What Is Deck Penetration in Card Counting?

By | April 22, 2022

Successful card counting involves multiple factors. You must thoroughly learn a system and master it to the point where you don’t need to think when counting.

Many wannabe card counters are fully aware that they must study a system and practice it. However, some of the same players are unfamiliar with another important factor: deck penetration.

If you’re interested in card counting and unfamiliar with deck penetration, then you’ll definitely want to learn more about it. The following guide explains this concept and why it’s so crucial.

Basics of Deck Penetration

Many casinos differ on how far they want dealers going into the shoe before shuffling. For example, one casino may want their croupiers to shuffle after dealing five out of eight decks. Meanwhile, another may instruct dealers to shuffle after six out of eight decks.

Deck penetration refers to how deep a dealer goes into the shoe. Here are some examples on how to figure out the penetration:

Example #1

  • A game features six decks.
  • The dealer goes through four decks before shuffling.
  • 4 / 6 = 66.67% penetration

Example #2

  • A game features four decks.
  • The dealer goes through three decks before shuffling.
  • 3 / 4 = 75% penetration

Example #3

  • A game features eight decks.
  • The dealer goes through five decks before shuffling.
  • 5 / 8 = 62.5% penetration

Casinos don’t put up signs on their tables indicating the deck penetration. Instead, you must make an estimation by watching a game.

Alternatively, you might be able to figure out a casino’s average deck penetration through online research. In the absence of this info, though, you’ll need to determine the penetration yourself.

How Does This Knowledge Benefit Card Counters?

As you may know, card counting involves tracking cards as they’re dealt from the shoe. You benefit the most when more high-value cards (aces through 10’s) are still in the shoe.

Aces and 10-value cards improve your chances of being dealt a natural blackjack. They also increase the odds that the dealer will bust out when hitting to 17.

When the count becomes positive, you want to increase your bets to take advantage of this favorable situation. These increased wagers become more profitable, though, when placed deeper into the shoe.

The following comparison explains this point:

Example #1

  • A game features eight decks.
  • The dealer goes through 5.5 decks before shuffling.
  • 5 / 8 = 68.8% penetration

Example #2

  • A game features eight decks.
  • The dealer goes through six decks before shuffling.
  • 6 / 8 = 75% penetration
  • This extra penetration provides more confidence in your count.

Your chances of winning are always better with a positive count. However, you’re not just trying to boost your odds of winning through card counting. You want to make profits!

Therefore, you shouldn’t settle for situations where the count goes positive after 10%-20% of the shoe. Instead, you want more penetration so that you’ll have higher confidence in positive counts.

What Kind of Deck Penetration Is Necessary?

Generally, you want to play in games that allow 75% penetration or more. This figure ensures that you can reap long-term profits as a skilled card counter. An example of 75% deck penetration would be if the dealer goes through six out of eight decks.

Of course, not all casinos are exactly the same when it comes to this matter. Some only allow up to 60% deck penetration, while others offer as much as 80% penetration or more.

That said, you want to carefully consider where you’ll count cards. A casino that only allows 60% penetration is definitely a no-go.

The Blackjack Rules Play a Major Role Too

Deck penetration isn’t the only factor that defines a beatable game. You also have to consider the rules at hand as well.

The specific rules can vary from one game to the next. You want better rules to capitalize on your proposed advantage.

You should avoid any table that only pays 6:5 for a natural blackjack. 6:5 payouts increase the house edge by 1.39% compared to 3:2 payoffs.

Fewer decks will also help your cause. A single deck lowers the house advantage by 0.47%, for example, compared to six decks.

Here are some other rules to consider when picking a blackjack game:

  • Double down on any total – Lowers house edge by 0.25%.
  • Dealer stands on soft 17 – Lowers house advantage by 0.20%.
  • Double down after splitting (DAS) – Lowers house edge by 0.17%.
  • Re-split aces – Lowers house advantage by 0.08%.
  • Late surrender – Lowers house edge by 0.07%.

How Much Penetration Does Each Type of Blackjack Allow?

The amount of deck penetration varies greatly based on what type of blackjack you’re playing. Here’s a look at how the typical penetration differs between land based, online, and live dealer casinos.

Land Based Casinos

Brick-and-mortar casinos vary the most when it comes to deck penetration. They generally range anywhere from allowing 60% to 75% penetration.

Much depends upon the rules that a land-based casino offers. Establishments that feature worse rules are generally laxer on card counting behavior.

Meanwhile, casinos with favorable rules and low stakes clamp down more. They’re quicker to act when they see a potential counter because they’re already offering a favorable game.

Online Blackjack

Online blackjack is the worst place to count cards. Most Gaming sites don’t allow any penetration at all.

They program blackjack games to shuffle the shoe after every hand. That said, you won’t get anywhere by counting in an online blackjack game.

Live Dealer Blackjack

Live Dealer CasinoLive dealer casinos are a hybrid of online and land-based casinos. Therefore, they do allow some degree of deck penetration.

The average live dealer blackjack game features somewhere between 35% and 50% penetration. You’ll definitely want to look for the latter range when trying to count at live dealer tables.

Tips for Finding Beatable Online Games

You can see that deck penetration is certainly important when counting cards. However, you also want to consider the following points when seeking beatable tables.

Target Las Vegas

Welcome to Las Vegas GraphicLas Vegas offers more opportunities to count cards than any other place in the world. It features over 140 casinos—most of which offer blackjack.

Not surprisingly, you’ll have more chances to find higher deck penetration in Vegas. Plenty of the casinos/games here allow 75% penetration or more.

As a side benefit, you can also move around more casinos in Sin City. Moving from spot to spot lowers the chances that you’ll be recognized by pit bosses.

Perform Online Research

You probably don’t want to wander aimlessly around Vegas, or another gambling destination, in search of high deck penetration. This is where online research becomes important.

You can spend time running different online searches to find the most-beatable blackjack games. For example, you might search for “highest deck penetration in Vegas.”

Have an Adequate Bankroll

BankrollCard counting may seem like a great way to make money through gambling. However, it doesn’t guarantee anything in the short run.

Even when mastering the popular Hi-Lo system, you’ll still only have around a 1% to 1.5% edge over casinos. This slim advantage means that you could lose serious money on any given night.

That said, you want to ensure that you’re adequately bankrolled before counting cards. Ideally, you’ll have around $8,000 or more as a solo counter. As a team, you should collectively put together around $20,000.

Wong In at Live Dealer Casinos

Wonging in is a technique that involves counting cards off to the side of a table. You then jump into a game when the count becomes favorable. This strategy ensures that you play at optimal times, rather than playing while waiting for a positive count.

Unfortunately, brick-and-mortar casinos don’t allow wonging in. Live dealer casinos are the only places where you can use this technique.

Assuming you wong in at a live casino that allows up to 50% penetration, you stand a chance to make profits. Be warned, though, that live dealer casinos may scrutinize your play after some time and ban you.

Conclusion

If you’re focused on profiting from card counting, then you absolutely must consider deck penetration. This concept greatly aids your efforts to make long-term profits.

You want to focus on casinos that allow up to 75% penetration. However, you might still be able to make money at a casino with 65% to 70% penetration and really favorable rules. Land-based casinos are definitely the best places to find high penetration.

You may still consider live dealer casinos if they offer up to 50% deck penetration and don’t crack down on wonging in. However, your first choice should be brick-and-mortar venues when possible.

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