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Over the years, numerous inventors have attempted to tinker with the game of Blackjack. I warn them to tread very carefully when doing this.

Of all the games in the casino, blackjack strategy has probably become the best learned. With the proliferation of computer generated strategies, you see far less splitting of 10’s/faces and far fewer awful choices by the average player.

You’ll still occasionally find the novice who isn’t happy until their own hand is 17 or better, even if that means busting it, but you’ll now get a collective groan out of the remaining players instead of several following suit.

This is where the trouble started for creating a blackjack variant. Players knew original blackjack had a payback of 99.5% (give or take) and they had learned the strategy fairly well. When someone created some form of blackjack with a twist, they guessed it meant a lower payback (otherwise, why would the casinos offer it?) and it meant a new strategy.

Just like in video poker, if you don’t adapt your strategy for the rules of the game, you can’t earn the top payback.

So, once in a while a new game would hit the floor and players would give it a try, but without the right strategy the theory on payback turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The player invariably lost more on the new version than the original. The new game might have been a bit more exciting than blackjack, but not enough to overcome the extra losses the player had to endure.

As we all know, over the years a few blackjack variants have stuck. Spanish 21 is likely the most successful, removing the 10’s (not the face cards) from the deck. As this hurts the players, it returns this missing payback to the player by offering more liberal rules and some bonus payouts for some novel hands. This added more excitement to the game and offered the player opportunities for something other than mostly even money payouts.

While Spanish 21 is past its prime, it continues to boast a significant presence in the casinos. Payback is actually quite comparable to standard blackjack, but the need to learn a new strategy has kept the casinos happy by having player error contribute to the hold of the game.

More recently, Blackjack Switch entered the market. It has roughly 100 tables and uses a unique method to alter the game. If the dealer busts with a 22, all player non-busted hands (except a natural blackjack) are a push. This costs the player several percentage points.

To make up for this, Blackjack Switch allows the player to “switch” the second card dealt in each of his two hands. So, if dealt a 5-10 and a 10-6, the 10 and 6 can be swapped to turn the hands into an 11 and a 20. From two stiffs to two strong hands.

The payback again is comparable to regular blackjack, albeit you must play two hands at a time.

Blackjack Switch requires not only learning the strategy for the “Push 22” rule, but you must also learn when to switch cards. Much of the time it will be fairly obvious as in my earlier example. In others, less so.

Imagine being dealt a 10-7 and an 8-10 against a dealer face card. What is the right play? You have two pat hands or you can switch and have a total bust (15) plus one strong hand (20). When we look at the expected values of each of these hands, there is not much of a choice.

The 17’s and 18’s against a dealer 10 are sitting ducks in any blackjack game. We do the swap and the combined expected value of our hands goes from 1.3 to 1.97. If you never switched cards, you’d take a 7-8% hit in payback.

No one would ever (hopefully) play this bad, but if you go by the seat of your pants, you’re likely to take a 2-3% hit. Throw in not knowing how to alter your strategy for the Push 22 rule and you could easily take switch down to a 97% payback from 99.5%-plus.

Just like in video poker, there is a simple solution for this. Learn the strategy. To help you with this, my booklet, Expert Strategy for Blackjack Switch ($5.95 for GT readers), comes with a full-color, pocket-sized strategy card you can bring with you into the casino. To order, please send a check or money order to Gambatria, P.O. Box 36474, Las Vegas, NV 89133.

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 Contact Elliot at [email protected].

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About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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