Free Bet Blackjack Gains In Popularity

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about Spanish 21, the first and to date, most successful blackjack variant. Now, there is a game that is challenging that title for most successful.

This is the game of Free Bet Blackjack. Invented by Geoff Hall, it utilizes the Push 22 rule to provide the player with a variety of new features. The Push 22 rule means that if the player did not have Blackjack and did not bust, his hand will push if the dealer busts with a 22. The give back to the player is that the player gets to have ‘free’ double downs (on hard 9, 10 or 11) and ‘free’ splits (except with 10’s/Faces). This includes re-splitting to four hands and free double downs after a split.

When the player makes a free double down or split, the dealer places a plastic lammer to represent the player’s wager. The lammer itself has no value. Now, the Push 22 rule makes a significant number of changes to our basic blackjack strategy. For example, the player should hit a Hard 12 looking into a 4.A fair number of other strategy changes are masked by the Free Doubles and Free Splits.

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Free is a powerful word and it is no surprise that the player should take every single Free opportunity afforded to him. The player should take all Free Doubles on 9, 10 or 11 and should Split all Pairs (but 10’s/Faces) with the exception of a Pair of 5’s, which he should Free Double on.

But that’s only half the information that the player needs to know. When I was first asked to analyze Free Bet, I almost missed a significant piece of the puzzle.

When you take a Free Double Down, there is nothing more for the player to do. But, when you take a Free Split, the player now has two hands. One with real money in play and the other one is free. If he pushes on the first, he gets his wager back, which is a very different outcome compared to losing. But, on the Free hand, if he pushes, he wins nothing which is the same outcome as losing. Thus, when playing a Free hand, pushes have no value to the player and this makes yet further changes to our strategy.

For example, we now Hit a Hard 17 against a 7, 8, 9 or Ace. We also find that we will Double Down on more soft hands even though this means putting up our own money to do so. We Hit a Hard 14 against a Deuce. 

The upshot is that the strategy overall is relatively simple for a Blackjack game. Perhaps, overall, it is even easier than the base game because so many of the tough decisions are made simple — take the Free Bet. If you make all the proper changes, you’ll be playing a game with a 99.1 to 99.2 percent payback.

This is a bit lower than the original game, but your average wager will be less which will offset the loss rate. You’ll also be playing a game that is a bit more exciting as you will be splitting and doubling considerably more often.

There are about 250 Free Bet Blackjack tables in the marketplace, which means it is roughly halfway to knocking Spanish 21 off its lofty perch. It has a ways to go, but it has a good chance to get there. 

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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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