that group first?

Shuffle Machines

Unfortunately, continuous shuffle machines are very tough to beat with card counting (although seeing 20 or even 30 cards without an ace helps your chances on the next hand), but some machines that just shuffle a set of decks for the dealer to place in a shoe can be shuffle-tracked.

In fact, some machines do such a poor job of actually mixing sections of the cards with other sections, that players not only track aces, but actual groups of cards, allowing excellent guesses about groups of tens and small cards that can lead to profitable double down opportunities. You’ll know the machines when you see them.

Bonus Bet Tracking

The same skills that make ace tracking profitable can be used on various bonus wagers. Although bonus bets like Lucky 7’s and Lucky Ladies have very high house advantages (up to 25%), they can be exploited by experienced shuffle trackers. Lucky 7’s often pays up to $5,000 for four continuous 7’s, and even two can be good, but that pales in comparison to Lucky Ladies.

The Lucky Ladies wager pays on a player 2-card 20 (tens or ace-nine). The highest payoff is for two Queen of hearts, usually 125 to 1, and 1,000 to 1 for the times when the player has two Queen of hearts and the dealer has a blackjack. While the queens-tracker always hopes to get lucky enough to have the dealer turn over a blackjack when they catch the queens, the 125 to 1 payoff is what is counted-down.

Obviously the chances of catching the exact cards are slim, but the payoff is oh so good. Again, it is seeing a clump of two of the queens (or even better, three) that makes memorizing the sequence of cards surrounding them worth the effort. Casinos that understand the tracking will protect themselves with advanced shuffling. Those who don’t will suffer the consequences.

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