It is virtually impossible to predict which game will be a success in the casino as it is being invented.
Predicting which game will fail is much easier. Frequently inventors will look at past games and try to replicate what appears to be a formula for success for that game. But I have long believed that if you look at successful casino games you will see a progression and not just a replication.
I think if Three Card Poker were invented today and put up against the other games, it would not have done nearly as well. If Ultimate Texas Hold’em had been created in the mid-1990’s, I don’t think any of us would have ever heard of it.
UTH would’ve been way too intimidating for the 1990’s. With an Ante and Blind and its 4x/2x/1x betting structure, I think it would have scared away too many players. I doubt very many UTH players are first time table players. UTH strategy is complex and requires a sizeable bankroll.
At the other end of the spectrum is Three Card Poker. It has about the easiest strategy and betting structure in the casino. You make an Ante wager, you see your hand. If you like it, play. If not, fold.
Not all new games are this obvious in showing their intimidation factor. In general, I think new gamblers start with slots. You can’t be a bad slot player or a good one. You can just be one. It is as unintimidating as it gets.
You put your money in, press the button, win or lose without making any decisions. And, you play by yourself. Even if you could make a mistake, no one will ever know. From there, when players get bored and want something new, I think many go to either video poker if they want to keep to the solitary play or go to blackjack if wanting something more social.
Blackjack is far from the easiest game in the casino. Quite the contrary. Its strategy is among the most difficult. But the concepts of blackjack have become common to most casino goers. The goal is to get as close to 21 without going over.
You hit 16 or less and stick on 17 or more (I say that tongue in cheek). Players hear it has a good payback, so that attracts them as well. The problem here is the strategy is complex and without it, the payback won’t be so attractive.
There are lots of ways to make mistakes while playing. If you make a very bad one the table might let you know, and over time you will (hopefully) become a better player. But, the table probably won’t let you know when you should have doubled on a soft hand, so you’re never going to fully take advantage of that payback unless you spend time learning the strategy.
Ironically, one would think a blackjack variant would only make things more complex. But things aren’t always as they seem. The relatively new Free Bet Blackjack actually simplifies the decision making process for the player.
In Free Bet Blackjack, the player gets “free” doubles (on 9, 10 or 11) and “free” splits (on anything but 10’s, Faces). There goes most of the decision making. Just say yes to all free splits and doubles. Free in this case means you do not have to make another wager to double or split.
The dealer will place a lammer where you would normally make an additional wager. If you win the hand, you’ll get paid and the dealer will take the lammer. If you tie or lose, the dealer will simply take the lammer. No additional money was put at risk.
Of course, it is not quite that easy. If the dealer busts with a 22, all player non-busted hands (that weren’t Blackjack) will now push. This little rule change impacts the rest of our strategy. So, if you’ve learned basic blackjack strategy you’re going to have to go back a couple of steps and relearn when to hit or stick. And, you still need to learn when to double on soft hands, but because of this Push 22 rule you do it far less often.
Splitting, however, has been made completely “idiot proof.” Except for a pair of 5’s, which you treat as a hard 10 and take your free double, you split everything they’ll let you and keep on doing it until they say you can’t (usually 4 hands). Once you split, you can even take a free double if getting a 2-card 9, 10 or 11! Again, you will have to learn when to double on a soft hand after splits.
This does bring us to the other tricky part of the strategy. Because you are playing with free money that only wins when you win (and does not push when you tie), your hit/stick/double strategy changes a bit when playing a free hand. But, overall, the amount of strategy you need to learn goes down greatly. Also, when playing Free Bet, you rarely risk more than your original wager.
In a standard game of Blackjack, you actually wager about 1.15 units per hand. So, if playing at a $10 table, you are really wagering about $11.50 when taking into account doubling and splitting. At a Free Bet Blackjack table you are wagering about $10.20.
At first glance, Free Bet might seem more intimidating than regular Blackjack, but when realizing what is going on, you may find it is really a simpler version of this casino classic.
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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. Contact Elliot at [email protected].