Shuffling is one of those things that people often learn at a young age, when they first start playing card games. Usually, though, whenever your parents taught you how to shuffle cards, they didn’t teach you the way that the casinos use. And that’s a bad thing—most players shuffle cards in a way that threatens game integrity, by exposing cards while they shuffle or not adequately randomizing the cards. If you host regular card game nights—especially poker nights—learning to shuffle correctly is a valuable skill that will ensure that your games go smoothly.
How to shuffle
The standard casino shuffle consists of the following procedure:
- A wash (for the first hand of the game)
- Three riffle shuffles
- A strip shuffle
- One more riffle shuffle
- The cut
A wash or scramble is typically only used in a casino at the beginning of a game, when the deck of cards is still in the order it was packaged in. In a home game, you should, at the very least, perform a wash at the beginning of the game or whenever the cards have been recently verified. You should consider performing a wash more frequently when playing a game like Crazy Eights that tends to result in the cards ending up in some sort of identifiable pattern. In a game with quick hands and frequent shuffling, like poker, you should skip the wash for most shuffles to avoid bogging down the game.
The riffle shuffle
The riffle shuffle is the element of shuffling that most people are familiar with, and forms the bulk of the actual shuffling procedure. Yet it’s the element of shuffling that most people get wrong. Many people shuffle too dramatically, with exaggerated movements that unnecessarily expose cards.
The number one key to avoiding the exposure of cards is to keep the cards low to the table. The cards should never be more than an inch or so off the table. The intuitive method by which someone squares up, say, a pile of papers is to lift it off the table and tap its edges against the table. Keep yourself from falling into this habit when dealing with cards. It shows off the bottom of the pack to anyone who cares to look, and many of the other cards sticking out at odd angles will expose their indices. Develop the habit of squaring up the pack with your fingers without picking it up off the table.
The riffle shuffle begins by splitting the pack into two. Hold the bottom half of the pack in landscape orientation (long edge parallel to the edge of the table closest to you), keeping it flat against the table and secure with one hand. Then slide the top half of the pack off with your other hand, keeping it close to the other half of the pack, and pulling it in the direction of the long edges of the pack, until you have two half-decks sitting side by side next to each other.
Next, orient the two half-decks in an inverted V (the point of the V pointing away from you). Move the decks toward one another, keeping them square with your index fingers on the short edges of the deck opposite you, your thumbs on the long edges of the deck inside the V, and your other fingers on the long edges of the deck on the outside of the V. Then, perform the actual riffle by arching the corners of the cards closest to one another, bending them between your index fingers, which are moved to rest on top of the deck in the corners of the cards, and your thumbs, which remain in the same position. Gradually release the pressure from your thumbs, which will cause the cards to begin falling off the bottom of the deck, pressed past your thumbs by your index fingers. If the two packs are close enough, their corners should interleave. With practice, the cards will naturally alternate between the two packs, thoroughly intermixing the two packs.
Now, complete the shuffle by rotating the two interleaved packs so that they are parallel to one another (but still intermixed). Push the two packs together until you can square them up into one shuffled pack. Do not perform the “bridge” maneuver, where the entire pack is arched to push the two halves together, as this can unwittingly expose cards.
Perform three riffle shuffles in this manner.
The strip shuffle
The strip shuffle is, on its own, not a very powerful shuffling technique. In combination with the riffle shuffle, however, it helps to further randomize the deck by rearranging blocks of the deck, helping to break up runs of cards that remained together through the three riffles.
The strip shuffle is, essentially, the beginning of a riffle shuffle. Hold the pack in landscape orientation, then pull the top fifth or so of the deck off the top, keeping it close to the remainder of the deck, and set it down next to the pack. Then do the same with the next fifth of the deck, placing it on top of what was the top fifth, and so on, until the entire deck has been gone through in this way.
After completing the strip shuffle, do one more riffle shuffle, and then you’re ready for the cut. After that, it’s time to deal!
- How to shuffle multiple decks of cards
- HowToShuffle.com, a site with more in-depth shuffling information and videos
Many sets of higher-end playing cards, including Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, include two decks of cards—a red deck and a blue deck. But most card games require the use of only one 52-card deck. So why offer two decks?
The answer is simple—it makes your game more efficient! While you are using one deck to deal a hand, the next player to deal can be shuffling the other deck. That way, when the hand concludes, the next hand can be dealt immediately, without having to wait for a shuffle. The backs of the cards are in contrasting colors in case cards from the two decks get intermingled; it is obvious when a deck is incorrect.
The next time you spread a game, try keeping both decks of cards moving around the table if you don’t already. You’ll be happy with how much faster the game moves!
Washing a deck of cards is more than just another term for cleaning a deck of cards. Washing, also called scrambling, is a simple, but effective, method of quickly randomizing a deck of cards, especially one that has recently been verified.
To wash a deck of cards, just spread it face down on the table in two rows. Then, use your hands to slide the cards around the table in a circular motion. Periodically, change your motion in a random fashion, moving the cards clockwise, counterclockwise, away from you, toward you, etc. After a few minutes of this, gather the cards back up into a stack and square it up. The deck can now be shuffled in a normal fashion.
While this might seem like an amateurish way of shuffling cards, it randomizes the cards much more quickly than traditional riffle shuffles. Casino dealers wash decks of new cards immediately after verifying them whenever deck changes occur and new games are opened.
While two-deck card games are somewhat common, there are some games out there that require the use of more decks of cards than that. The most frequently-played of these are casino games: blackjack, which typically uses six decks, and baccarat, which uses eight. If you’ve ever thought about playing these games at home, you soon run into the conundrum of how one goes about shuffling 312 cards. Casinos, of course, have expensive shuffling machines to speed this process, but even those break down sometimes, so every dealer is still trained on how to shuffle multiple decks of cards by hand.
So how do you do it?
- First, grab a cut card and sit it in the center of the table. Break the deck into four more-or-less equal stacks, placing two to the left of the cut card and two to the right of it. We’ll refer to these as stacks 1 through 4 (from left to right).
- Grab about one deck’s worth of cards from stack 1 and an equal amount from stack 3. Shuffle these two stacks together and place them on the cut card.
- Repeat with stacks 2 and 4, placing the newly-shuffled cards on top of the previously-shuffled cards resting on the cut card.
- Continue alternating shuffling cards from stacks 1 and 3 and stacks 2 and 4 until the entire deck has been shuffled.
Now you have a completely shuffled deck with a cut card on the bottom, ready to be cut by another player.