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New game lets players switch hands

We’ve all sat down at one time or another at a blackjack table and wished we could switch cards with our neighbor. Invariably, a streak of cards shows up where the guy next to you gets a face card with a 6, and you get a 5 with a face card. You’re both sitting there with very bad hands. If only you can take his 6 and give up your face card (or vice versa) and all of a sudden, you’re both in the driver’s seat.

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Game inventor Geoff Hall decided to do something about it. He invented a game called Blackjack Switch. The premise is very simple. You play two blackjack hands (with equal wagers) and if you’d like, you can switch the 2nd card dealt between the two hands. So, if you’re dealt a 7 and a 9 and then a 10 and a 4, you can do a little ‘magic’ and turn your stiffs into an 11 and a 19. Of course, this benefit comes with a little bit of a cost.

In order to keep the casino making a profit, a few other rule changes had to be incorporated into the game. The biggest change is that a Dealer 22 will PUSH all Player hands except a natural blackjack. If you switch your 2nd cards, any 2-card 21’s are no longer considered blackjacks. Also, a natural blackjack only pays even money. When we account for all the rules changes, we have a game that has an overall payback of about 99.4+%, which makes it in the same general ballpark as regular blackjack, but with a lot more action because you get to play better hands.

Before you set out to play the game, you had best be prepared to throw out most everything you know about blackjack. The rule change that makes a Dealer 22 push all non-blackjack hands makes significant changes to our hit/stick strategy. Even if you choose to switch at all the right times, if you play standard blackjack strategy my best guess is that you’ll be shaving 3-5% off the payback of the game. If you don’t switch at the right times, you could easily take another 5-6% off the game. So, this is not the right game to just ‘wing it’.

Analyzing Blackjack Switch was a two-step process. The first step is to determine the hit/stick strategy as would be done for any blackjack type game. We start by figuring out the right strategy for a 20 and then work backwards. After all, we can’t figure out what to do with a 12 against a Dealer 7 unless we know how to play a 13 against a Dealer 7 – which we will need to know if we are dealt an Ace. This process is done for every possible hand vs. each possible Dealer up-card. When this is complete, a strategy table is built which shows a Player how to play each possible hand.

Normally, this is where the process for blackjack pretty much ends. For Blackjack Switch, however, I also had to keep track of the exact expected value of each proper strategy decision for the second part of the analysis. This part is the one that will tell us when to switch the second cards dealt to us. Unfortunately, there is no simple strategy that I can provide to the Player. Instead, the Player will have to do some quick math on the fly while sitting at the table. Along with each hit/stick decision, the Player will have the expected value for each situation. He will have to add up the expected values for the pre-switch hands and compare it to the sum of the expected values of the post-switch hands. Whichever is greater is the right way to play the hand (sounds a little like video poker, huh?). So, while some cases will be rather obvious (as those described earlier), others will be less so.

Providing the complete strategy table and expected values for Blackjack Switch in this column is not practical. I am already working on “Expert Strategy for Blackjack Switch” and it should be ready in several weeks. At that time, I’ll come back and re-visit the game and provide a bit more insight into the strategy for this hot new game. Shuffle Master is the exclusive distributor for the game and it now boasts more than 50 tables and is growing rapidly.


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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