Issue 227
January 17 - 23, 2005
Volume 5
page 3

New Wrinkles on Blackjack
By John Grochowski

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 as blackjack.

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 basic game.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

ShuffleMaster, 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 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 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.

Since Bloodhound 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.

About the Author

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. He writes a twice-weekly column for the Chicago Sun-Times and contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Casino Executive.


Of Related Interest

The Craps Answer Book
If you're looking for fast-paced excitemen, just follow the cheers and jeers of players winning or losing together. The noise will lead you straight to the craps table. But new players often find craps confusing. There are so many options; what's a bettor to do? For a start, they can turn to The Craps Answer Book: How To Make One Of The Best Bets In The Casino Even Better. It's the latest in John Grochowski's popular series of easy-to-understand Answer Books on casino games. The Craps Answer Book is arranged into 10 quizzes, followed by explanations that will have even the rawest beginner rolling the bones with the best of 'em in no time. The fourth book in the Answer Book series follows The Casino Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. All have earned rave reviews.

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