INSIDE THE G2E-WHAT’S NEW IN BLACKJACK
by John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the author of six books, including the Casino Answer Book series from Bonus Books in Chicago. The series includes "The Casino Answer Book," "The Slot Machine Answer Book," "The Video Poker Answer Book," "The Craps Answer Book" and, coming early next year, "The Video Slot Machine Answer Book." Signed copies of those books, along with his "Gaming: Cruising the Casinos" from Running Count Press, are available from Running Count Press, Box 1488, Elmhurst, IL 60126. Efirstname.lastname@example.org for a price list.
Editors Note: The Global Gaming Expo (G2E) is the gaming trade show and conference held annually in Las Vegas. It brings together thousands of suppliers to the casino gaming industry and the executives of casino companies from around the globe. One of the highlights of the expo is the demonstration of new slots, video poker, and table games by different manufactures. John Grochowski attended the G2E and wrote this exclusive report on what he found related to blackjack for the BJI.
A trip down the back aisles of October’s Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, away from the mobs around the mega-booths of major slot machine manufacturers, brought confirmation of what most of us have known for the last couple of years: Texas hold’em is hot. Blackjack, not so much.
Most game developers’ creative energy seems to be going into inventing hold’em-based games that can capitalize on poker’s TV-driven popularity while giving the house a nice edge. Big Raise Hold’Em, Champion Poker, Texas Shootout --- you’ll be hearing more of such games in the coming year.
Blackjack, of course, remains the most-played casino table game, so it wasn’t ignored entirely at this year’s show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. A few new games were on display, along with a few wrinkles in the battle some casinos insist on fighting to stop those dastardly souls who would attempt to gain the upper hand.
Naturally, the new game variations have an eye on luring you away from the basic game and lightening your wallet. In the best, there’s a degree of subtlety, some positives to make it seem like fun. Such a game is Extreme 21, developed by Canadian Stook LTD and on display at the Gemaco booth. Extreme 21 already is being played in Canada, along with a few tribal casinos in the United States.
In Extreme 21, player 21’s always win, although blackjacks pay only even money, and you can double down on any number of cards. For the dealer, the "extreme" part is that there is no cutoff at which the dealer must stand. No hit soft 17/stand on all 17s variation --- the dealer hits until he either beats you or busts. There are no pushes. If you have 13 and the dealer has 13, the dealer who draws an Ace doesn’t hit again and risk busting. That Ace gives the dealer a 14 that beats your 13, and the house takes your money. With more than one player at the table, bets are decided in numerical turn --- if you have 13, I have 14 and the dealer shows 13, and the dealer draws an Ace, he takes your money, then hits again to decide my bet.
Bottom line: House edge against a specially adapted basic strategy is 1.16 percent. You’re paying for a bit of intrigue.
Another new game, Easy as 1-2-3, takes all the strategy decisions away from the player. Players start with an ante, then the dealer starts three blackjack hands with a face-up card on each. Players then choose one hand, and match the ante with a bet. The dealer plays out all three hands until they either make 17 or higher, or bust. Players who bet on the winning hand win even money, or win bonuses on some hands. In the version on display at the expo, bonuses ranged from 2-1 on a blackjack to 15-1 on a blackjack in spades if the other hands also are both blackjacks.
After bets are decided, play continues with the dealer taking away enough cards from each hand so that starting points of 16 or less are left on each hand. First cards dealt are first taken away, so that if the cards came up 3, 5, King just the 3 is taken away, leaving a 15 to start.
Players have pretty good information before they choose their bet, but they’re still betting on one hand against two others. House edge varies, depending on the bonus pay table.
Galaxy Gaming was on hand with Lucky Ladies. Already fairly widely distributed in online casinos and available in a few tribal casinos, Lucky Ladies is a side bet that the player’s first two cards will total 20. Pay tables vary, but start at 4-1 for any 20 and max out at 1,000-1 for two Queens of hearts against a dealer blackjack, with variable returns in between for suited 20, matched 20 or a Queen of hearts pair. Stanley Ko’s analysis gives the house edge a range from 18.4 percent to 30 percent, depending on pay table and number of decks in play. Ugh.
Some new products give added ammunition in the fight to control advantage players to those casinos who find the expenditure worthwhile. Vending Data Corp.’s Continuous Ejections Shuffler costs $8,950 to buy or $335 to $395 a month to rent, depending on quantity. It not only gives a continuous shuffle, but can randomly eject a batch of cards to give the appearance of a hand-held game, for those who don’t mind that what appears to be a single- or double-deck game but is really a continuous shuffle of six or eight decks.
ShuffleMaster Inc., whose King shuffler was an early entry among continuous shufflers, now has the one2six shuffler, which continuously shuffles four, five or six decks. Promotional literature says it’s faster than any other continuous shuffler --- giving more hands per hour for the house edge to work against you.
Then there’s the Intelligent Shoe, another Shufflemaster innovation. It reads each card that’s removed from the shoe. In baccarat, it can interface with a display at the table to post the outcome of each hand. Of more interest to blackjack players is that it can transmit results to a remote location, and also keeps a time and date-stamped log for each hand. All the easier to track your play.
And for those casinos truly worried about counters, there is the Bloodhound blackjack monitoring system. This one’s voice-activated by a surveillance operator. The operator narrates the game, giving units wagered, cards dealt and play decisions. Bloodhound’s software then compares the patterns to a card counter’s betting patterns, basic strategy play, shuffle tracking, hole-card play --- promotional literature boasts, "Bloodhound helps minimize casino loss by identifying all types of blackjack cheating and counting." On a video screen, it graphs out the comparisons, and gives out a synopsis, including the house edge against the player --- or that player’s percentage edge and expected win per hour vs. the house. And Bloodhound also keeps a permanent record of the player’s performance.
Seem a bit over the top? Well, at least they say it can differentiate between counters who have an edge and those who are no threat. Perhaps some operator, somewhere, will realize upon seeing the numbers that they’re spending a great deal of time, effort and money worrying about not much.
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