As I started to write this commentary, I was going to begin with the question: “Who knows what a faro shuffle is?”
That might be a little too magician-y cute, somewhat rude, and readers might think that I am saying, “I have the answer and you don’t”.
Well I am not being cute or rude, but I think there is an answer that most won’t suspect. Yes, a faro shuffle is the description of what most magicians use in many great card effects to deceive the cleverest. Yes, it is performed in the hands off the table, sometimes. But No, this – is not how it originated or how it was initially executed.
Well let me explain. In the game of Faro, it was very important that the players and the dealer did not get a single flash of any card that was in the deck. If the dealer new the position Feuerwerk of a card it would be very easy to know a winning card or a losing card. So the early Faro operators devised a technique of shuffling that made it virtually impossible to see indices or card face values.
This technique, actually there are two methods, is a work of mastery executed in the proper hands. The first method is accomplished as follows: The cards would be squared up on the layout and then separated into two equal packets and butted together at the short ends, as a normal table riffle shuffle would begin. Instead of bringing up the inner corners of the cards to allow each side (left and right) to be sprung from the thumbs on to each other in a weave like pattern, the two butted ends are basically woven into each other by an extremely quick appliance of pressure and a slight movement and twisting of the packets, without being lifted off the table. The thumbs are on the sides of the packets and the forefingers on the backs of each packet. The movement happens very quickly and almost impossible to explain in print. The interlace begins at the bottom and goes to the top. One must just try it. The dealing layout also helps facilitate the movements of the cards with the latitude of cushion under the cards. The cards literally do not leave the table, thus not one card pip or index can be determined. A perfect interlace can occur with this shuffle.
Shuffling checks (chips) with one hand was a common thing that a dealer would do with no action on the table. The players would also shuffle checks even during the course of play. Someone early on figured that if you had a stack of checks, say red and green, that after a certain amount of shuffles they would return to the original stacked order. That discovery led to the idea of shuffling the cards perfectly eight times to return to the original order. Hence the Faro Shuffle was created to arrange the order of the cards from random to a predicted order.
The second method of the Faro shuffle very closely resembles the first method. After the cards are split into two different packets and butted together on the table, they are grasped by the ends by the thumbs and second fingers on the sides. The first finger lies on top of the backs, and then the cards are lifted slightly off the table just enough to start the interlace. In this method the interlace begins on the top and goes to the bottom. It is very showy and I have seen blackjack dealers and short card players use it as well.
I knew a great Faro Bank dealer, Mendelbaum, that was so good at these shuffles I would watch him for hours. One other great quality of a Faro dealer was the ability to look at the layout with the many wagers he had to pay, then go to the check rack, pick the checks and pay each bet. Then show his hands empty. In other words, the dealer would have no checks left over in his hands after the payoff.