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How Understanding a Simple Thing Like Deck Penetration is the Key to Winning at Blackjack

May 15, 2014

deck-penetration-150514Deck penetration

Blackjack is one of the few table games in which the player can lower the house edge to their advantage. Playing basic strategy can certainly make the game turn in your favor, but if you’re card counting, then deck penetration might just make your odds better.

Advantage play in blackjack is a topic that has resulted in best-selling manuals on how to beat the casino, and while card counting systems like the Hi-Lo system are rather simple to master, deck penetration can help to bring up your expected value (EV) percentage.

Deck Penetration – the basics

Deck penetration refers to the percentage of cards that have been dealt before the dealer reshuffles the deck. For example, in a single deck, if 36 cards have been dealt then the deck penetration is 70%.

How to find the best table for Blackjack play:

• Look for a table with a 3-2 pay out

• Look for tables with 2 decks

• Find a table which allows you to split, double down and where the dealer stands on a soft 17

• Play at a table with high deck penetration

In layman’s terms, this percentage value refers to the amount of cards that the dealer has already dealt.

If you’re playing basic blackjack strategy, deck penetration is not an important factor, but for card counters this could be the essential ingredient that you need to increase your winnings.

The higher the deck penetration percentage, the better it is for card counters, since this means that the count for the remaining part of the deck will be more accurate.

How important is deck penetration?

Using deck penetration to your advantage means that you could add more value by finding a game which gives you a 10% better penetration than increasing your bet by 10% on high counts.

Card counting without accounting for deck penetration means that can increase your EV to 10-15% if you increase your bets by 10% for positive counts.

However, if you’re playing a game with a 10% better deck penetration, the expected value shoots up to 40-60%. Immediately, it’s easy to see the effect playing accounting for deck penetration could enhance the value of your game.

You’ll also see an increase to your dollar per hour return, since the fewer cards that get cut off in the deck, the higher the probability your card count becomes a sure thing.

Low deck penetration means that you would need to play long hours to over come the variance, and ain’t nobody got time for that!

Using deck penetration to your advantage

The basic rule for deck penetration is that when the depth penetration is shallower, the betting spread you should use must be larger in order to beat the game.

Player advantage increases with depth penetration, since you’ll obtain higher true counts more frequently, and you are more likely to gain a better return on your high wagers.

However, not all depth penetration values are created equal, since a 6 deck game requires a penetration of 65% to make it worth playing, but for an 8 deck game, you’ll want a depth penetration of 75%.

Before playing, see which casinos and which dealers offer good depth penetration, and then you can play to win by combining that knowledge with card counting.

However, one thing to note is that whenever card counters get caught a particular casino or are featured on the media, the casino sometimes requests its dealers to shuffle more frequently.

In this case, any deck penetration that is less than 60% is not worth playing for if you’re planning on counting cards.

When to use depth penetration

As mentioned previously, if you’re going to use depth penetration to your advantage, you’re going to have to couple this with card counting.

If you’re playing a blackjack game with basic strategy, then depth penetration won’t make a difference to your winnings. With basic strategy it’s more about money management than counting or knowing how many cards are left in the pack.

Also, depth penetration is only useful in a real-life casino. The possibility to use card counting in online blackjack is rendered irrelevant by random number generators.

This means that the virtual deck is reshuffled after each hand, so card counting is impossible, although there are some live deal blackjack games, where your chances are optimized.

Depth penetration can be used to maximize your chances of winning, since it can give your card counting skills an edge to obtain a true count so you can receive a higher dollar per hour return than without it.

If you’re already a good card counter, then take your game play to another level by accounting for depth penetration as well.


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