After a deck of cards is shuffled
by the dealer, it is often given to a player other than the one who performed the shuffle for a procedure called a cut
The dealer completes their shuffle, and then sets the cards face-down on the table near the designated player, typically the player to the dealer's right. The player cuts
the deck by removing a contiguous range of cards from the deck, and places them toward himself so that the stack of cards to be dealt is closest to the dealer. The simplest form of the cut is done by taking, roughly, the top one-half of the cards, and placing them on the table or a cut card
. Either the player cutting or the dealer then completes the cut by placing the remaining bottom portion on top of the cards that have been cut off.
Once the cut is complete, the dealer then picks up the deck, straightens or "squares" it, then deals the cards.
The contiguous section may also be taken from the middle of the deck. This is called Scarne's cut
, though in some settings this is considered poor etiquette or against the rules. A cut involving a very small number of cards, such as taking only the top card as a cut, is often acceptable...especially according to "House" rules. The same is true when a player takes every top card save for one on the cut. There is no known rule that states this type of cut is not legitimate. Proper etiquette for a standard cut is for the player to the dealer's right to remove a contiguous pile of six or more cards and place it closer to the person cutting the cards than the original pile. The dealer then places the pile closest to him on top of the cut pile. Placing the cut cards toward the person cutting the cards ensures that the cards are placed in the proper order if the dealer did not see the cut.
During informal card games, the dealer is typically not required to offer the cut, and even if offered, the designated player can decline the request. On the other hand, any player may specifically request to cut the cards before they are dealt. If a cut is requested by a player, it must be granted by the dealer.
In formal player dealt settings, such as in a casino or during a tournament, an offer to cut the deck is mandatory and the designated player must perform the cut. When the dealer is not a player (i.e. a casino employee), the cut is mandatory and is usually performed by the dealer.
A cut should always be completed with one hand to limit possibility of a false cut.
Scarne's cut was developed by John Scarne during WWII to help protect servicemen against cheating by unscrupulous dealers. First you pull out a portion of the middle of the stack and place it back on top of the deck. Then perform a regular cut described earlier.
The practice of cutting
is primarily a method of reducing the likelihood of someone cheating by manipulating the order of cards to gain advantage. Even if the dealer does not plan on cheating, cutting will prevent suspicions, thus many rules require it. Some players also consider the cut to be lucky
As a game
Cutting cards is usually a prelude to a game, but it can be a game unto itself. Each player, in turn, removes a selection of cards from the top and reveals the bottom card to all the players, and then replaces the cards in the original position. Whoever has revealed the highest (or sometimes lowest) card is the winner. This is often used in an informal setting, much like flipping coins.
As a joke
The command to "cut the cards", following by someone literally chopping the deck in half with an axe, is a none-too-subtle gag that has been used many times in popular media, going back to at least the vaudeville days. Examples include Harpo Marx
in Horse Feathers
, Curly Howard
in Ants in the Pantry
, and Bugs Bunny
in Bugs Bunny Rides Again