6 Best Card Shufflers | March 2017
- comes with two decks of cards
- fun las vegas styling
- easy-access slot for card retrieval
- uses weights to help feed cards
- does not require batteries
- one year warranty
- fun for kids to use
- works with thicker cards
- lasts longer than electric options
Unhand That Deck
It's a humid night in northern New Jersey, 1995, and a group of older women sits around a dining room table, some smoking long, slim cigarettes, others nibbling on chocolates and sipping wine. The talk is mostly gossip, occasionally turning to the stakes at hand and the quality of the playing cards each woman holds. They speak in Italian and play games from the old country: Malafemina, No-Peek, Deuces Wild. They bet pennies. All of them cheat, one way or another. At the corner of the table sits the one safeguard they keep against any tampering with their deck, a device that can ensure a bit of fairness in an unfair world: a card shuffler.
True, the older hands of the women in this dark, Rockwellian scene have become more fragile with age. Their tendons couldn't withstand the agony of a repetitive strain injury, and their skin, thinner than it was in their their youth, might not bounce back as readily from a paper cut. But protecting a prospective dealer's hands isn't the only reason to invest in a good card shuffler. These devices can also offer a greater degree of randomness free of human error or lascivious intent than a person could.
If you've ever tried to shuffle cards by hand, especially using the riffle and bridge method, you know how difficult it can be to get the process right. Often, you'll find yourself unwittingly over-bending the cards in one direction or another, reducing their lifespan. You might also accidentally dog-ear a card or two, creasing one of its corners enough that anybody paying attention will immediately be able to identify that card in an opponent's hand or at the top of a draw pile, giving them an unfair advantage. The gentle touch of a card shuffler avoids all this.
Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to invest in a card shuffler, however, is that they're fun. They add a degree of professionalism to an organized, higher-stakes game, and a degree of intrigue among innocent games at home. Those women in New Jersey so many years ago? That was my grandmother and her friends, all Italian immigrants. I would sneak downstairs to watch them play after my mother had fallen asleep, and I would immediately gravitate toward the card shuffler. The ladies always let me load and run the machine, but they never let me deal; they knew I was a good luck charm for my grandma, and, for the same reason behind their decision to use a shuffler, they wanted an even playing field.
How Card Shufflers Work
A traditional shuffle performed by hand, often called the riffle and bridge, or simply the bridge shuffle, places about half of a given deck in either of the dealer's hands. He or she bends the cards back and lets them fall one at a time, one on top of the other, gliding their thumbs along the edges like they were animating a children's flip book. Then, the dealer reverses the bend in the cards and lets them fall into place with one another. The result is a deck of cards that's been cut and half, and the cards of which have been fed on top of one another in layers. If this process doesn't sound quite random to you, that's because it isn't.
To achieve randomness, or near randomness, a dealer will have to continually cut and reshuffle the cards by this method at least four times. Often, he or she will also include some more basic shuffle, like cutting by small increments in the hand, to decrease the predictability of the draw and to prevent groupings that appeared in the previous game from reemerging.
The card shufflers on our list perform the same basic shuffle as the riffle method. You split your deck or decks into two relatively equal halves and place each half in a tray on either side of the shuffler. These trays are angled slightly toward the center of the shuffler, where the cards will eventually gather. Then, you either press a button to engage a small motor, or you turn a small crank by hand, either of which operation will rotate a gear system under the opposing trays. These gears work inversely so that when one is in the up position, the other is in the down position, which ensures an alternating shuffle.
As the gears move through their up positions, they push the bottom card in each tray slightly toward the center of the shuffler where a rubberized gear on either side turns constantly, grabbing anything that comes near it and moving it down into the final deck.
A Brief History Of The Card Shuffler
Toward the end of the 19th century, inventors and entrepreneurs throughout England and the United Stated proposed several different shuffling apparatuses, some of which were miserable failures, while others went on to become the basis for the machines we use today.
One of the first such devices, invented in 1878 by Henry Ash, was simply a box with a kind of comb halfway toward its bottom. Dealers could load the box with a deck of cards and shake it fervently, but only about half of the cards would make their way through the dividing teeth of the comb.
The first hand-cranked mechanisms arrived in 1892, and they looked similar to the manual models still available, but these relied on the friction between cards to create a sense of randomness. With no means for the machine to grab a card and funnel it toward the final centrally deposited deck, they could only use gravity to achieve their shuffle.
The growth of the casino industry throughout the 20th century led to more advancements in card shufflers, and the devices you're liable to see on the floor of a modern casino far outperform the shufflers we've rated for you here today. Unless you have a friend who's particularly adept at counting cards and shuffle tracking, however, a simpler mechanical shuffler is all you're going to need.