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BLACKJACK NEWS FROM THE G2E

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 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 (www.casinoanswerman.com). He offers one-minute gambling tips on radio station WLS-AM (890) and podcasts are available at http://www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Send your question to Grochowski at casinoanswerman@casinoanswerman.com.

Each year I walk the display floor at the annual Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, seeking out game designers and distributors hawking new takes on blackjack. I can always count on SHFL Entertainment --- the company formerly known as Shuffle Master --- to have something. Itís the largest vendor of proprietary table games, with something for every niche.

Thereís usually also some payoff in small booths where a vendor is displaying only a game or two. Often, the game inventors themselves are the greeters as they try to attract the attention of table games managers who might give their new table-game creations a shot.

At G23 2013 in September at the Sands Expo Center, there seemed to be fewer such booths. My meanderings found only a few new blackjack products. Perhaps the shrinkage in table space overall, with fewer blackjack tables in modern casinos, is being reflected in game designersí wares.

Even SHFLís blackjack offering this time around was a game it introduced in 2012. Itís called Free Bet Blackjack, and it allows you to split pairs or double down without making a second bet; however, if the dealer draws a total of 22, any bets you have remaining in action push.

The most novel blackjack game came from CRE8TV Games, which has players wagering against each other in High Hand blackjack. The base game is just ordinary blackjack, your everyday game of beat the dealer. However, thereís a side bet on a community pot. The best player hand remaining in action wins the pot --- or more with a lucky spin of a prize wheel.

If all players bust, or if the dealer beats all players, the pot rolls over to the next hand. Same deal if two players tie for the best hand at the table. You must win the hand outright to win the side bet, so if you and I both have 20 and beat the dealer, we win our blackjack bets, but the High Hand pot rolls over. The house edge comes from a 5 percent rake. Other than that, all side bets remain on the line until a player wins.

If you have the best hand at the end of a hand, you win a spin of an electronic prize wheel. You push a button, the wheel spins, and where it lands determines just how much you win. You could win the pot, or the pot plus added money, or a progressive jackpot.

If only one player makes the pot bet, he becomes eligible for a wheel spin by getting a blackjack. The sample at the show showed a minimum wager of $5, with the single-player prize wheel marked off in amounts from $10 to $100, plus a progressive jackpot space.

CRE8TV Games also showed a second blackjack product, Suit íEm Up. Itís a side bet based on the playerís first two cards, and it pays off whenever the cards are in the same suit. The pay table starts at any suited cards at 2-1, and moves up to 3-1 for a suited 11, 5-1 for a suited pair, 10-1 for a suited blackjack, and 60-1 for suited Aces. You get two cards of the same suit on the initial deal about 24 percent of the time, making this a frequent-pay game compared with most side bets.

According to material handed out by CRE8TV, the house edge is 9.41 percent in a double-deck game, declining to 3.41 percent with a six-deck shoe and 2.67 percent with an eight-deck shoe. The big jackpot for suited Aces will turn up an average of once per 1,339 hands in a two-deck game, 1 in 808.6 with six decks, and 1 in 770.7 with eight decks.

DEQ Systems, which focuses on digital table game systems, checked in with its Buster Blackjack side bet. Itís a bet that the dealer will bust --- the latest variation on a theme that seems to pop up every year. Buster Blackjack pays more if it takes the dealer more cards to bust.

If the dealer busts in three or four cards, the side bet pays 2-1. A five-card bust pays 4-1, and itís 15-1 on six cards, 50-1 on seven cards, and 250-1 on eight cards.

The side bets stay in action until the dealer hand is completed, even if you lose your blackjack hand. If all player hands bust, the dealer still must play out the hand if there are side bets on the table.

DEQ markets progressive jackpot systems so naturally, thereís a progressive version of Buster Blackjack. To be eligible for the big progressive jackpot on a dealer bust in eight or more cards, the player must make the maximum side bet as set by the casino. All other dealer busts are paid according to a pay table.

I first wrote about Bet the Bust 21 from Tech Art Table Games Solutions after G2E 2011. I wonít go into the game in depth this time, but will mention the basics because this time its handouts included a section on advantage play.

Itís a side bet that the dealer will bust, made after you see the dealerís up card. Payoffs depend on the up card. 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, youíll get 4.5-1 if the dealer stands on all 17s and 3.5-1 if he hits soft 17.

In a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17, the house edge ranges from 2.5 percent on 8 to 20.3 percent on 4.

Tech Artís analysis suggested advantage play is most practical when targeting a single up card, such as 3. There, it said, players could gain $2.95 per 100 hands wagering $25 when player has edge in a single-deck game where the dealer hits soft 17, or $3.48 should you ever find a single-deck, S17 game. The maximum gain would be $14.48 in single-deck game for a player who kept a separate count for each card denomination.

Thatís a small gain for games with rare conditions.

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