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Readers Write

1 November 1999

A reader recently asked Frank whether keeping pairs together when turning in your cards at Let It Ride was advantageous to the players. Frank replied to the letter and invited John May, our expert on Advantage Play techniques to put in his two pence. Here are the original letter, Frank's reply, and John May's thoughts on the subject.

Dear Frank,

Loved your book Bold Card Play. I'm a Let It Ride fan. During one hand last night, the dealer turned over my cards to reveal 10-J-10 (exactly as he dealt them to me), a player seated next to me kindly suggested I always put pairs together.

"Even the small pairs," he said. "It improves our odds."

I'd heard this before, but thought is was just player superstition: placing two of the same cards together will "attract" the third. His comments made me curious, so I asked him why he thought putting pairs together increases all players' chances?

He replied that pairs are more likely to stay together when that deck is next shuffled by the dealer and then put through the Shuffle Master. If everyone does it, this increases the chances that the same pairs will return to the table again. He said that some of his friends will go so far as to leave the table if players don't follow this playing custom.

In fact, this fellow said he's seen sympathetic dealers quickly place pairs together before depositing the cards in the discard tray in an effort to help players. He said he asked a dealer if the casino frowned on this behavior (since it supposedly decreases the house edge) and was told casino management would prefer they didn't, but no dealer had ever been reprimanded.

Your thoughts? Fact or bunk?


Frank Scoblete replies:

Dear Derek:

The shuffle machines of single-deck games are pretty thorough. However, it is possible that there is something to the idea of keeping pairs together in the hope that they won't stray very far during a shuffle and might come out of the pack together, or close enough together to make an impact on your bottom line, more than randomness would indicate. I don't know if this is so but I can say this -- it can't hurt to keep them together. If the shuffle really splits them and randomizes the deck, you haven't hurt yourself. But if the shuffle isn't thorough enough and the cards stick together, you might help yourself.

I am going to send this question along to John May, who might know the answer. John has studied and executed in casinos shuffle-advantage-play techniques. I am posting this reply ASAP, but if John can also answer your query, we'll put his answer up as soon as it comes in.

John May replies:

I have made a study of these machines, as have many other noted professionals. They are by no means impervious to all forms of advantage-play but to give a general answer, they do the job they are supposed to, i.e., they thoroughly randomize the cards. Derek's scepticism is well founded. It does not seem plausible that both a human shuffle and a machine designed specifically to speedily randomize a single-deck would result in significant and exploitable non-randomness. Only a handful of single-deck casino games, of whatever variety, have a house shuffle with any significant non-randomness, even when the shuffle is just performed by a human. It is very easy to do this with a single deck.

My guess is that this is simply a superstition induced by selective short-term memory. It may also be connected with the players' experiences at home poker games where amateur shuffling makes this type of card ordering a very real (and lucrative) possibility.

If Let It Ride games where no machines were used exist, then the hand shuffle might just be vulnerable to this method if no more than three riffles were used. My understanding is that casinos have to use the machine as part of the licensing arrangement. Possibly there are casinos which get around this by calling the game something else and tweaking the rules, as they do with Caribbean Stud and double exposure, but I have not heard of this happening.

Interestingly, inducing card sequences may actually be one of the last great unexplored arts of advantage play. I have spoken briefly about returning same-valued cards to the discard to enhance the odds of a tie at Mini-Baccarat in Frank's excellent new book Baccarat Battle. In my new as yet untitled work on blackjack, I further explore the benefits of returning aces and tens to the dealer in handheld games together in order to enhance the odds of a blackjack after the shuffle. Last and by no means least, Caribbean Stud games in Europe, where pairs have the same importance as Let It Ride and the game is universally hand-shuffled, may well be vulnerable to the strategy Derek describes.

But a minimum requirement for selective card-ordering to be an effective method of play requires an imperfect shuffle. I simply don't believe that can occur at LIR. However, as Frank says, it can't hurt. Just don't expect to get rich.

For more information about Let It Ride, we recommend:

Bold Card Play: Best Strategies for Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride & Three Card Poker by Frank Scoblete
John May
John May is one of the most feared gamblers in the world. He has developed "advantage play" techniques for many games that are considered unbeatable.

Books by John May:

> More Books By John May

John May
John May is one of the most feared gamblers in the world. He has developed "advantage play" techniques for many games that are considered unbeatable.

Books by John May:

> More Books By John May