Live Cardroom Deck Shuffles

Category: Are the Cards Dealt Fairly?

This is part of an ongoing series about whether the Cards you'’re dealt in Online Poker are fair.

As mentioned in my prior post on online deck shuffles, I believe before proceeding to critique how virtual playing cards are shuffled in Online Poker games it is important to understand how real cards are shuffled in live games.

Part of my reasoning here is that there seems to be an undercurrent of suspicion about online deck shuffling that isn't present about live game shuffles.

To learn about live game deck shuffling, I turned to an interview with the author of "The Professional Poker Dealer's Handbook," Dan Paymar.

According to Paymar, here is the standard shuffling method for a manual live game card deck shuffle:

1) After a hand is played, the cards are "scrambled." The dealer takes the cards and mixes them up by spreading them on the table.
2) The dealer then "riffle shuffles" the cards twice.
3) The cards are then "boxed" or "strip shuffled."
4) One more "riffle shuffle" pass.
5) Cards are cut.

This sounds perfectly acceptable to me. The question we'll tackle later is whether an online deck shuffle is in any way less random than that approach.

In Paymar's interview, he says some cardrooms are skipping the card "scramble." He is quite critical of this:

As you've noted, some rooms have eliminated the scramble, presumably to speed up the game by shortening the shuffle sequence. Is that a good trade-off? I don't think so! I feel that the scramble is the most important part of the shuffle sequence as it mixes the cards quite randomly. You can prove this for yourself if you like. Take a setup -- that is, two decks of cards that have been sorted by suit and rank. With one deck, do a scramble as described in the book and in the procedures section of this site. Three times around is enough. Square up the deck, and set it aside without any further shuffling. Then take the other deck, do not scramble, and do a shuffle, shuffle, box, shuffle sequence. Now spread out both decks face up, and see which is most randomly mixed. You will probably find that the scramble by itself mixes the cards at least as good as the much longer sequence without the scramble.

Conclusion: If you are a critic of how the cards are being shuffled in online poker rooms, but you play in live room with manual shuffling where dealers skip the "scramble," then I highly recommend you address that issue as well.

Many live card rooms use shuffling machines. Here is some information Paymar adds about those:

These machines use a random number generator to mix the cards, so I feel confident that the result should be as good as for the best dealers…

What's that? Live games are using RNGs also? Those (like me) who generally have confidence in random number generators (until proven otherwise) have no problem with this. But a main pillar of critiques of online poker deck shuffling is the RNG seed for the shuffling algorithm. Now we're hearing that live games also have decks shuffled with an RNG?

I think this information is worth thinking about as a foundation for credible comparisons of how decks are shuffled in online poker. When this issue is discussed in the abstract, people are often comparing online shuffling to theoretical ideas lodged in their brain. But these debates are usually amongst people who accept live game shuffles without objection. Therefore, I think it essential to use live game shuffles as our base point for comparison as we look at online deck shuffles in online poker rooms.

You can find prior entries on this topic here:
Online Shuffling - Setting Expectations