Blackjack Shufflers

by Henry Tamburin

I receive questions from players about continuous blackjack shufflers, therefore this lesson is offered at Learn to Play Blackjack.
Players want to know if the odds are better or worse with a continuous shuffling machine (CSM).
First, let’s understand what a CSM is because players often confuse them with automatic blackjack shufflers. The latter have been around a long time in casinos.
Generally, a casino will use two sets of multiple decks of cards on a blackjack table.
While one set of cards are used to play the game the other set is being blended offline by the automatic shuffler.
When the cut card appears, the round is completed and then the dealer will swap the cards in the automatic blackjack shuffler while the already shuffled decks that were in the machine are put into play. The purpose of the automatic shuffler is to eliminate wasted time having the dealer manually shuffle the cards.

The odds against the player do not change when an automatic blackjack shuffler is used. If the casino were using 6 decks of cards, they will usually deal 4.0-4.5 decks and then place the entire 6-decks into the automatic shuffler for blending while continue to play with the second set of 6-decks of cards.
With an automatic shuffler, about 70-75% of the cards are dealt out before the cards are reshuffled. This is important to remember.

The CSM was invented primarily to discourage card counting at blackjack. But it also has a negative effect on average players.

A CSM is a combination automatic blackjack shuffler and dealing shoe. Casinos usually place 5 decks of cards into the CSM.
After a betting round is completed, the dealer will scoop up the just played cards (discards) and instead of placing them into a discard tray will insert the cards back into the CSM for shuffling with the remaining 4.5 or so decks of cards.
Some casinos will place the discards from several rounds into a small discard tray and then scoop up the discards and place them back into the CSM.

Now we see the difference between a CSM and automatic shuffler.
With the latter most of the cards are played (ca. 70%) before the discards and unplayed cards are reshuffled. With a CSM, the discards are immediately returned to the shuffler to be randomly blended with the unplayed cards.
Therefore, it is possible that a specific card from the round just played might wind up being dealt in the next round.

Do the odds change when a CSM is used? The answer is yes, they change very slightly in favor of the player with the house edge against a basic strategy player in a typical 6-deck game reduced by about 0.1%.
The reason the CSM causes the house edge to go down ever so slightly is because of a phenomena known as the “cut card effect”.
This increases the probability slightly of getting tens and blackjack when a CSM is used. 

Now before you rush out and play blackjack on a table that uses a CSM, listen to the rest of the story.
Even though the house edge goes down slightly with a CSM, this is more than negated by the increased speed of the game. Remember that with a CSM dealt game, there is never any downtime for shuffling cards. So on average the casino can deal about an extra round or two per hour resulting in about 20% more hands played per hour with a CSM.
Because they have the edge against the vast majority of players, who play blackjack their hourly revenue goes up by 20%.
From the player’s perspective, you will lose 20% faster on average playing against a CSM dealt game compared to a game dealt manually or with an automatic shuffler.

Casinos love to spin the tale that the reason they use a blackjack shufflers is to foil card counters.
However, you will rarely see a CSM used at high limit tables where most of the pro card counters would play. The reason is that most high rollers are suspicious of the CSM and they insist that blackjack should be played the old fashioned way or they will take their business elsewhere.
In most casinos, you will find CSM’s on the main casino floor where the table minimums are lower. Located at the $5 and $10 tables where the casino grinds out its 20% more revenue per hour against average low stakes players.

Casinos also like blackjack shufflers (CSM’s) because it allows them to have the edge. By using a CSM, blackjack becomes virtually unbeatable much like roulette, baccarat, 3-Card Poker and other table games.

CSM’s are not cheap. In some casinos, the devices were removed because of player complaints or because the extra revenue did not justify the extra cost. Casinos keep putting CSM on their tables in the hopes that the playing public will get accustomed to them.

My advice is to stay away from any blackjack table that uses a CSM. If more players do this casinos will reluctantly have to remove the machines and return to the more player friendly automatic blackjack shufflers (or manual shuffles). Blackjack is tough enough to beat without introducing devices that cause average players to lose more quickly.

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