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Blackjack-Derived Games

15 July 2003

When casinos offer blackjack side bets designed to pad their advantage, as described here last week, players have a simple defense: Don't make the side bet.

It's a little trickier when the extra house edge is built into the basic game. Blackjack players know the usual littany--given equivalent rules, the house edge rises as more decks are used, and it pads the edge if the dealer hits soft 17, players are not permitted to double down after splitting pairs or the hands on which doubling down is allowed are restricted in any way.

Casinos have plenty more optional rules at their disposal. Experienced blackjack players get used to the give-and-take of positive and negative rules. It gets difficult to tell just how much you're spotting the casino, however, when the offering isn't basic blackjack, but an evil twin, a game derived from blackjack with the goal of enticing you into spotting the house a little extra edge.

Such games may offer powerful incentives to the player with rules that seem too good to pass up. But there are always negatives that seem small at a glance, but are really large enough to overcome all the pluses.

SPANISH 21: This is the king of the blackjack clones, a game that has carved out a following in most U.S. gaming jurisdictions. The positive rules seem overwhelming: We're permitted to double down after seeing any number of cards, instead of being limited to doubling after the first two. If we don't like the card we get on the double down, "double down rescue" allows us to surrender one bet while pulling back the other.

On other hands, late surrender is offered. Unless the dealer has blackjack, player 21s win, even if the dealer also has a multiple-card 21. There are bonuses on 21s consisting of five, six or seven cards, and on 6-7-8 or 7-7-7.

All that is undermined by one simple change in conditions: The game uses "Spanish" decks of cards in which there are no 10-spots. The only 10-value cards are kings, queens and jacks. That means we get fewer blackjacks, and when we double down, there are fewer 10s to turn our 11s into 21s or our 10s into 20s.

The overall result isn't too bad. House edges range from 0.4 percent to 0.8 percent against a basic strategy player, mostly depending on whether the dealer hits soft 17. Problem is, all those options and bonuses along with the different deck composition make basic strategy more complex and difficult to learn in Spanish 21 than in regular blackjack. Most Spanish 21 players spot the house a far larger advantage than the edge with basic strategy would suggest.

SUPER FUN 21: Much like Spanish 21, Super Fun has a mountain of rules that favor the player. We can double down on any number of cards, including after splitting pairs. Late surrender is offered. Any hand totaling 20 or less with six cards pays even money instantly, unless the player has doubled down. Any hand totaling 21 with five or more cards pays 2-1 instantly, unless the player has doubled down.

Player blackjacks always win, even if the dealer also has a blackjack. And Player blackjacks in diamonds pay 2-1.

The rule that spoils the party here is that blackjacks consisting of anything other than two diamonds pay only even money instead of the 3-2 we expect in most blackjack games.

All that leaves a house edge of 0.8 percent against a basic strategy player. And just as in Spanish 21, a special basic strategy is needed to take advantage of all the rules, so most players spot the house a greater edge.

DOUBLE EXPOSURE: What could be better than having all dealer cards dealt face up? In Double Exposure, you know the dealer's total at all times. If you have 17 and the dealer has two 10s for 20, you know you wouldn't have to hit. On the same hand in regular blackjack, you'd know only that the dealer had a 10 up, and you'd stand on 17.

The big problems are that blackjacks pay only even money, and the dealer wins tie hands--if you have 20 and the dealer has 20, you might as well hit and hope for an ace, because there's no push if you stand.

Other house rules can vary. The most common house edges are in the range from 0.6 percent to 0.7 percent, but can run as high as 1 percent and as low as 0.3 percent--provided you make the necessary strategy adjustments.

EXPERTO: Like Double Exposure, this was invented at Vegas World, which once stood where the Stratosphere now towers over Las Vegas. It's for those nostalgic for the old days of single-deck blackjack, without half the deck being cut out of play, as in most modern single-deck games.

In Experto, every card from a single-deck is dealt. Blackjacks pay only even money, which raises the house edge 2.3 percent. Card counters with a large enough spread in bet sizes can overcome that, but for basic strategy players or average players, this is much tougher on the bankroll than Spanish 21, Super Fun or Double Exposure. As in any blackjack variation, play at your own risk.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski