POKER

Why Casinos Stick to THIS Number of Decks in Poker: The Reasons Will Astonish You!

By David Huber
March 08, 2024

The number of decks that casinos generally stick to in poker games is widely known by those who play in “live” games around the world. But WHY is there a specific number of decks in poker? Why don’t you see a lot of casinos make use of technology-based products that can accommodate six (or more) decks at a single table?

In this article, we’ll look at some of the reasons behind the multi-deck limit when it comes to the majority of competitive, player-versus-player poker games that are hosted by big name casinos.

Of course, we’ll be referring to the amount of individual decks that may be present at a live poker table – and not the number of decks that are used for a single poker hand (which is one deck only).

Some of the reasons behind limiting the total number of poker decks at a table, including in-play decks and reserve decks, may genuinely surprise you!

faded spade decks in poker

The Standard Number of Decks at a Table in Live Poker Games is Two

For starters, poker playing cards are one of the fundamental props necessary for hosting and participating in a real life poker game. Just like poker chips, you won’t be able to join or play in any competitive poker game at your favorite casino or card room if there are no playing cards.

But why do most casinos, despite having the budget to purchase the most high tech automated poker card shuffler machines that can hold six or eight decks at a time, use only two decks?

Number of Decks at Poker Tables: Mechanical vs. Digital Products

One of the most overlooked reasons for casinos limiting the amount of poker decks at any given “live” table is practicality.

When dealing with a physical product – one that can be dealt, held, folded, and so on – there is an undeniable “mechanical” element that comes along for the ride when it is used.

Poker decks and poker cards take up physical space in a live setting. Think of them as old-school media before such content placed on things such as compact discs, cassette tapes, or vinyl records evolved into digital music that can be manipulated instantly through hardware/software integration.

Back in the 1990s, CD changers became popular at one point (until drivers discovered how much these devices were prone to malfunctioning when driving over speed bumps or performing quick turns). A six-disc CD changer could be operated remotely through the use of a small device with a battery, but it took a relatively long amount of time for the machinery to physically move the discs themselves.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why CD changers were a one-hit fad that never really came into their own in terms of adding more physical hardware. Twenty-disc or 100-disc CD changers were never really manufactured and marketed due to how much down time there was from the time one entered commands on a remote device to the moment a specific song began to play.

It’s simply not very practical to have six or more poker decks in wait when dealing a live poker game. An automatic card shuffler can work its magic on a single reserve deck of cards, and have that deck ready for a live dealer to pick up and use in the time it takes to play one hand of live poker with a current deck.

The Number of Decks in Poker Doesn’t Influence Game Speed

Beyond having two total decks at a dealer’s disposal in a live poker game, more decks don’t really increase the actual game speed, or number of hands seen per hour.

A casino poker table that is using two total decks will see just as many hands per hour on average (perhaps more) than if that table’s automatic shuffler held six or more decks in reserve.

Again, this is just a reality of the mechanical element that’s present in live poker play. A poker dealer is dealing one hand with one single deck, while the next deck is being shuffled and readied by the hardware next to the dealer.

Having more than one reserve deck contained within a carousel doesn’t really enhance the player experience in any way. But having one single deck that can be shuffled and made available to the dealer as soon as the current hand concludes is a genuine time saver.

Why is Poker Played With Two Decks?

The more physical cards that might make their way onto a poker player during an individual dealer’s “down,” the greater the likelihood that there could be a mix-up somewhere along the way. In other words, more data, more problems.

Think about the few occasions in live poker when you’ve physically been at a poker table (or viewed content on a poker live stream) in which a duplicate card was dealt during a single poker hand.

Aside from a poker hand automatically being declared “dead” in these rare cases, the events themselves typically prompt a recount, reshuffle, and inventory taking of all playing cards/decks present at the table.

Plus, there are few events in a live poker hand that will cause most (if not all) players at a live poker table to audibly “groan” than having a duplicate card discovered while a real money, competitive poker hand is in progress.

If seeing a flop that contains TWO queens of hearts results in players and hosting venues alike doing a “double take,” imagine how bad it might be if THREE or more duplicate cards happened to accidentally make their way into a single poker hand.

Despite the training routine that dealers and card room personnel go through to ensure that cards within poker decks remain entirely separate, these events DO occasionally occur. This is why the answer to the question, “How many decks are used in Texas Hold’em and other games,” is typically TWO.

Casino Security and Game Integrity

While technological advancements have made some forms of cheating and dealer-player collusion less likely, more than two poker decks at a competitive game could still insert more variables unnecessarily in certain circumstances.

Casino security officials have enough to monitor in real time, and it may be a lesser burden (depending on which systems are in place at a particular cardroom) to use two total decks rather than three or more.

Maintaining a policy of two decks may also grant casino personnel with general knowledge regarding how frequently decks should be discarded and replaced with new ones.

Having a carousel with six, eight, or however many decks may mean that playing cards remain in used (or unused) “circulation” for longer periods of time. This may not be a good thing in general. – depending on which security protocols and hardware-software integration are in practice at a specific card room.

If you’re hosting a home game that happens to be for real money stakes (and if the stakes are high enough to attract cheaters/colluders), then you might want to seriously consider limiting your table(s) to a maximum of two total decks that can be used during a single session or dealer shift.

This will allow you or your manager to obtain a general idea of when decks should be switched out due to wear and tear or possible markings. Keeping up with six decks as a home game security analyst (even if they are in an automatic card shuffler machine) seems like it would be somewhat of an extra, unnecessary chore.

This is because, as stated previously in this article, you can deal the same amount of hands per hour using only two decks of poker cards. The number of decks don’t enhance the gaming experience after two.

Should The Two Poker Decks In Use Have Different Styles?

Concerning the face-down graphics displayed on poker cards, most casinos will use the same card design for the number of decks in poker use.

If you’d like, you can be more flexible as a home game host and use two completely different designs if it’s an informal game. However, you’ll find that most card rooms will also use the exact same card design and color for both decks that are available to a dealer at their poker tables.

Is It Poor Form to Use Two Decks in Poker When Manually Shuffling?

If you’re participating in or hosting a very casual poker game or if the stakes are very low, a second deck might not add much to the experience if you’re manually shuffling in between hands.

One option might be to have someone shuffle the extra deck while the current deck is in play, but players may balk at this practice at higher stakes due to the possibilities it opens up for potential cheating.

If you don’t have an automatic card shuffling machine, you may be better off simply using one deck for all hands during a home game session. During a hand, it’s the dealer’s sole responsibility to deal as the rules stipulate, and not to shuffle cards, after all.

More Reasons for Using Only One Poker Deck for Home Games

There are a couple other reasons why using just one poker deck for a home game may be your best bet.

If you plan on having alcoholic beverages available while competitive gameplay is taking place, then one single deck might do the trick. This is true even if the amount of hands seen per hour is a bit slower than it would otherwise be using two decks.

Another occasion in which using a single poker deck might be appropriate is when your home game guests are already used to incorporating a single deck.

Using two (or more) decks to speed up your home poker game may be a good idea on the surface, but it’s something that you want to receive approval from all participants if the concept is being implemented for the first time.

As mentioned above, there’s really no speed benefit to using two decks in poker (if there’s no dedicated dealer spot) anyway.

If players are taking turn shuffling the cards between each hand, then two decks might be a bit too much to keep track of.

And one of the most annoying things that can happen during a real money poker hand is when cards from two separate decks get mixed together and result in a hand being declared “dead” once a duplicate card is discovered.

Finally, you’ll want to use a single deck of playing cards for poker games in which players are new to a particular game format (while keeping the game itself at low stakes). One deck only is ideal, as it gives players a chance to ask questions once a hand concludes and receive clarification while the single deck is being manually shuffled for the next hand.

The Ideal Number of Decks in Poker Games

Two is really the magic number — as long as you have an automatic card shuffler that can accommodate the reserve deck and a dedicated human dealer to distribute cards.

The next time you’re hosting or playing in a live card game, check to see how many poker decks are in use by including any reserve decks that are selected from an automatic card shuffler once the current hand concludes.

If you’re looking to take your home game to the next level, then an automatic card shuffler that can ready a separate deck while a hand is being played with another deck will add multiple hands per hour to your game.

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David Huber poker author
Written By.

David Huber

David Huber has been involved in the poker industry for close to two decades: initially as a professional online poker player and later as an editor, consultant, writer, and forum manager. Known as “dhubermex” online, David’s poker-related work has been heavily published across numerous websites since 2004.

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