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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

New table games always feel like a sideshow at the annual Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, with the huge flashy displays of new slot machines filling the Big Top. And new blackjack games are a sideshow within the sideshow, with most new table games based on stud poker.

Still, a walk through the aisles invariably turns up a few games of interest, and G2E 2012 in October was no exception.

One that caught my eye was called BJ-Bac, from Toke Gaming Corp. As the name suggests, itís a hybrid of blackjack and baccarat. The game is blackjack, but as in baccarat, only two hands are dealt --- a player hand and a banker hand. You can bet on player, banker, or tie, just as in baccarat. And thereís an optional side bet on the first four cards out of the shoe.

The banker hand hits on 16 and below, and stands on 17 and above, just like blackjack. And the dealer plays out the player hand according to a basic strategy chart. There are double down and pair splitting opportunities, but you donít have to make the extra bets to get a decision on the hand. With only two hands, the game moves fast, something casino operators will like.

On the player side, the hand is played out according to a basic strategy chart posted right at the table. At a glance, it looked accurate, the usual chart weíd see for a six- or eight-deck game. Blackjacks are paid 3-2, players may double on any first two cards including after splits, but splits are limited to one time. That seems necessary since all splits and doubles are played out in front of the dealer, and the dealer still must track results for bettors who elect not to make the split or double bets.

There was no marking on the table as to whether the dealer hits soft 17. That would seem to be a house option. Toke Gaming estimates a 1.22 percent house edge with a six-deck shoe, but thereís nothing in the rules that would suggest a player who makes the proper splits and doubles should get anything less than a basic strategy player at a regular table.

Itís different on the banker hand, where winning bets pay a 5 percent commission, as in baccarat. Thereís also a "17 rule" on banker that comes into play after one drawing round if the banker has exactly 17 and player has not busted. Under those conditions, the banker hand pushes, while the player hand is not affected. For example, if player has 9-4 and banker has 6 up, player stands. If the banker then turns up a 4 and draws a 7 for a 17 total, the player 13 loses as usual, but the banker 17 pushes and those who bet on banker get their money back. Toke Gaming says the combination of the commission with the 17 rule leave a house edge of 1.04 percent on banker.

Betting on tie is a bad bet --- just like baccarat. With an 8-1 payoff in a six-deck shoe, Toke says the house edge is 20.3 percent. Raising the payoff to 9-1 reduces the edge to 11.5 percent.

SHFL Entertainment, long known as Shuffle Master, introduced Free Bet Blackjack with a Push 22 progressive side bet. The free part is that you may split pairs for free, except there is no splitting of 4s or 10 values. You also may double for free on any hard 9, 10, or 11, on any number of cards, including after splits.

The tradeoff? If the dealer busts with a total of 22, any bets you have remaining in action are pushes. You still win on your blackjacks --- theyíre paid before the dealer draws. But any of your other bets, even your multicard 21s and your splits and doubles, are just pushes if the dealer hits the magic number.

Those who make the progressive side bet get a portion of the pot any time the dealer busts with a 22. Exact payout depends on the composition of the 22, with the top jackpot being paid if the dealer has 4-5-6-7 of spades.

Barrett Gaming showed its side bet, Dealer Bust 21, already licensed in Nevada, Mississippi, Washington and South Dakota, and in action in about 20 casinos. As the name suggests, the player wins when the dealer busts. Payoffs are dependent on the dealer up card. On one pay table, players are paid 15-1 when the dealer busts with an Ace up, 4-1 with a 10 value up, 2-1 with 7, 8 or 9 or even money on 2 through 6. On a six-deck game where the dealer hits soft 17, itís a house edge of 2.6 percent, which is lower than most side bets. On the other hand, if all busts pay 2-1, itís a house edge of 14.3 percent at that six-deck table. Let the bettor beware.

Galaxy Gaming, a growing manufacturer and distributor of table games systems, had its MegaShare shared bonus jackpot system up and running. Itís capable of linking progressive jackpots to different games. A blackjack player making a side bet at 21 + 3 can be eligible for the same jackpot as someone playing Galaxy games that include Triple Attack Blackjack, Emperorís Challenge Pai Gow Poker, Texas Shootout and Deuces Wild.

Not all payouts on the side bets share in the progressive pool. Each game has its own triggering hand for the MegaShare. In 21 + 3, for example, itís when the playerís first two cards and the dealerís up card all are Aces of diamonds.

As with nearly all side bets, basic strategy players or better will avoid MegaShare most of the time, just as they avoid the +3 part of 21 + 3. However, if the pool gets large enough to go positive, there might be some opportunity to go jackpot hunting.

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