Faro shuffle

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The faro shuffle (American), weave shuffle (British), or dovetail shuffle is a method of shuffling playing cards, where two halves of a deck are merged back together, ideally alternating between cards from each hand. Diaconis, Graham, and Kantor also call this the technique, when used in magic.[1]

Mathematicians use the term "faro shuffle" to describe a precise rearrangement of a deck into two equal piles of 26 cards which are then interwoven perfectly.[2]


A right-handed practitioner holds the cards from above in the left hand and from below in the right hand. The deck is separated into two preferably equal parts by simply lifting up half the cards with the right thumb slightly and pushing the left hand's packet forward away from the right hand. The two packets are often crossed and tapped against each other to align them. They are then pushed together on the short sides and bent either up or down. The cards will then alternately fall onto each other, ideally alternating one by one from each half, much like a zipper. A flourish can be added by springing the packets together by applying pressure and bending them from above.[3]

A game of Faro ends with the cards in two equal piles that the dealer must combine to deal them for the next game. According to the magician John Maskelyne, the above method was used, and he calls it the "faro dealer's shuffle".[4] Maskelyne was the first to give clear instructions, but the shuffle was used and associated with faro earlier, as discovered mostly by the mathematician and magician Persi Diaconis.[5]

A faro shuffle which leaves the original top card at the top and the original bottom card at the bottom is known as an out-shuffle, while one that moves the original top card to second and the original bottom card to second from the bottom is known as an in-shuffle. These names were coined by the magician and computer programmer Alex Elmsley.[6] A perfect faro shuffle, where the cards are perfectly alternated, requires the shuffler to cut the deck into two equal stacks and apply just the right pressure when pushing the half decks into each other.

The faro shuffle is a controlled shuffle that does not fully randomize a deck. If one can do perfect in-shuffles, then 26 shuffles will reverse the order of the deck and 26 more will restore it to its original order.[7]

In general, perfect in-shuffles will restore the order of an -card deck if . For example, 52 consecutive in-shuffles restore the order of a 52-card deck, because .

In general, perfect out-shuffles will restore the order of an -card deck if . For example, if one manages to perform eight out-shuffles in a row, then the deck of 52 cards will be restored to its original order, because .[8] However, only 6 faro out-shuffles are required to restore the order of a 64-card deck.

As deck manipulation[edit]

Magician Alex Elmsley discovered[citation needed] that a controlled series of in- and out-shuffles can be used to move the top card of the deck down into any desired position. The trick is to express the card's desired position as a binary number, and then do an in-shuffle for each 1 and an out-shuffle for each 0.

For example, to move the top card down so that there are ten cards above it, express the number ten in binary (10102). Shuffle in, out, in, out. Deal ten cards off the top of the deck; the eleventh will be your original card. Notice that it doesn't matter whether you express the number ten as 10102 or 000010102; preliminary out-shuffles will not affect the outcome because out-shuffles always keep the top card on top.

Group theory aspects[edit]

In mathematics, a perfect shuffle can be considered an element of the symmetric group.

More generally, in , the perfect shuffle is the permutation that splits the set into 2 piles and interleaves them:


In other words, it is the map

Analogously, the -perfect shuffle permutation[9] is the element of that splits the set into k piles and interleaves them.

The -perfect shuffle, denoted , is the composition of the -perfect shuffle with an -cycle, so the sign of is:

The sign is thus 4-periodic:

The first few perfect shuffles are: and are trivial, and is the transposition .


  1. ^ Diaconis, Graham, and Kantor 1983, 188
  2. ^ Morris 1998, 13
  3. ^ Morris 1998, 111
  4. ^ Maskelyne 1894, 204
  5. ^ Morris 1998, 8
  6. ^ Morris 1998, 11–12
  7. ^ Diaconis, Graham, and Kantor 1983, 193
  8. ^ "Interesting Facts About Playing Cards". 23 April 2019. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  9. ^ Ellis, Fan, and Shallit 2002


  • Diaconis, P.; Graham, R. L.; Kantor, W. M. (1983). "The mathematics of perfect shuffles" (PDF). Advances in Applied Mathematics. 4 (2): 175–196. doi:10.1016/0196-8858(83)90009-X.