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Especially for games which involve frequent card shuffling by multiple players of decks of uneven sizes is there is a technique for shuffling which is quick and easy for everyone to learn yet also reliably random?

Ideally this would work with cards which were sleeved.

I'm asking in particular for games of Dominion but have run into this question around many other games involving multiple decks as well. Back in my days of serious Magic the Gathering playing deck shuffling was always a complex subject especially in tournament situations (and even in more casual play as keeping the cards undamaged was a priority)

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In Dominion, everyone is usually constantly shuffling when it's not their turn. Plus, for most of the early game at least, decks are rather small. I tend to think that, as long as the ordering of the card decks is in fairly constant motion, insistence on "true randomization" is a luxury rather a necessity. Keeping the game moving is more important to me than being 100% sure that any possible clumping has been eliminated! –  thesunneversets Feb 15 '11 at 20:51
I mostly play Dominion as a two-player game with my girlfriend, mostly I'm looking for a good technique for us both to use to ensure minimal wear, especially once we add card sleeves, and which is fast and reasonably reliable and fair. Neither of us wants an unfair advantage but casual, lazy shuffling often results in clumps of cards remaining across shuffles leading to repeats of combos etc. –  Shannon John Clark Feb 15 '11 at 20:56
True, true, though it could potentially be difficult to tell whether "repeats of combos" is a product of lazy shuffling... or having built a powerful and consistent deck! –  thesunneversets Feb 15 '11 at 22:06
Indeed though when I got the only three villages in my deck one after the other I suspect my shuffling was at fault. –  Shannon John Clark Feb 15 '11 at 22:20
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4 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

When I shuffle I use a mixture of two techniques: riffle and stripping (as defined quite adequately in the Wikipedia article on shuffling). Riffle separates adjacent cards while stripping cycles cards from the top of the deck to the bottom.

I use both because riffle alone will very slowly push cards in the bottom half of each cut down, but tends to leave the top of the deck the same; stripping mitigates this drawback. Stripping alone takes too long to separate adjacent cards.

Early in the game when the deck is small (< 20 cards) it's very difficult--and unnecessary--to riffle so I only strip.

Wikipedia points out that riffling can be hard on cards; however, I've found that damage typically occurs because the person isn't good at shuffling and either excessively bends the cards or doesn't get good interspersion between the cuts. Being able to execute a bridge also reduces card wear as it evens out the bending and prevents the cards from acquiring a camber. In fact, I think proper riffle shuffling breaks in cards and makes them less stiff and prone to sticking to each other.

It seems that you're looking for something potentially easier to learn the riffling, but nothing is as fast (vital in Dominion) or as reliable at randomizing a deck. Honestly, anyone with reasonable motor skills should be able to learn to riffle with practice.

Wash shuffles are great for randomization but totally infeasible for Dominion since they take so long and take so much table space.

Weaves have the same end results at riffles, so if you weave you should strip as well. A weave is easier for many people to do, but will damage cards quickly as you have to slam or wiggle the edges of the deck together. Cards were made to return to their original shape when gently bent; they were not made to take stresses on their edges.

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Like Adam said: A Wash shuffle is a great shuffle opening if you have the space. After that some alternating Riffle and stripping shuffle produce a fast and thorough shuffle. Since OP is planning to go for card sleeves the Weave shuffle becomes an ideal substitute for the riffle. Just split the pile in half and push them into each other. Thanks to the sleeves your cards will easily interweave with much less effort and strain on your cards. –  Kempeth Feb 16 '11 at 12:59
I Weave and Strip, alternately (with sleeves). I make sure when Stripping that I don't consistently get a single card, so I'm not just reversing the order of the cards but am introducing some more randomness. The Weave should split adjacent cards apart, and the Strip reorders them so the two compliment each other nicely. –  lilserf Feb 16 '11 at 15:29
From the wikipedia page though: "CCG cards can be damaged from riffle shuffling, even when protected with card sleeves" And strip shuffling is exactly what I was suggesting. –  CodexArcanum Feb 16 '11 at 19:17
I just want to emphasize @Kempeth's point regarding Weave shuffling and card sleeves. I tend to notice that with a lot of Riffle shuffling cards start permanently bending, but with a lot of Weave shuffling I only have to replace the sleeves every once in a while and my cards are still straight and undamaged. But I definitely wouldn't try to Weave unsleeved cards. –  Cunso Feb 1 '13 at 18:53
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Adam did an awesome job of answering, so I won't repeat anything he mentioned there, but there's 2 things I want to add.

  1. I like mixing regular strip shuffles with the variant where you pick up most of the deck like normal, but instead of depositing cards with a chopping motion on one side of the cards only, alternate the side you put the cards on by flipping the growing pile back and forth with your fingers. This tends to mix things up a little better, and its pretty fun to do.

  2. I also use a method where you pick up 90% of the deck like you were going to strip, but instead of chopping the cards into your other hand, gradually reduce the pressure of your thumb and middle finger holding the cards above your hand. This will cause some cards to fall into your hand in a somewhat random order as they can fall from the middle, front, or back. This results in a sort of combination of the effects of striping to cycle cards around and rippling to reduce cards keeping the exact same order through the shuffle. As with any single shuffling technique, I wouldn't use it exclusively if you want the best results. :)

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I've heard some praising reviews of shuffling machines. I don't know how well they work with sleeved cards, but they are very quick, easy to use and fair. They aren't prohibitively expensive either, and could certainly be justified for casual use if you play a lot of card games.

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I happen to own a shuffling machine, a 6-deck one to be exact. I've also never used it with sleeved cards. Machines are quick, but only when shuffling large numbers of cards (we use ours for hand-and-foot, which is played with 6-decks). For smaller, Dominion-sized decks (say < 40) it wouldn't be worth using and only does a ripple shuffle anyway. The one I own is also much harder on cards than hand shuffling. There's no way I'd put my Dominion cards into it. In fact, we have to replace the 6 decks fairly regularly. Luckily their normal playing cards so that's cheap. –  Adam Wuerl Feb 16 '11 at 22:58
that's what I kinda assumed though I haven't used shuffling machines myself - but they seemed both best suited for multiple deck situations and cheap, standard cards not specialized cards such as CCGs or Dominion decks. –  Shannon John Clark Feb 16 '11 at 23:51
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From what I know of M:tG, a common shuffling technique is to deal the cards to a number of piles, say about 5 to 8, randomly sending a card to each pile until all are used up. Then stack the piles in random order.

For Dominion, I commonly just use an under-over-hand shuffle. That is, with cards in my right hand, I splash some amount off the top into my left. Then I flip the left side up and splash some more so this new set is on the bottom of the left hand stack. I'll randomly pick between top and bottom, sometimes even splitting the deck in my left and dumping some cards in the middle.

Its not highly random, but if you do it several times in a row, it seems to mix the cards up pretty well.

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The problem with pile shuffling is that in MtG it is used exactly because it isn't random (if you do it in a pattern) - i.e. you use it to take an ordered deck (lands & other cards) and mix them up in a highly distributed manner - i.e. you are breaking up clumps. This is good for casual play and if followed by additional shuffling and cuts which are fair it isn't a horrible thing (since starting with a deck with all the land and all the other cards clumped together isn't random either) but it isn't foolproof either. –  Shannon John Clark Feb 15 '11 at 20:38
I've read some of the thoughts on what kinds of shuffling provide the "most random" results and I think it's all pretty much bunk. If you're shuffling to a pattern, then you're cheating: just the same as if you used false shuffles to disguise a cold deck in a poker game. If that's the concern though, then I could only suggest over-under shuffles and in full view of each other and a ref to watch for cheating. –  CodexArcanum Feb 15 '11 at 20:47
Yes. Hence my question. Though to be clear I'm looking for techniques for casual play. –  Shannon John Clark Feb 15 '11 at 21:22
I used to do that but with 52 piles! –  CashCow Mar 17 '11 at 15:11
@Shannon: Magic cards tend to get sticky in tournaments. Doing a pile "shuffle" can break apart clumps that are literally stuck together, so it has its purpose. If your opponent, however, is carefully pile shuffling the entire time you should exert your right to shuffle their deck at least once yourself. –  MrHen Mar 17 '11 at 21:00
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