Blackjack is a popular casino game with a rich history and a set of rules that ensure fair play for all participants. One of these rules is the practice of "burning" cards, which involves removing a card from the top of the deck and placing it in the discard pile. This practice is common in both online and offline casinos and serves a crucial purpose in maintaining the integrity of the game. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind burning cards in blackjack, the situations in which it occurs, and how it affects the game for both casual players and card counters.
The Purpose of Burning Cards
The primary reason behind burning cards in blackjack is to prevent cheating. By removing the top card from the shoe, casinos eliminate the possibility of players gaining an unfair advantage through various means, such as marking cards, memorizing the order of played cards, or colluding with the dealer. Burning cards also helps to maintain a level of randomness in the game, ensuring that players cannot predict the outcome of any particular hand with certainty.
Preventing Card Marking and Memorizing
Card marking is an illicit practice where players intentionally mark specific cards, such as aces or tens, to recognize them when they appear at the top of the deck. By knowing the value of the top card, a player can significantly increase their chances of winning a hand. For example, if a marked ace is at the top of the deck, the player can increase their wager, knowing that being dealt an ace will greatly improve their odds of winning.
Similarly, some players may attempt to memorize the order of played cards in a deck. If they can remember which cards have been played and which are still in the deck, they can gain an advantage by adjusting their betting strategy based on this information.
Preventing Collusion with the Dealer
In some cases, players may attempt to cheat by colluding with the blackjack dealer. The dealer may discreetly flash the top card to the player or peek at it and pass on the information. By knowing the value of the top card, the player can adjust their wager accordingly and increase their chances of winning.
Burning cards helps to prevent these forms of cheating by ensuring that the top card remains unknown to both the dealer and the players.
When Dealers Burn Cards
There are two main situations in which a blackjack dealer will burn a card:
- Starting a new shoe of cards
- Taking over from another dealer
In both scenarios, the jurisdictions where the dealer operates will usually require them to burn one card. The process involves taking the top card from the shoe and placing it into the discard pile.
Starting a New Shoe
When a dealer begins a new shoe of cards, they will typically burn the top card before dealing any cards to the players. This is done to ensure that the top card remains unknown, preventing any cheating attempts based on knowledge of the card's value.
Taking Over from Another Dealer
When a new dealer takes over a blackjack table, they are often required to burn the top card as well. This is done to maintain the integrity of the game and prevent any attempts at cheating that may have occurred with the previous dealer.
The Impact of Burning Cards on Card Counting
Card counting is a strategy used by skilled blackjack players to track the ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck. By keeping a running count of this ratio, they can determine when the deck is favorable for them and adjust their betting strategy accordingly.
Burning cards can have an impact on card counting, as it effectively removes a card from the deck that the counter would otherwise use to update their running count. However, the impact of a single burned card is minimal, especially in multi-deck games where the total number of cards is much larger.
In single-deck games, knowing the value of the burn card can provide a slight advantage to the card counter, as it adds one more piece of information to their running count. However, the overall impact on the game remains insignificant.
The Unseen Burn Card
In some casinos, the burn card is not revealed to the players. This can cause concern for card counters, as they are unable to adjust their running count based on the unknown card. However, the impact of an unseen burn card is minimal, as it is equivalent to moving the cut card up by one position.
For both card counters and casual players, the unseen burn card has little to no effect on the game. Its primary purpose is to protect against cheating and maintain the integrity of the game.
Card Steering and Legal vs. Illegal Information Acquisition
Card steering is the practice of manipulating the position of specific cards in the deck, allowing a player to cut the deck in such a way that the desired card is dealt to them. This can provide a significant advantage, with an ace being worth a 51% increase in expected win and a ten being worth a 14% increase.
However, card steering is only considered legal if the information about the card's position is obtained through the dealer unknowingly exposing a card. Illegal acquisition of card information, such as marking cards or colluding with the dealer, is what casinos are most concerned about.
The Baccarat Burn on Blackjack Tables
In some land-based casinos, a practice known as the Baccarat burn may be employed on blackjack tables when the casino suspects advantage play. The Baccarat burn involves revealing the first card of the shoe and then burning a number of cards equal to the value of the revealed card. For example, if a four is revealed, four cards will be burned. This practice has little impact on card counters, but it does increase deck penetration, making it slightly more difficult to maintain an accurate running count.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, the practice of burning cards in blackjack serves to protect the integrity of the game and prevent cheating. While it may have a minimal impact on card counting and the overall odds of winning, the primary purpose of burning cards is to ensure a fair and enjoyable experience for all players. By understanding the reasons behind this practice and its implications on the game, players can focus on developing their skills and strategies to improve their chances of winning at the blackjack table.