How Much Deck Penetration Do You Need to Beat Blackjack?

Man Holding Cards And Sliding Chips Across the Table With a Blackjack Logo on the Right

Successful blackjack card counting requires multiple elements. First and foremost, you need to learn a system and become a skilled counter.

However, skills aren’t the only important aspect to card counting. You also need great game conditions, including plenty of deck penetration.

Deck penetration refers to how deep into the shoe a dealer goes before shuffling. If a dealer goes through six out of eight decks, for example, then they’re allowing 75% penetration. As a counter, you stand a better chance of winning with a higher percentage.

Exactly how much deck penetration do you need, though? The following guide answers this question and also discusses what other considerations to keep in mind.

Importance of More Deck Penetration

The idea behind card counting is that you want to know when the shoe is rich in aces and 10-value cards. More aces and 10’s ensure two things:

  • You have a better chance at getting a natural blackjack.
  • The dealer’s odds of busting out while hitting to 17 increase.

A positive count indicates that the shoe has more aces and 10’s. It’s at this point when you want to begin increasing bets and capitalizing.

However, a positive count isn’t the only aspect worth considering. You also need to think about the amount of deck penetration.

Higher penetration provides more confidence in your count. Here are examples to illustrate this point:

Example #1

  • You’re playing a 6-deck game.
  • You have a +5 count after one deck is dealt.
  • However, you’re only 17% of the way through the shoe (1/6).

Example #2

  • You’re still playing a six-deck game.
  • You have a +5 count after five decks are dealt.
  • You’re over 83% of the way through the shoe (5/6).
  • You can now have much more confidence when raising bets.

You Generally Want at Least 75% Penetration

Casinos vary on when they want dealers shuffling the shoe. Some casinos allow as little as 60% deck penetration, while others allow up to 80% or more.

Generally speaking, you want to at least 75% penetration. This percentage Is usually enough to make profits as a skilled counter.

Of course, you might wonder why casinos would allow this much penetration in the first place. The main reason why is because they need to keep games moving quickly to maximize their profits.

Multiple Blackjack Hands on a Table

Casinos hold an advantage over the average player. Therefore, they stand to make more money when more hands are dealt each hour.

If the dealer stopped to shuffle the shoe 25% of the way through, they would slow down the game considerably. That said, casinos try maintaining a balance between keeping games running smoothly and not giving counters a big advantage.

The Table Rules Are Also Crucial

A given table’s rules also play a major role in your odds of winning. Simply put, player-friendly rules boost your chances of making profits.

The natural blackjack payout is the biggest rule to consider. A 3:2 payout will improve the RTP by 1.39% against a 6:5 payoff. You definitely don’t want to play at tables that only pay 6:5 for a natural.

The totals that you can double down on are also worth heavy consideration. A table that lets you double down on any total improves RTP by 0.25% compared to one that only lets you double on 9 through 11.

Whether the dealer hits or stands on a soft 17 warrants consideration as well. If the dealer stands, then the RTP increases by 0.20%.

The number of decks will affect the payback by a noticeable degree too. When compared to a six-deck game, a single deck improves RTP by 0.47%.

Great Rules Can Counteract Lower Penetration

Based on everything covered before, you might automatically avoid a table with less than 70% deck penetration. However, a combination of favorable rules can counteract this lower figure.

Here’s an example of a game that can still be profitable with between 60% and 70% penetration:

  • You’re playing at a table with 3:2 natural payouts.
  • Other favorable rules include doubling down on any total and re-splitting up to four hands.
  • The RTP for this game is 99.54%.
  • The deck penetration is 65%.
  • Nevertheless, this game still gives you a strong chance to win profits.

Ideally, you’ll find a table that offers a mixture of quality rules and higher penetration. Great rules can be enough for successful card counting, though, in the absence of more deck penetration.

Watch Out for Casinos That Back You Off Quicker

The best blackjack games aren’t always the best for counting purposes. Casinos with both favorable rules and high penetration are more likely to back you off.

The term back you off refers to limiting your play in some manner. It can also lead to you being banned from a casino’s blackjack tables or even the casino altogether.

Security Guard Going Down Escalators

A suspicious pit boss will first begin watching your play. They may strike up a conversation with you to throw off your game.

Assuming the pit boss feels like you’re definitely counting cards, they can take one of the multiple options. The mildest of these options involves making you flat bet. In this case, you’ll need to make the same bet size the entire time.

If the pit boss doesn’t want you back at all, then they can ban you from their respective casino. They’ll also ask for your ID and enter you into a database.

You don’t have to show them an ID because they’re not law officers. Nevertheless, you will need to leave the casino if asked.

Where Can You Find Blackjack Games with High Deck Penetration?

Las Vegas is definitely the best place to start when looking for tables with higher deck penetration. After all, it features far more blackjack games than any other gambling destination.

You can research different Vegas casinos to see if there’s any information on how deep they go into shoes. Likewise, you can also get out in Sin City and watch the games to see which casinos offer the most penetration.

Of course, other major gambling destinations also present worthwhile games. Atlantic City, Biloxi, Reno, and Tunica are worth checking out.

Don’t Expect to Find the Absolute Perfect Game

The hope is that you find a blackjack table with the following three traits:

  • Adequate deck penetration
  • Favorable rules
  • A low chance of being backed off

Unfortunately, you won’t find hardly any games with this perfect mixture of aspects. Few if any casinos nowadays offer 80% penetration, 99.5% RTP, and no heat from the pit boss.

You must develop a feel for which games are closest to the perfect standard. A table with 75% deck penetration, 99.0% RTP, and little heat is beatable. However, a game with 85% penetration and just 98.0% RTP isn’t worthwhile.

Likewise, a table with 80% deck penetration, 99.5% RTP, and heavy heat from the pit loss isn’t worth considering. After all, the pit boss will almost assuredly kick you off the table if you’re counting.

I don’t suggest settling for just any game when counting cards. You should, however, be realistic when looking for tables.

Other Tips for Successfully Counting Cards

Deck penetration and good rules aren’t the only things to think about when searching for a beatable game. You also want to keep the following factors in mind.

Have an Adequate Bankroll

Card counting can provide up to a 1.5% advantage over the house. Even a 1.5% edge, however, doesn’t guarantee that you’ll win in the short term.

You’ll deal with plenty of volatility when counting cards. This volatility can really hit hard when you’re increasing bets during a favorable count.

Casino Table Game with Poker Cards and Casino Chips, Roll of Money

That said, you want an adequate bankroll before starting out. As a solo counter, you should have around $7,000 to $8,000 before counting. When part of a team, you’ll want closer to a $20,000 bankroll.

A large starting bankroll gives you a better chance of riding out downswings and eventually capitalizing on your advantage.

Put in the Work

The first step to card counting is learning a system like the Hi-Lo. The Hi-Lo is easy to learn and provides an adequate edge over the house.

Just learning a system, though, doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically start winning. Instead, you must practice enough to the point where you have no trouble keeping up with the game speed.

Found online, card counting trainers provide a good place to start. These programs are free at certain websites and help you master tracking card values.

You can also visit a casino, watch a blackjack table, and keep track of the count. This method gives you live experience for counting cards.

Consider Moving to Vegas

As mentioned before, Las Vegas is the best spot to find a wide variety of blackjack games. It provides more available tables than any other location.

If you’re a serious card counter, then you should strongly consider moving to Vegas. This way, you’ll have many options to pick from when counting cards.

Furthermore, you can visit other casinos in case you get kicked out of one or more. Provided you don’t give up an ID after getting caught, then you won’t be put into any databases.

Our Final Thoughts

Generally speaking, you want to look for real money blackjack games with at least 75% deck penetration. This amount of penetration provides more confidence in your count.

However, you can seek out games with lower percentages if they have good-enough rules. A blackjack game with 99.5% RTP and 67% deck penetration is still beatable.

On the other hand, you want to avoid any games that feature low penetration and bad rules. These tables aren’t beatable by any standards.