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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=38069Send your question to Grochowski at casinoanswerman@casinoanswerman.com.

Recent years had brought a decline in the number of new blackjack games and side bets on display at Global Gaming Expo (G2E), the giant fall trade show and conference in Las Vegas. Part of that is due to industry trends. Itís never been easy to sell a new table game, and itís tougher than ever with larger proportions of floor space devoted to slot machines.

But at this yearís Expo at the Sands Convention Center, there was an uptick in the number of new blackjack variations. That came as a surprise after new games hit rock bottom at the 2013 show.

This year, there was a good mix of innovations from larger companies as well as from independent developers. Games from independent developers often arenít in a final state. Theyíre works in progress, getting feedback from potential casino customers on any fine tuning that needs to be done.

One of those was Tic-a-Tac 21, from GDC. The inventor of the game is David Hoyt, creator of the Jumble word puzzles you see in many newspapers, and he was there to explain the game. Hoyt acknowledged that there could be adjustments coming, and itís unclear whether this is a casino game or an online game. Play is on a 3x3 grid that opens plenty of bonusing possibilities. You choose spaces on the grid for your cards to be dealt, trying to leave open the possibility of multiple winning hands. You can have three-card hands in three columns, three rows, and two diagonals, so the demo version suggested a progressive jackpot on eight 21s.

Thereíll be a learning curve, and while Hoyt can place the cards very quickly, players will have to get used to strategies and procedures.

GDC also showed Wild, a special 65-card deck in which 13 cards are all four suits. The Jack of Wild will have hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds symbols, but there also are separate Jacks of all suits. That opens up all kinds of bonusing possibilities for side bets and bonuses on suited hands in any card game. The company brochure suggested a Wild 21 side bet for blackjacks with two Wild cards, and even a video poker version with five-of-a-kind jackpots.

A developer called Aces Up Gaming showed a side bet called Lucky Lucky. If your first two cards plus the dealerís face up card total 19, 20 or 21, youíre a winner. In the version on display at Global Gaming Expo, Lucky Lucky paid 2-1 if the three cards totaled 19 or 20, 3-1 on an unsuited 21 or 10-1 on a 21 with all cards in the same suit. There are bigger payoffs if the 21 consists of 6-7-8 or 7-7-7, with 30-1 on unsuited 6-7-8, 50-1 on unsuited 7-7-7, 100-1 on suited 6-7-8 and 200-1 on suited 7-7-7.

With that pay table, the house edge is about 5 percent, which is kind of mid-range for blackjack side bets, higher than the 3.2 percent on 21+3 but lower than the 6.7 percent on the most common version of Royal Match. Reduced pay tables are available that increase the house edge to 10 percent and 12 percent, so if you see this in casinos, beware of lower paybacks.

Bally Technologies, through its acquisition of SHFL Entertainment, made a quick move to use one of its most famous slot machine themes on table games by introducing Blazing 7s Blackjack. Itís a side bet that pays off if your hand includes one or more 7s in your first three cards. Youíll get the progressive pot if your first two cards are 7s, and you hit to draw a third 7. Bally didnít provide math on its games, so I donít immediately have a turning point where it becomes worth your while to chase the jackpot and hit two 7s against a 6, for instance.

Bally also showed Let It Ride Blackjack, where you win the optional Let It Ride bet if your first two cards are a pair, two cards of the same suit, or a straight with two consecutive cards. The "let it ride" part is what comes next. You can either collect your winnings, or let it ride by adding them to your blackjack bet. If the dealer has a blackjack, you canít let it ride. Just collect the side bet winnings.

Kingís Bounty, also from Bally, is another side bet, paying when you have a 20. Youíll get a 4-1 return on most unsuited 20s, risking to 6-1 for two Kings, 9-1 for a suited 20, 20-1 for pairs of suited 10, Jacks or Queens, 30-1 for two suited Kings, 100-1 on two Kings of spades, and the big 1,000-1 bonanza for two Kings of spades when the dealer has a blackjack. The house edge is 2.3 percent in a six-deck game.

TCS John Huxley is a British supplier of gaming equipment as well as both felt table games and electronic table games. Its new 3 to 1 Blackjack and 7 to 1 Blackjack are side bets based on the color of the cards, coupled with a requirement that the player must win the blackjack hand to collect.

In 3 to 1, if your first two cards are not the same color, the side bet loses and regular play continues. If they are the same color Ė black for spades and clubs, red for hearts and diamonds Ė the bet stays in action. If you then win the hand, you collect a 3-1 payoff on the side bet as well as winnings on the regular hand. If you lose, you lose both you blackjack bet and the 3 to 1 bet.

Similarly, 7 to 1 Blackjack is based on whether your first two cards plus the dealerís up card are all the same color. If they are, and you also win your blackjack bet, the side bet is worth a 7-1 payoff.

War Blackjack from AGS is a just what it sounds like, a combination of blackjack and war. The war bet is optional, but if you make it, you and the dealer each receive one card face up, and the higher card wins. The dealer wins all ties.

After that, thereís a twist. If you win the war bet, you can choose to either collect the winnings or add them to your blackjack bet. You must take back your original war bet Ė only the winnings can be added to the blackjack bet. So if you win with a 10 value or an Ace, youíre going to want to add to your blackjack wager, while if you win with a 6, 5 or other weak card, youíll probably just want to collect your winnings.

After the war bet is settled, you get a second card face up, the dealer gets one face down, and regular blackjack play continues.

One of the flashier presentations from table games designers came from Catco, with its new Dragon 21. It comes complete with dragon imagery, a prize wheel, and a gong. The layout comes with six circles per player to place a lammer after each blackjack. When youíve filled all six circles by receiving blackjacks, you get to sound the gong that signals a spin of the prize wheel. Once you have a few circles filled, youíre not going to want to leave.

The prizes can be large or small depending on the casinoís marketing goals. Itís all customizable, so you could win cash, or perhaps a seat in the Dragon 21 Master Champions Tournament. Even the table layout and theme can be produced to casino specifications Ė instead of Dragon 21, perhaps Spooky 21 at Halloween time or Jingle Bells 21 in December.

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