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By John Grochowski


John Grochowski's weekly gambling column appears in newspapers including the Detroit News online, Gary (Ind.) Post-Tribune and Naperville (Ill.) Sun, and he's a featured writer for Midwest Gaming & Travel magazine, International Gaming & Wagering Business and Slot Manager magazine. He's the author of six books on gaming, including the new revised edition of The Slot Machine Answer Book. Books are available at his Web site,, or from Running Count Press, Box 1488, Elmhurst, IL 60126. You can e-mail John at

Note: The G2E (Global Gaming Expo) is the worlds largest gaming event for gaming professionals. Itís the most in-depth source of new products, ideas, and information on the planet for gaming executives. This years G2E was held in September in Las Vegas.

Normally, looking for new developments in blackjack at the Global Gaming Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center means a trip to the side rooms and the back aisles, away from the crowds looking for the latest slot machine bells and whistles.

But practically front and center on the display floor, at the Bally Gaming and Systems booth, a couple of tables were set up for 21. That could only mean one thing. A system to track how much we bet, and perhaps how well we play.

I stepped up to a table, and asked for a demonstration of Ballyís MPLite system. The "MP" stands for Mindplay, although Bally no longer uses the full MindPlay name. A baccarat version of the system, MPBacc, has been used successfully in Macau to curtail cheating in big money games.

The dealer urged me to put out a bet. "Mix it up," she said. "Just put a stack of chips out there, in any order."

I did. Black, purple, red, white --- about 15 chips, in no particular order. The dealer showed me the screen with a representation of the table and a number next to each bet.

"It says you bet $679. Letís see."

She spread the chips out, sorted by denomination and tallied: $679.

Embedded chips?

"No, an optical scanner. Embedded chips cost $2.50 each. These only cost 70 cents."

In front of the dealer, there was a slightly raised dark gray, metallic-looking arc, with an opening all around the front. Thatís where the scanner sits. In MPLite, it scans only the chips. In the more expensive MP21, it scans chips and cards alike. MPLite is the more popular system among operators, I was told.

I changed tables, and took a look at MP21. The look of the scanner isnít at all intrusive. It plays as a normal blackjack system. But it reads your cards just as well as it reads your chips, without needing to embed the cards with tracers.

Aside from systems to track your play, there were few new developments in blackjack this year. The lionís share of new table games still are trying to capitalize on the Texas Holdíem boom. Still, a few blackjack wrinkles caught the eye:

No Bust Digital Blackjack

If you play in California, you may already have seen this one. Distributed by DigiDeal, itís played with cards dealt on a video screen in front of each player instead of with a deck of paper cards. DigiDeal makes the game available for either player-banked games, such as those in California card rooms, or for traditional house-banked games.

In blackjack, the house gets its edge from the fact players have the opportunity to bust first. If both player goes over 21, he loses, even if the dealer (or player/dealer in player-banked games) subsequently busts too. "No Bust" means just what it says --- if you go over 21, you donít bust. Your 22 still canít win, but you could get a push if your hand winds up closer to 21 than the dealerís. If the dealer hand is closer to 21, or if the dealer and player hands tie, the dealer hand wins.

The game gives a little in potential pushes, but it takes something away, too. Blackjacks pay only even money.

Bet the Set 21

ShuffleMasterís latest collection of new wrinkles for the tables includes this blackjack side bet. Youíre wagering that your first two cards will be a pair. Simple enough, right? Three different pay tables are available. For single-deck games, any pair pays 15-1. In a two-deck game, pairs pay 10-1 and suited pairs pay 25-1, or in four, six, or eight-deck games, pairs pay 10-1 and suited pairs pay 15-1.

I donít yet have a full mathematical workup on this one, but we can walk through the single-deck game to see what kind of house edge weíre looking at. There are 1,326 possible two-card combinations in a single deck, and 78 of them are pairs. Weíll get a pair an average of once per 17 hands. Letís say weíre wagering $1 on Bet the Set. In an average 17 hands, weíll risk $17. Weíll win one bet for $15, plus keep the $1 wager on the winner, so weíll have a total of $16 left. The house edge is the $1 we lose divided by the $17 we risk, multiplied by 100 to convert to percent. Thatís a house edge of 5.9 percent.

Thatís not too bad as side bets go, but as usual, weíre really better off just to stick to blackjack and forget chasing the pairs.

Casino Surrender

Distributed by Casino Gaming, LLC, this is neither a new blackjack game nor a side bet. Instead, itís an option within the game of blackjack designed to eliminate the frustration of losing or pushing when you have 20. The Stardust in Las Vegas already has the option on about a third of its tables, and half a dozen other Nevada casinos were just awaiting arrival of their table felts in mid-September before starting field tests.

With Casino Surrender, whenever the player has a two-card 20, the dealerís up card is a 10-value and the dealer does not have a blackjack, the player may choose a payoff of half his or her bet instead of playing out the hand.

Some players will choose the sure thing of taking a 50 percent payoff on 20s, just as some players choose the sure thing of taking even money on a blackjack whenever the dealer has an Ace up. But just as with even money, thereís a price tag on this sure thing. Michael Shackleford has posted an analysis on, and your average win on a $10 bet when you start with a 20 ranges from $5.83 (two 10 values on a single-deck game) to $5.55 (Ace-9 on an eight-deck game). If you surrender your 20, you settle for $5.00 every time. At that price, Iíll keep accepting the losses and pushes as they come and just play out my 20s.

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