Do you ever worry about getting cheated when playing cards?
One of the best ways to protect yourself from this is to understand how to cut a deck of cards, how to shuffle a deck of cards, and how to deal a game of cards. When you know how to do this, you’ll be better able to spot someone who’s doing it wrong, too.
The goal of shuffling and cutting the cards is to make sure the cards are sufficiently randomized, This ensures a fair game.
If the cards aren’t in random order, the game takes on an entirely different—one you’d probably prefer to avoid.
How to Shuffle a Deck of Cards
I’ve seen people estimate that 50% or more of the players at a home poker game don’t know how to correctly shuffle a deck of cards. One of the biggest mistakes is just plain sloppiness. If you pay attention to a sloppy shuffler, you can probably track where a couple of cards are in the deck throughout the shuffle. This creates a huge disadvantage for anyone who hasn’t kept up with where those 2 cards are.
You should know multiple methods of shuffling a deck of cards and be good at all of them. A good dealer uses both a riffle shuffle and an overhand shuffle to randomize the cards. You should use both methods to shuffle when you’re dealing, and you should use both methods every time you shuffle the deck.
Of course, just shuffling the cards isn’t enough. You should also know how to cut the deck. I’ll cover that in this post, too.
The Overhand Shuffle
This is the easier method of shuffling a deck of cards.
To do an overhand shuffle, start by holding the deck of cards in your left hand. The bottom card should face your palm and be invisible to the other players. You should be able to see all 4 of your fingers on your left hand when holding the deck this way. You and everyone else should be able to see the back of the top playing card.
Your thumb goes on top of the deck. With your right hand, you’ll grab the deck from underneath. Your right thumb will be on the edge of the bottom of the deck of the short side of the cards. Some of your fingers will be on the edge of the top of the deck, again, on the short side of the cards. You’ll pick the deck up and use your left thumb to pull of 5 or 10 cards at a time. You’ll keep dropping the rest of the deck into your left hand until eventually you’ve gone through the entire deck.
You’ll wind up with a freshly shuffled deck of cards in your left hand.
You’re breaking the deck up into packets of 5 or 10 cards each and randomizing those packets. By itself, this shuffle doesn’t sufficiently randomize the deck. Someone who’s paying attention can follow sequences of cards through the deck when shuffled this way.
You should follow this shuffle up with the riffle shuffle.
The Riffle Shuffle
You start a riffle shuffle by splitting the deck into 2 roughly equal piles. You put them on the table face down. Arrange the 2 piles so that the shorter ends of the decks face each other—not the longer ends.
You’ll grab each of these piles with your hands so that your index finger is pushed against the top of each pile. Your thumbs should face each other and almost touch each other when you’re gripping them in the right position. Your other 3 fingers will hold the other edge of the piles.
You’ll push up with the thumbs so that the cards create an arch. You’ll release the pressure so that the cards on the bottom of each pile snap down 1 or 2 at a time. They should be so close together that they overlap by 1/4 or 1/2 an inch. Once all the cards have dropped, the 2 piles will be intertwined.
Then you just lift your thumbs, take your index fingers off the piles, and push the 2 piles together to form a single pile.
This might sound more complicated than it is. Most people I know learned to do this when they were young. If you don’t know how to shuffle a deck of cards with a riffle shuffle, it might be worth your while to watch a YouTube video of someone doing it. If it seems to require too much dexterity at first, don’t be discouraged. Just keep practicing. Anyone with normal manual dexterity can learn to do a riffle shuffle.
Mixing Up the 2 Types of Shuffles
To effectively randomize a deck of cards, you should do both shuffle multiple times. It’s customary to start by doing an overhand shuffle twice in a row. Then do a riffle shuffle twice in a row. Follow up that up with another overhand shuffle, and then follow that up with another riffle shuffle.
This should result in a deck of cards that’s thoroughly randomized, but nothing says you should follow that exact sequence every time. In fact, you should vary the sequence and the number of times you perform each shuffle.
You can even take a pack out of the middle of the deck, shuffle the cards that are left, then reinsert that pack back into the deck before reshuffling again. This further randomizes the cards, making it harder for your opponents to track the shuffle.
When you’re shuffling cards, the decks of cards should be parallel to the floor and/or the table. You should never expose the bottom card when shuffling a deck. One way to avoid exposing that bottom card is to always keep the cards no more than 2 inches above the table while you’re shuffling them.
After you’ve spent some time mindfully practicing shuffling a deck of cards, you’ll start to notice how sloppily the other players shuffle the cards. You might spot the bottom card on multiple occasions. It’s not my goal to teach you how to cheat by following cards through the deck, but it’s probably easy to do once you start paying attention.
How to Cut the Cards
Cutting the cards is even easier than shuffling the cards. The dealer doesn’t cut the cards, though—he offers the deck to the player to his right to cut. That player simply removes the top portion of the deck and sets it to the side of the bottom pile. The dealer then puts the bottom pile on top of those removed cards.
When cutting the cards, it’s your responsibility to make sure the dealer doesn’t just put the removed cards back on top of the other cards. When you’re cutting a deck of cards, you should mix up how much of the top of the deck you’re removing. You shouldn’t always cut from as close to the middle as possible.
You might encounter a situation where the cards seem to cut at a specific place in the deck more naturally than others. If that’s the case, you might be playing with a deck of cards that’s been marked with a technique called “crimping.”
If you suspect cheating, it’s probably the better part of valor to tread lightly. You can always ask for a new deck of cards without accusing anyone of cheating. You can also bow gracefully out of such a game. Making accusations, though, often leads to hurt feelings and confrontation. You don’t need that. Just go find another game.
How to Deal Cards in a Card Game
Dealing the cards seems easier, but it’s as important a part of the process as shuffling and cutting. The most important thing about dealing is keeping the cards facing downward toward the table so that the players can’t see which cards are being dealt to which players. When you’re dealing, you should use your thumb and forefinger to deliver each card, and you should angle the card toward the table.
Also, and this is a common mistake, you should carry the card as far as you can without releasing it. You only let go of the card when you can’t reach any further. The mistake you’ll see from a lot of card players is to sling the cards across the table. Flying cards often get revealed, which is bad for the game.
You should become a competent dealer because it helps you avoid giving away information to your opponents that could help them beat you. Competent shuffling, cutting, and dealing also makes for a game that’s fairer and more fun for all parties. At least half the people you play cards with will be lousy at dealing. That doesn’t give you the right to be lousy at it, too.