Casino gambling changed dramatically in 20 years

December 24, 2013 3:00 AM
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4 Queens Las Vegas Casino Twenty years ago if you walked into a casino, you had four choices of what to play. Blackjack, Craps, Roulette and Slot Machines covered about 95% of the casino floor. Flash forward to 2013 and the casino floor is quite a different place.

If I had to take an educated guess, I’d say blackjack and slots have given up the most square footage. Slot machines yielded space to video poker and blackjack did likewise to the myriad of new table games that have been invented and successfully invaded the casino.

For most of the time only one blackjack variant, Spanish 21, managed to make any inroads. While the popularity has diminished a bit, it is still quite a powerhouse in the industry.

A few years ago a second blackjack variant took the casino by storm. It is called Blackjack Switch, invented by Geoff Hall and since purchased/marketed by Bally Technologies (formerly SHFL Entertainment). Geoff has also invented another blackjack variant that is picking up steam in the casino called Free Bet Blackjack, which will be covered in a future column.

I remember seeing Blackjack Switch for the first time at the 4 Queens in downtown Las Vegas. The concept is pretty simple. A player must play two hands of blackjack, with equal wagers. The dealer will deal the usual two cards for each hand and then deal himself an upcard.

The player now has the option to switch the second card of the two hands with one another. So, if the player is dealt a 6-10 and a 10-5, he can swap the 10 and the 5 and wind up with an 11 and a 20. Two bad hands turned into two very good ones.

Since this is optional, there is no way the reverse can happen. The player should never wind up weaker than before he switched.

Of course, no good deed goes unpunished. There must be a trade­off for this huge advantage. If the dealer busts with a 22, then all player non-busted hands push instead of winning – except a natural (unswitched) blackjack.

A two-card 21 as a result of a switch is not considered a blackjack. The end result between the player being able to switch cards and the dealer pushing on 22s is a game with a payback incredibly similar to regular blackjack – at about 99.5%. It does, however, require two wagers (one for each hand), so the loss rate might be a bit higher.

At the same time, it is a game where you feel you have a better chance of winning as you will wind up with far fewer bad hands.

It is rather rare for a casino to offer up a game with so high a payback. The casinos have been burned a bit by the 99.5% payback blackjack can offer as players learned proper strategy and casino holds plummeted.

So, why did the casinos choose to allow Blackjack Switch to offer 99.5% as well? Well, while it is clearly a blackjack variant, it adds an entire second layer of strategy. You must learn the right times to switch cards.

In the example given earlier, I think it is fairly obvious. This is not always the case. As we always do, we turn to the expected value of each hand to make the decision. Every two-card player hand has a specific expected value vs. each dealer upcard.

The decision to switch is based on whether the original two two-card hands have a higher combined expected value than the switched ones. There is no simple rule for this. The only solution is you must use a table of these expected values and sum up each possibility. Whichever has the higher expected value is the right way to play it.

It doesn’t end there. The Push 22 rule makes significant changes to our basic hit/stick strategy. You’ll find doubling on soft hands is greatly reduced. Normally, we double down in these cases because the dealer will frequently bust. But, with a 22, he won’t bust and this is enough to change the strategy.

The bottom line is you don’t want to be using basic blackjack strategy while playing Blackjack Switch or you’ll be doubling or tripling the casino edge.

These two factors keep the real edge on Blackjack Switch in a range the casinos like. But, this doesn’t mean you can’t be one of the very few who learn to play it the right way.

To this end, we have created Expert Strategy for Blackjack Switch, which includes a multi-color pocket-size strategy chart for you to bring into the casino. One side contains the expected values of each combination and the other the proper hit/stick strategy for a Push 22 game. This strategy should work for any blackjack game that utilizes the Push 22 feature.

If you’d like to order this booklet, you can send a check for $5.95 to Gambatria, P.O. Box 36474, Las Vegas, NV 89133. The normal retail is $6.95, but for Gaming Today readers we are discounting it. You can also order additional strategy cards for $1 each ($2.95 for the first one if not ordering the booklet).

I have little doubt the booklet and strategy card will likely pay for themselves in a single session.

Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at ElliotFrome@GamingToday.com.

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