Zappit Blackjack redefining a classic
April 26, 2016 3:00 AM
by Elliot Frome
In 1980, Devo told us all to “Whip it, whip it good.” In 2016, Geoff Hall is allowing us to Zappit, Zappit good.
Hall is the inventor of Zappit Blackjack, which is owned and distributed by Scientific Games. It is his latest variation of blackjack that uses the Push 22 concept as did his previous games, Blackjack Switch and Free Bet Blackjack.
If the dealer busts with a 22, then all player hands that didn’t bust (except for natural blackjacks) push instead of win. To say the least, this is a significant advantage to the house, giving it an overall advantage of over 9%. But, of course, the game doesn’t end here or it wouldn’t survive very long.
In Blackjack Switch, the player plays two hands and can switch the second card dealt on each hand with one another. In Free Bet the player gets free splits and double downs. In Zappit, the player gets to throw away (i.e. ZAP) any initial two-card hand of 15, 16, 17 or 18. He can do this only once per hand. Also, if the player throws away his initial hand and is then dealt an Ace and a Ten, it counts as an ordinary 21, not a blackjack.
However, if he is dealt Pairs or an 11 on his second hand, he is free to split or double down (with his own money, of course). Essentially, the game continues as it normally would.
There are two parts of the strategy the player must learn. The first is when to ZAP the hand.
Zapping 15 and 16 would seem to be the obvious choice. 17s aren’t exactly a strong hand, but should you discard them against a bust upcard for the dealer? Then there is the 18, which would seem to be a hand that could make you scratch your head.
To analyze a game like Zappit, we just simulate our two choices. We can either keep our 15 through 18 or deal a brand new set of two cards and play out that hand. Whichever solution provides a better result for the player is the proper way to play it.
Almost all of these decisions aren’t even close. A few do get closer, but the closer the expected value of the two decisions, the less it matters. In the end, we do get a clear picture for every possible decision.
Here is the strategy for the Zap portion of Zappit Blackjack: Zap all 15’s and 17’s; Zap all 16’s EXCEPT a Pair of 8’s vs. a 7 upcard (Split in this case); Zap an 18 against a 9, 10/Face or Ace.
As is little surprise, zap all 15’s and 16’s with that one exception. The Pair of 8’s vs. a 7 actually affords the player a decent opportunity for a win relative to starting with a new set of cards.
A 17 is, simply put, not a very good hand. You can’t hit it, and it can only win if the dealer busts; and now a Bust of 22 means a push as well. Against an 8 through Ace, you’re pretty much a sitting duck. And, while you may have an advantage against a bust card upcard, you are still at the dealer’s mercy.
You’re better off getting two new cards. If you get garbage, you’re not really much worse off. If you get better than 17, you’ve improved your hand and still have some chances for a split or double down situation. As for the 18, it is a solid hand, unless you are staring at a 9, 10/Face or Ace. Zappit affords the player the opportunity to take a shot at a better hand.
That is half the strategy. The good news is it is by far the more important half of the strategy. Play this wrong and you might be playing at 91%. The other half of the strategy is the impact to base blackjack strategy because of the Push 22 rule. The changes are significant.
If you play base blackjack strategy on a Push 22 game, you’ll cost yourself about 0.50%. This is not huge, but it effectively doubles the house advantage. Unfortunately, going through the entire strategy is outside the scope of this column (given my limited space). This Push 22 strategy is applicable to all three games. More on this in a moment.
The payback for Zappit is in the low 99% range. The exact amount depends on the number of decks (6 or 8) and whether the dealer is sticking or hitting on soft 17. While the payback is a bit lower than standard blackjack, the game offers the player the opportunity to get out from all those “stiff” hands.
Personally, I wish the game came with a sidebet that paid for consecutive hands zapped. I’m pretty sure I would’ve hit 20-plus several years ago! Zappit Blackjack premiered at the Palazzo April 22. Go check it out.
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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. Email: ElliotFrome@GamingToday.com.