Ken Uston on Card-Clumping

While many people lay claim to first noticing the existence of card-clumping, in my mind, the FIRST person to actually write up its existence is none other than the late Ken Uston. Kenny always seemed to engage in cutting-edge Blackjack; from the Big Player approach in Team Play, to the use of concealed computers.

It is my opinion that were Kenny alive today, he would be a dedicated Clump-Tracker, and probably would have made unique contributions to this body of knowledge. Then again, who knows, by then casinos would have devised even more drastic counter-measures than has been employed in the last 15 years. At any rate, below are Kenny's thoughts on the subject of card-clumping, as he encountered it.

from The Big Player (1977)
P. 209

reprinted in Two Books on Blackjack (1979)
P. 112

There is the possibility, too, that when new cards are brought into play, the house advantage can be increased through inadequate shuffling of the new deck, which results in the clumping of identical cards.

A Proposal For An "OPEN ENVIRONMENT" In New Jersey Gaming

excerpted from Two Books on Blackjack by Ken Uston

In explaining methods designed to make the game more difficult for counters while not affecting the average player, Ken suggested in his letter to N.J. Gaming Commission (Feb. 1979) the following item:

In light of Kenny's comments on like-card clumping, and from other information I have gathered, it seems likely that Kenny is referring to one more alterations in the shuffle procedures; despite (or because of) the fact that he has also filed complaints with the NJ Gaming Commission about such procedures.


from Ken Uston's Newsletter Jan-Feb 1980

The Caesar's shuffle at the beginning of each shift is devastating to the counter. The dealer places each of the six decks face down on the table, and, as in the baccarat shuffle, mixes the cards by spreading them all over the table. The cards are then placed in the shoe and given the standard shuffle.

Result: cards of similar denomination (and suit) tend to stay together. I lost $15,000 to the first shoe of the day shift, as I watched all the low hearts dealt, followed by high spades, etc. etc. I called over a commission official and had him observe the first shoe at another table. In the third round, of the 7 cards exposed (there were three players), there was a royal flush in clubs. On the fifth round, two queens of hearts, two kings of hearts and a jack of hearts appeared.

Card-counting depends upon the random ordering of the cards (with a high count, a disproportionate amount of high cards should tend to come out, and vice versa). Clumping such as this will obliterate the counter. In fact, cheating casinos sometimes clump cards, in a "slug".

The best approach: avoid the first four or five shoes of a new shift at Caesar's. Resorts mixes each deck individually before inter-shuffling the decks, thus avoiding this problem. Why the practice is allowed to continue is beyond me.



from: Million Dollar Blackjack - P.248

Several years ago, I was playing at a $25 minimum table, head-on, when the boss brought in four brand new decks. I observed incredulously as the dealer shuffled them. He took the first fresh deck and shuffled it into the second fresh deck, shuffling only three times. Then, he did the same with the third and fourth decks, put all four decks together and extended the cutcard to me for the cut. Since all new decks are arranged identically (ace through king for two suits, then king through ace for the other two suits), this method of shuffle in effect clumps similarly valued cards.

(Later at home, I duplicated the dealer's shuffle, giving four new decks three perfect shuffles. The results were very revealing: of the 80 10's and aces, 20 were clumped together in the middle of the deck and 10 were clumped at each end, thus joined together into another mass of 20 when the shoe was cut. The remaining 40 10's were in groups of 10, interspersed with 2's, 3's, 4's and 5's, all stiff hands.)

As we began to play, I couldn't believe how the cards were coming out. Seven of the first ten cards were 4's. Then a batch of 3's came out, followed by a group of 6's; then a clumping of 10's and aces. I kept track of the count, which soared astronomically, as more little cards came out. Staying at $25 minimum bets, I lost hand after hand.

Would casino managers encourage this type of shuffling to win more from the players? I tended to doubt it, but consider this. Many casinos are huge businesses, generating in some cases over $200 million per year in casino winnings. Most large companies utilize computers, sophisticated mathematical techniques and advanced scientific methods to maximize profits. Would casinos be any different? With the billions of dollars in "action" gambled each year, a technique that could increase the house advantage by a mere 0.1% would have a huge dollar effect on their bottom line. Would casinos be motivated to hire computer experts to identify ways to find additional fractions of .01 percentage points here and there, which translate into hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions, of dollars in annual revenues?


Casino Avarice versus Counter Greed

from: One-Third of a Shoe - P.54

Sometimes it is only from looking back into the abyss from whence we've come, that we be more able to understand it. In re-reading Ken Uston's 1/3 of a shoe, I stumbled across an interesting gem, which examplifies what happens when cards develop a bias (i.e. lose their randomness):

I found [one open] seat at a $25 [6-deck] game. The dealer shuffled sliding a "4" into the discard rack. I put down a $125 bet in accordance with Mike's new calculations, hot off his portable computer, and lost the hand. The count went up slightly and I bet $150. I drew a pair of three's versus a dealer's five. I put down [another] $150, splitting the three's. I drew a seven on the first three, throwing out another $150 for the double-down. I lost all three [bets]. The count had gone up further as I shoved out $400. Lost. Then I bet $500 and lost.

I threw $1,000 in cash on the table, was given two 5-inch stacks of green chips, pushing one of thestacks on the betting circle. I lost that hand too. The count had gone up even higher. I put ten one-hundred dollar bills on the table, was given more green chips, pushing out $700.

Just then a dour pit boss, ran up to the table, grabbed the green $25-limit sign, shoving in a red $5-to-$300 limit sign and muttering brusquely, "The limit's down".


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