THE SCOOP ON "FREE BET BLACKJACK"
by Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is editor of the Blackjack Insider Newsletter and host of smartgaming.com.
Have you every wished the dealer would match your double down and pair split bets with chips from her chip tray? Wish no more, because thatís exactly the twist in the new blackjack game called Free Bet Blackjack. To get the scoop on the game, I interviewed the gameís inventor Geoff Hall, CEO of Customized Casino Games Limited).
"What gave you the idea to invent Free Bet Blackjack?"
I try to focus on what players donít like about the traditional game of blackjack and than see if I can improve, or eliminate, that part of the game. For example, one thing that upsets players is when they make multiple bets by splitting and doubling, only to lose all the bets when the dealer ends up with a higher total. With Free Bet Blackjack, players can still win multiple bets but will generally only have one bet at risk.
"What are the playing rules?"
The main feature of Free Bet Blackjack is that the casino will pay the player to split and double in certain situations. A player can receive a "Free Split" on all pairs, except 10-value cards, and a "Free Double" is awarded on all two-card totals of hard 9, 10, and 11 (i.e., totals that do not include an Ace).The dealer will use a gold "Free Bet" token that will match the same amount that the player has originally wagered. (For example, if a player makes an original wager of, say, $10, and double downs on hard 11, with the "Free Double," he will win $20 if his hand beats the dealer hand.) Players may also split and double other hands if they wish but they would pay for those as in the regular game. All other rules are incorporated into the game so that it mirrors the traditional blackjack game, including paying a player blackjacks at 3-2 payoff odds.
"The Free Double and Split rules are very player friendly. How much do they affect the house edge for a player?"
Just allowing Free Splits and Free Doubles in a regular game would give the player roughly a 6% advantage over the casino.
"Is there a limit on the number of "free betsí per hand?"
The free bets also apply to re-splits and doubling down after pair splitting so a player could possible end up with a total of eight bets while only paying for one of them (the other seven bets would be Ďfree").
"What is the "catch" in the game that neutralizes the player edge on the free doubles and splits?"
The compensating rule used to pay for the free doubles and splits is called "Push 22." (I designed this rule on another game I invented called "Blackjack Switch.") With the Push 22 rule, a dealerís "bust" hand of 22 will push any remaining player bets rather than pay them. However, player blackjacks are still paid even when the dealer has a 22. Statistically, a dealer will get a bust 22 hand 7.36% of the time in a "Hit Soft 17" game. The Push 22 rule is worth 6.91% to the casino.
"With the free double and split rules, itís obvious that players should be more aggressive in their double down and pair splitting strategy. Is there a published basic strategy for the game, and if so, where can a player get it?"
Players should take all free doubles and splits; even if they seem counter-intuitive (i.e. doubling 9 verses a dealer Ace). There are some other basic strategy changes due to the Push 22 rule and you can find a published basic strategy on discountgambling.net and on wizardofodds.com. (Although the published strategy was devised for the six-deck game, you can use it in the single-, double- and eight-deck games as well.)
"What is the house edge against a player who plays Free Bet Blackjack using the optimum basic playing strategy?
The house edge will vary depending on the mix of rules that the casino chooses, including the number of decks. If we take a base six-deck game with dealer hitting soft 17, and resplitting Aces and surrender allowed, then the house edge against a basic strategy player is 0.81%. A double-deck game with identical rules will have a house edge of 0.85% due to the slight reduction in free bets. Other factors that affect the house edge against the player (in percent) are dealer standing on soft 17 (+0.31%), surrendering not allowed (-0.21%), and no re-split of Aces (-0.08%).
"What are the advantages of playing Free Bet Blackjack vs. a traditional blackjack game?"
Firstly, the strategy is easier for a recreational player because they should take all the free bets (this reduces doubling and splitting playing errors).
Secondly, a player is generally just exposing one bet at a time on doubles and splits so the volatility is reduced for the player on losing hands although they can still win multiple bets on a winning hand.
Thirdly, I believe the game is more fun to play!
"Is it possible for a card counter to gain the edge in the game?"
Free Bet Blackjack is so close to the traditional game that you can still gain an edge by card counting. However, something to consider is that if a player is dealt at least one face card then there is no ĎFree Betí option for the player. Overall, Free Bet Blackjack is no more vulnerable to card counting than a traditional blackjack game.
"Where can a player find out which casinos offer Free Bet Blackjack?"
The list is growing on a regular basis as I distribute the game in the UK and Las Vegas, and Bally Corporation distributes the game everywhere else. Currently, there are 21 tables of Free Bet Blackjack in Las Vegas and 23 tables installed outside Nevada in Arizona, California, Washington, Mississippi, and Connecticut. There are 19 tables in the UK, for a total of 63 tables Worldwide to date.
If anyone wishes to be kept informed on installations of Free Bet Blackjack, then I will try to update my Facebook page (facebook.com/freebetblackjack) as often as I can.
"Any other tips you want to give BJI subscribers about the game?"
You should check the rules of the game in the casino before you play. For example, there are some versions where a player blackjack is paid only 6-5, which increases the house edge dramatically. In the UK, dealers stand on soft 17, which reduce the house edge by 0.31%. (Iím sure there will be similar games in some gaming jurisdictions in the U.S.) If you find a game with surrender, then this is more valuable in Free Bet Blackjack than in a regular game due to the Push 22 rule. One final tip: the most costly player mistake is not to take a free bet so make sure you take all the available free splits and doubles when you play.
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