Silly Shuffles

Why are casinos still using the ribbon spread in baccarat? It’s part of the history of the game but procedure is time-consuming and leaves baccarat vulnerable and open to attacks by advantage players.

Silly Shuffles

I don’t understand why a large number of casinos in North America insist on using the outdated and time-wasting procedure for inserting the shuffle point card in baccarat known as the “ribbon spread”. I thought the ribbon spread went away at the same time as the oversized baccarat table was tossed onto the garbage heap. Dealers in tuxedos, beautiful shills in cocktail dresses, and four-dealer crews dealing cash are a thing of the past.

At one time baccarat was considered the game played by James Bond. The game required a European flair and the appearance of total elegance in order to attract the few high limit gamblers that didn’t mind wagering on a card game that required no strategy and limited game knowledge to play.

Because big table baccarat relied on a large degree of showmanship, the shuffling of the cards was turned into a lengthy process with all the dealers involved in the “Chemmy” card wash and the card riffle shuffling.

Once this process was completed the eight decks were offered for cutting by a player, the cut transferred, and the shuffle point card inserted at exactly 13 cards from the end of the shoe. Why 13 cards? This allowed the “stick” dealer to offer the shoe for up to two more hands knowing the shoe would not run out of cards. The industry has moved on and has gotten rid of the big table, the four-dealer crew, and the Chemmy card scramble, but for some reason, not the ribbon spread insertion process. Why?

The best question to ask at this point is, “what is wrong with using the ribbon spread procedure?

There are two reasons. First, the process of removing 20 to 25 cards from the front or the back of the freshly shuffle cards, fanning those cards onto the table, counting out the cards to determine the exact location of the 13th card of the spread, inserting the plastic cut card between the 13th and 14th card, and then picking the card spread off the table and placing those cards to the back of the eight decks is, well, considered “extremely” time consuming by people who advocate optimal game pace.

Second, using the ribbon spread procedure opens the baccarat game for attack from advantage players. I first read about attacking the ribbon spread in baccarat in Steve Forte’s excellent book of Casino Game Protection: A Comprehensive Guide, published in 2004, and again in John May’s book, Baccarat for the Clueless, published in 2000. Both authors explained the technique in detail and then commented that a select number of intelligent baccarat players (now known as advantage players) had been successfully attacking the ribbon spread for quite a few years going back into the ‘70s.

Why is this procedure so vulnerable? The ribbon spread allows the advantage player to determine the exact location of a single card in the shoe and knowledge of exactly when that card will come into play. If one knows a specific card will appear on a certain hand, either the Player or the Banker hand, that information will give this “knowledgeable” bettor an average advantage of 9 percent on that hand.

For advantage players to gain an advantage through the ribbon spread procedure, they need to spy the exposed (target) card located at the back of the 8-decks and then clearly be able to count the total cards used to create the ribbon spread. Then they need someone patient enough to count the number of cards dealt throughout the shoe until the target card is about to appear in the next dealing round. This usually occurs either the last or next to last hand of the shoe (about 80-90 minutes after the dealer draws the first card of that shoe).

If the ribbon spread procedure wastes time and opens a door to advantage play, why would any casino use it?

One possibility, whoever instituted the procedures copied them from a set of outdated procedures, or because someone didn’t understand this procedure’s shortcoming and thought it looked “cool” or “elegant.” Heaven forbid, the procedure was instituted as a result of the insistence of a marketeer, a casino host, or a high limit customer. At this point, one needs to question the “influencers” intentions.

The best suggestion to this problem is to just “say no”, and institute a procedure where the dealer is required to insert the shuffle point cards at an approximate point 15 to 20 cards from the back of the 8-decks. It is quick and safe, and easy to institute because it is a very simple procedure change to explain to the dealers.

If casino marketing or table game’s management is dead set to keep the ribbon spread (again, the intention should come under question), there is nothing management can do to compensate for the time lost. However, there are two changes to the procedure for mitigating the risk of loss.

The first procedure change is the need to mandate that the dealer cover the last card of the shoe during the ribbon spread process. This can be accomplished by covered the exposed card with a plastic cut card until the ribbon spread process has been completed and the spread card covers the last card. This will prevent the advantage players from seeing the value of the exposed card.

The second procedure that could be implemented involves the number of cards used to create the ribbon spread. Normally, casinos using the ribbon spread will instruct the dealer to remove approximately 20 to 25 cards from the decks and spread them in an arch on the table.

Instead, management needs to instruct the dealer to remove more cards, about 50 cards. When the dealer spreads the arch, there are a group of cards that remain in an unreadable “clump” at the end of the spread. In order to accomplish the ribbon spread attack successfully, all cards in the spread must clearly be read and counted by the advantage player. Knowing approximately where the target card will reappear does not work. The advantage player needs to know exactly where the target card will appear, or the strategy is worthless.

As for my opinion, it is and will always remain, get rid of the ribbon spread. Just say no!

Articles by Author: Bill Zender

As former Nevada Gaming Control Agent, casino operator, professional card counter and casino consultant, Bill Zender has been involved in various areas of gaming and hospitality since 1976. In the past, Zender has instructed courses on game protection, card counting, advantage play and gaming operations at various colleges and institutions throughout the country. As a member of JMJ, Inc., Zender was an owner and operator of the Aladdin Hotel and Casino and has additional operational experience in card room casinos in California and is considered an expert in Asian gaming. Besides his practical gaming experience, Zender holds a bachelors in hotel administration and a masters in business. As a gaming author Zender has penned seven non-fiction books on gaming including Card Counting for the Casino Executive, and the Casino-ology series. Owner/consultant of Bill Zender and Associates, Zender spent was general manager at a major California cardroom casino from 2018-2019. For more information, visit