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by John Grochowski

John Grochowski is a blackjack expert and a well-known and respected casino gambling columnist. His syndicated casino gambling column appears in the Chicago Sun Times, Denver Post, Casino City Times, and other newspapers and web sites. Grochowski has written six books on gambling including the "Answer Man" series of books ( He offers one-minute gambling tips on radio station WLS-AM (890) and podcasts are available at Send your question to Grochowski at

Editors Note: The G2E (Global Gaming Expo) is the worldís largest gaming event that is attended by tens of thousands of gaming executives from around the world. Over 500 exhibitors display their new products for the casino industry. The G2E was held in October in Las Vegas. John Grochowski attended and wrote this special report for BJI

When you hear about side bets being layered onto blackjack, itís usually a good idea to keep your chips in your stack, and save your wagers for the main game.

Rarely, thereís one thatís different and worth investigating. Joe Awada, with his new company GEC LLC, brought such a wrinkle to the Global Gaming Expo in early October at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas. Itís called Free Draw, and it plays more as a new basic strategy option --- a double down alternative, in a way --- than as a side bet.

"I didnít touch regular blackjack," Awada said when I caught up with him at G2E, at the booth he shared with electronic table games manufacturer Digideal. "All I did was create more action. I always felt that the game needed to be revised, and I always thought there was a way to do it without crashing the game."

Free Draw already was is in place in Las Vegas at the Tropicana and New York-New York, at the time of the expo, with Sunset Station next in line. You donít make the side bet until after youíve seen your first two cards and the dealerís up card. At that point, you can make an extra bet equal to your original wager that the dealer will bust.

If you have a soft 17 or less --- not hard 17, just a soft 17 or any 16 and under --- and you make the side bet, you get a free draw, one card that you can keep if it improves your hand, but discard if it doesnít. If you have hard 17 or higher, you can still bet the dealer will bust, but you donít get the free card.

Awada, a former World Series of Poker seven-card stud champion, says that properly used, the option cuts 0.03 percent off the house edge in a six-deck game. Iíve not yet seen the mathematical workup on the option and canít detail basic strategy just yet, but certainly not everyone will use the bet to its best advantage.

For one thing, if you have hard 17 or higher and donít get the free draw, you should never make this bet. Without getting the free card, itís a simple bet that the dealer will bust, with an even-money payoff. Regardless of dealer up card, that gives the house the kind of double-digit edges itís accustomed to getting on side bets. The house will make its profit off the unwary.

Thereís an extra layer to think about. If you have 11 and the dealer has 6, you could double down as usual. Or instead of doubling, you could take the free draw and have two shots at improving your hand. If you take the free draw and get a 5 for a 16, you can discard the 5 and get another chance.

A company called TechArt also displayed a wager based on making hay when the dealer busts, but this one didnít have the player-friendly free draw wrinkle. Bet the Bust is just a wager that the dealer will bust, also made after youíve seen the dealerís up card.

Payoffs are made according to a pay table that changes slightly depending on whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17. In either version, youíre paid even money on the most likely dealer bust cards, 4, 5 or 6. Youíll get 1.5-1 if the dealer busts with 2 or 3, rising to 2.5-1 on 7, and 3-1 on 8, 9 or 10 values. If you bet the dealer will bust with an Ace up - and I canít imagine why you would youíll get 4.5-1 if the dealer stands on all 17s and 3.5-1 if he or she hits soft 17.

No doubt, you see the problem here. A dealer with a 6 face up busts only about 42 percent of the time, and makes 17 or better nearly 58 percent of the time. That leads to a house edge of nearly 16 percent if you Bet the Bust only when the dealer shows a 6. Literature distributed by TechArt at the show said the overall house edge is 9.63, which puts it on my "skip this bet" list.

One new game that isnít blackjack per se but has blackjack elements is 7-14-21, and was installed at the Hard Rock Las Vegas just before G2E. It was designed and is being distributed by Leading Edge Design, the Illinois firm that designed Gems Wild Tiles cascading reels slot game and Multi-Strike Poker, both licensed and distributed by International Game Technology.

Itís an easy game to deal and to play. You make three bets before being dealt six cards, which you must sort into three two-card hands. The object is to get one hand as close to 7 as possible without going over, one hand close to 14 and one hand close to 21. As in blackjack, faces count as 10 and Aces can be 1 or 11.

You win on any hand thatís closer to the targeted total than the dealerís hand. Ties push. The house gets an edge because on any hand in which both you and the dealer bust, the house wins. A loss on one hand doesnít affect the others, though. If you bust on 7 and 14, you still could win the 21 hand. In addition, the player gets a 4-1 payoff on a "perfect hand" in which the three totals are exactly 7, 14, 21.

Dealers must play according to a house way, which requires they make their best 21 hand first, then their best 14 hand, with the remaining two cards as the 7 hand. The game card distributed by Leading Edge says first priority for players should be to bust no hands. After that, second priority would be to set the best 7 hand first, and then the best 14 hand. That would leave a house edge of 7.78 percent.

On his site, Michael Shackleford details a power rating system that he says takes the house edge all the way down to 0.59 percent. He also says optimal strategy can narrow it further, to 0.54 percent, but that strategy has not yet been put into words.

The 7-14-21 game comes with an optional bonus bet, with payoffs that start on even money if you win two of three hands, then increases to 7-1 for winning all three, 16-1 for a perfect hand of 7, 14, and 21, 50-1 if all cards are the same suit, 100-1 for a perfect hand with all red or all black cards, or a 2,000-1 bonanza for a perfect hand with all six cards in the same suit. The house edge is variable, because your sorting decisions could be affected by whether you make the side bet, but weíre basically looking at something between 2.5 and 3 percent. Sticking to the base game with Shacklefordís power ratings is the better play.


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