Blackjack House Edge: Automatic Versus Continuous Shufflers
After Edward O. Thorp and others figured out how to count cards at blackjack in the early 1960s, the casinos knew they had to fight back – and so the Continuous Shuffling Machine (CSM) was born. At least, that’s how the story goes. The first patented shuffling device actually dates back to 1887, courtesy of Silvanus Tingley and Charles Stetson. Other machines were developed well before John Breeding perfected the Shuffle Master device in 1992.
Any way you slice it, these machines have changed the game of Blackjack. Players have tried to counter-adjust; in theory, a CSM actually lowers the house edge slightly when you play a basic Blackjack strategy, but the casino also gets to deal many more hands per hour. However, before you try to tackle these machines, you have to know the important difference between continuous shufflers and automatic shuffling machines (ASMs).
Automatic Shuffling > Continuous Shuffling
The CSM machines that most players are familiar with, including the Shuffle Master device, take all the discards that have built up from several hands of play, and insert them randomly back into the deck. The ASM devices take an entire deck – or shoe – and shuffle all the cards automatically. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one for developing a winning blackjack strategy.
The key here is penetration. With a CSM, the discards usually get scooped up after about half a deck has been used. This makes it virtually impossible to gain an edge by counting cards – not enough penetration. On the other hand, a blackjack game that uses an ASM starts with a fresh shoe and plays out like a regular game, until the deck reaches the cut card. Assuming said cut card is placed deep enough in the shoe, you have enough penetration to count cards. Unfortunately, you can forget about shuffle tracking, a more advanced blackjack strategy for advantage players.
Of course, when you play online blackjack at Bodog, the entire shoe is automatically shuffled before every hand, so the basic Blackjack strategy is your best option for lowering the house edge. But if you’re at a live casino and you want to get an edge on the house (which is not necessarily recommended, for a number of reasons), try to find a game that’s shuffled by hand. Failing that, look for a game that uses ASM instead of CSM technology.