Zombie Blackjack makes busting entertaining
August 01, 2017 3:10 AM
by Elliot Frome
Geoff Hall, inventor of Free Bet Blackjack and Blackjack Switch, is at it again! This past week, his latest game debuted at the Venetian. It is called Zombie Blackjack.
The name is not just to capitalize on the zombie craze. In Zombie Blackjack, a dead hand can rise back up to win. It’s rather simple. If the dealer has a 7 through Ace as his upcard, the player’s hand busts and the dealer winds up busting with a 23 through 26, the player wins even money. If the dealer busts with a 22 the wager is still lost.
Of course, given this is Hall’s game, it will also utilize the push 22 rule. So, if the player does not bust and did not have blackjack, a dealer 22 results in a push.
More than his other two successful games, I think this one changes the very essence of blackjack, and in a most positive way. Normally, when the player busts, the hand is over for him. He looks away from the table. He checks out the cocktail waitress walking by. He thinks about getting up and doing something else.
Now, with Zombie Blackjack, a busted hand isn’t a sure loser. It can actually win money if the dealer can bust along with you. Historically, the dealer has had an advantage because if both hands bust, the dealer wins. Now, the player wins many of these! In regular blackjack, you rarely bust on a 2 through 6 dealer upcard, so now most busts will keep the player’s attention right through the dealer taking his last card.
Aside from the Push 22 rule, the player isn’t giving up anything. He can still split and double down. Blackjack can pay 3 to 2 or 6 to 5 (decided by casino). There is no surrender, but this is a minor inconvenience. What the player has to do is learn a whole new strategy regarding the Push 22 rule. So, let’s take a look at how the strategy changes.
There are no strategy changes for Zombie Blackjack (relative to the other Push 22 games) for a dealer upcard of a 2 through 6. We double on 9 vs. 6. Double on all 10’s and 11’s. Hit 12 vs. 2-3-4 and 13 vs. 2. Stick on all 14’s and up. On soft hands, we double on 17 and 18 vs. 5 or 6. Otherwise hit 17 or less and stand on 18 or more. On Pairs, we split 2’s and 3’s vs. a 5 or 6. We hit all Pairs of 4’s and double on Pairs of 5’s. Split 6’s vs. a 4-5-6. Stick on a Pair of 7’s vs a 2, but split others. Split all Pair of 8’s. Stick on pairs of 9’s vs. a 2 or 3 and split others. Split all Aces.
For a dealer upcard of 7 and up, however, the strategy makes some important changes. Doubling down becomes less advantageous now that busting is less painful. So, the only double down for hard hands is an 11 vs. a dealer 7. Everything else below 17 is a hit. Also, we hit hard 17’s vs. an 8 through Ace. This is a losing hand in blackjack, so you might as well give it a shot and try to draw an ace through four. If you bust, you still have about as many chances to win as if you stick.
There is only one minor change for soft hands. We now hit soft 18 vs. an 8. We get sort of two chances to improve the hand. We can hope for an ace through 3. If we get anything else, but a 10/Face, we’re going to hit again. Our overall odds of improving the hand are not that bad, and if we do bust we still have a chance to win the hand.
There are some significant changes to our Pair strategy as well. We now split 2’s and 3’s vs. a dealer 8. Pairs of 5’s become a hit vs. a 7 and up (just like a Hard 10). Pairs of 6’s are now split vs. a 7. We are less afraid of creating additional hands that might bust because a bust is simply not as costly as before. In similar fashion, a Pair of 7’s is now also split against an 8. Amazingly, a Pair of 9’s is split against all dealer upcards 7 and up. We continue to stand on 20’s and split all Pairs of aces.
In Zombie Blackjack, dealer upcards have almost taken a 180 degree turn. While a dealer 10 can still turn into a 20 and will do so rather frequently, the dealer bust no longer becomes something we hope for only when we choose to stick on a hand we shouldn’t or wind up with a 17 or 18.
The cost of sticking on these sub 18 hands will be even more costly now. You’ll still win on a bust (all of them), but you give up all opportunities to improve your hand. The only thing you stand to gain with by not hitting is when the dealer busts with a 22 (which will be a Push and not a win against your 14!).
When we crunch all the numbers, we find a game with a payback of just over 99% (assuming 3 to 2 pays on blackjack). This is a notch below regular blackjack, but with a strategy that is quite frankly a lot easier to remember for the beginner. I’m looking forward to seeing if Zombie Blackjack can turn into the hit that Free Bet did. I’m expecting it will.