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By Michael Shackleford
Michael Shackleford is known to the gambling world as the "Wizard of Odds." His book, Gambling 102, is scheduled to be published this summer. In the meantime you can visit his popular web site at www.wizardofodds.com.
One way to win at blackjack is to play two hands and try to change two bad hands into two good ones by surreptitiously switching the cards. That's not allowed; it's cheating. Unless, that is, you're playing a new game at the Four Queens called Blackjack Switch, in which case you can switch cards right out in the open. In this game, the player must play two hands and may switch only the second cards dealt to each hand. Of course, nothing ever comes for free. In exchange for being allowed to switch cards, blackjacks pay even money and if the dealer gets a total of 22, all non-busted player hands push (a player bust always loses). Following optimal strategy, the house edge is a low 0.2%.
The complete switching strategy is very lengthy, but fortunately, most of the important switches are obvious (see www.wizardofodds.com for the complete switching strategy). Less obvious is the amended basic strategy that you should play, which requires many changes from conventional basic strategy—primarily more hitting and less doubling and splitting.
Presently Blackjack Switch is offered at the Four Queens in Las Vegas (although additional casinos in Las Vegas are considering installing Blackjack Switch) and at Internet casinos powered by Playtech software
The following rules apply to the Playtech version.
All rules are based on conventional blackjack unless otherwise noted.
The player must make two bets of equal size.
Cards will be dealt face up.
The player may switch the 2nd card dealt to each hand. For example if one hand has 5,10 and the other has 10,6 the player may switch the 10 and 6 to have two hands of 11 and 20.
Six decks are used.
Dealer hits a soft 17.
Player may double on any 2 cards.
Player may double after a split.
Player may not resplit.
Winning player blackjacks pay even money.
Full European no-peek rule. Player loses total amount bet against a dealer blackjack. A benefit of this rule is that the player can switch to a blackjack, even if the dealer has a blackjack.
A dealer total of 22 will push against any player total of 21 or less. A player blackjack will still beat a dealer 22.
Four Queens Rules
The Four Queens offers the same rules as Playtech with these changes:
Dealer peeks for blackjack and will turn over a blackjack immediately. Unlike conventional blackjack peeking for blackjack favors the casino by 0.11% because the player does not have the chance to switch to a blackjack if the dealer has one.
Eight decks instead of six.
Player can resplit to four hands instead of two.
The following table shows the basic strategy under Playtech rules after the switch decision has been made. The reason for the differences compared to conventional blackjack strategy is the push on 22 rule. This table is based on the 6-deck Playtech rules and was developed by Bill Kirkpatrick. The Four Queens strategy is the same except the player should split aces against an ace.
S = stand
H = Hit
D=Double if allowed, otherwise hit (except stand on soft 18)
Ignoring the above changes and playing regular basic strategy increases the house edge by about 0.22%.
At Internet casinos powered by Playtech software, the dealer does not peek for blackjack, which works in the player's favor, because you can switch to a blackjack all the time. At the Four Queens, if the dealer has a blackjack, the player is stuck with what he was dealt.
Following optimal strategy, the house edge at Playtech casinos is just 0.05%, and Playtech offers 0.1% cashback and bonuses for new players.
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