Free Bet Blackjack – Worth the Gamble?

There’s an old saying about not getting anything for free. Well, thanks to Free Bet Blackjack, that isn’t completely true.

Of course, it is not completely false, because technically, you don’t get it for nothing. Free Bet Blackjack is the relatively new game from Geoff Hall and Scientific Games. As it is from Geoff Hall that probably means it includes the Push 22 rule. This is where all player non-busted, non blackjack hands will push if the dealer busts with a 22. This is the mechanism by which the casino can then offer the player all sorts of “free” goodies.

This is the same mechanism used in Blackjack Switch. In this game, the player plays two blackjack hands and after being dealt the initial cards can swap the second cards of each hand for one another. In Free Bet, the player gets free splits and double downs. There are a couple of exceptions to this. The free double downs only applies to Hard 9, 10 or 11 and the Free Splits do not extend to 10’s/faces. Since you won’t want to split these if you’re paying for them, this means the only time you’re adding money to your original wager is a few soft hands you double on.

So, first, what do I mean by “free?” If you are dealt a hard 11 and want to double down, you indicate this to the dealer. Rather than make an additional wager, the dealer will put a plastic lammer as your additional wager. If you win the hand, he takes the lammer and replaces it with real money equal to your original wager – and, of course, you get paid even money for your original wager, too. So, if you bet $5 and you double and win, you’ll win a net of $10, the same as you would if you used real money. If you lose the hand, then you lose only your original wager. If you push, you get back your original wager, which is pretty much what would happen if you used real money.

Things get a little weird when you split, however. Your original wager will stay with the “first” split hand. The dealer will then put a lammer down as your wager for the second hand. If either of those hands are dealt another card of the same rank, you are free to split again, and again a lammer will be put down. You can have a total of four hands.

Now, if any of those hands turn into a two-card Hard 9, 10 or 11, then you can ask for a free double down. In theory, you can have four hands, one with real money and one lammer and the other three with two lammers.

To make things even more confusing, it is also possible that on a split hand you will wind up with a soft hand worthy of a double down. In this case, you’ll have a lammer for the split and real money for the double down!

When I was first asked to analyze Free Bet, I almost made a grave error. As I laid out what I needed to do, I lost sight of the fact that free hands can be played differently than their real money counterparts.

Why is this? Because when you split a hand and have only a lammer on it, what happens when you push? There is no wager to be returned. So, you don’t lose anything, but you don’t win anything either.

Financially, this is what happens when you lose, too. So, while no one necessarily wants a push, it does enhance the expected value of a particular strategy with a real money hand. But, with a free hand, pushing is the same as losing and this can cause us to play a bit more aggressively.

So, when it comes to strategy there are several things we have to learn. We need to know when to ask for a free split or double down. Turns out this is very easy strategy. Double and split everything you can. A pair of 5’s is doubled. All other pairs (except 10’s/Faces) are split. You do this whether it is a free or money hand.

Next up, you need to learn the strategy for a Push 22 game. A dealer bust of 22 turning into a push greatly reduces how often we will double down on soft hands. It also makes us hit more hands that would get you strange looks in a regular game of blackjack.

One of the advantages of playing Free Bet is a $5 table is really a $5 table. In regular blackjack, you’ll average nearly 1.15 units per hand. In Free Bet it is more like 1.04 units. With a payback of just over 99%, your bankroll has the potential to last longer as a result.

Last but not least, you need to learn how that strategy is altered when playing a free hand. As I stated earlier, you hit a lot more situations that you wouldn’t with money on the table. You hit hard 17’s vs. a 7, 8, 9 or Ace. You hit a hard 14 vs. a 2. You hit more soft 18 situations and strangely enough, you double with real money in more soft situations.

The chart shows the full strategy for free hands:

For more tips on Blackjack, check out our tutorial on when to hit, push, double down, and split.

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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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