What Is “Penetration” in Blackjack, and Does It Matter to Ordinary Players?

 What Is “Penetration” in Blackjack, and Does It Matter to Ordinary Players?

One of the things blackjack card counters look for is penetration — the proportion of cards put into play between shuffles. Counters want to see more cards dealt. When the count is favorable, the last thing a counter wants to see is a shuffle.

But most of us are not card counters, and I’ve received emails from players asking if penetration means anything to the average blackjack player.

As it happens, it’s not really something most of us need to worry about. Penetration does not change basic strategy. Basic strategy players just keep on making the same decisions regardless of how many decks are cut out of play.

If penetration makes any difference at all, to a basic strategy player, it’s in the speed of play. Lower penetration means more shuffles, and more shuffles means fewer hands per hour. Fewer hands per hour reduces exposure to the house edge. The vast majority of players will actually lose less money per hour in games with poor penetration.

Speed of play favors whoever has the edge on the game. The advantage player wants more hands per hour, more chances for the edge to work in his or her favor. Against basic strategy players or average players, the house has an edge, and the casino wants more hands per hour to allow that edge to pad the bottom line.

Casinos walk a tightrope with penetration. Those who are overly concerned with card counters and reduce their penetration wind up dealing fewer hands per hour. That costs the casino money in reduced play from non-counters. But that’s the operator’s problem. For most players, it’s nothing to worry about.

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