As much as casinos
would like to wean us onto other games, blackjack remains the most
popular game in the table pits. Per dollar wagered, the casinos make
more money on Caribbean Stud and other relatively new games, but many
more dollars are wagered on blackjack.
What's a profit-hungry
operator to do? Sometimes the choice is to offer something that looks
like blackjack, feels like blackjack, but isn't quite as beatable
At the Global
Gaming Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center, I took a close look
at three of the latest wrinkles. All seem like fun, but be careful.
All three also increase the house edge above and beyond that on the
As I passed the
Gemaco booth, I picked up a basic strategy card for Extreme 21, developed
by Canadian Stook LTD and already being played in Canada, along with
a few tribal casinos in the United States. In Extreme 21, player 21s
always win, although blackjacks pay only even money, and you can double
down on any number of cards.
There is no cutoff
at which the dealer must stand. No "hit soft 17/stand on all
17s" variation - the dealer hits until he 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, nearly
three times as high as the 0.4 percent or so on a basic no-frills
six-deck game. 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.
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.
Those 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 a hand that came up 3,
5, King will have just the 3 taken away, leaving a 15 to start.
Players have pretty
good information before they choose their bets, but they're still
betting on one hand against two others. House edge varies, depending
on the bonus pay table.
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. Stick with blackjack.
* * *
Also of interest
to blackjack players are three new developments from ShuffleMaster
Inc., distributor of Let It Ride and other games as well as the pioneer
in shuffling machines.
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, which reads each card as it's dealt. In baccarat,
it can interface with a display at the table to post the outcome of
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 card counters, there's the voice-activated
Bloodhound blackjack monitoring system. An 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. It graphs out
the comparisons, and gives a synopsis, including the house edge against
the player - or that player's edge and expected win per hour vs. the
house. And Bloodhound keeps a permanent record of the player's performance.
is said to be able to differentiate between a counter who is a threat
and a would-be counter who isn't, some operator, somewhere, is likely
to find he's been spending too much time, effort and money worrying
about low-limit counters.