Free Bet Blackjack is a blackjack variant by game inventor Geoff Hall. The twist to this one is the player doesn't have to risk his own money when splitting or doubling (most of the time). It is like playing with a generous boyfriend at the table who makes all the supplemental bets for you and lets you keep the winnings. What is the catch? Like in Geoff's other game, Blackjack Switch, if the dealer gets a 22, all bets left standing push.
The game opened for business on June 20, 2012 at the Golden Nugget. I went down for the game's debut and found the table full of people enjoying the game. The strategy is simpler and offers more doubles and splits than conventional blackjack. Gamblers who find the basic strategy of conventional blackjack too complicated to memorize may take relief in the simplicity of Free Bet Blackjack.
The rules have changed since the game launched at the Golden Nugget. It is my understand that the rules below are now the norm. The game is based on standard blackjack, with the following rules:
- Six decks
- Dealer hits soft 17's
- Blackjacks pay 3 to 2
- Double after split allowed
- Double on two cards only
- Re-split pairs up to four hands, including aces
- No surrender
The game introduces two major rule changes:
- "Free Doubles" on hard totals of two-card total of 9, 10, or 11. Regular doubles are still allowed on all other two-card hands. With a "free double," the player's original wager is matched with a "free bet" button and the player receives one additional card. At the end of the hand:
- If the dealer wins, the player loses his original wager only.
- If the hand results in a push, the player gets back his original wager only.
- Otherwise, if the player wins, the player gets back his original wager plus winnings equal to double that wager.
- "Free Splits" on all pairs except 10's. With a "free split," the player's two cards are divided into two one-card hands. The player's original wager is placed with the first hand and a "free bet" button is placed with the second hand. The player plays out each hand one at a time and is entitled to a "free double" or "free split" on both hands. For winning hands, each "free bet" button is replaced with real chips equaling the original wager. On hands resulting in a player loss or push, the dealer takes back the "free bet" button.
- Dealer pushes on 22. If the player has 21 or less and the dealer busts with 22, then the player's wager is a push.
Strategy depends on whether you are playing a real money bet or a free bet. There is a difference because a push is just as bad as a loss on a Free Bet, thus causing a more aggressive strategy. The following three tables show the strategy for a real money hand, free bet hand, and pairs respectively.
If you remember just one thing about the strategy, accept every free double and free split opportunity.
The house edge under the standard rules above is 1.02%. Usually I like to do my own math, but in this case I made an exception, due to the complexity of the game, and the math was given to me freely by a source I trust, Stephen How of Discount Gambling.
Following are the effects of some possible rule variants. The effects are the change in the player's expected return. For example, if the casino allowed free doubles with three or more cards (which the Golden Nugget used to allow), then the house edge would be 1.02% - 0.66% = 0.36%.
- Free doubles with three or more cards: +0.66%.
- Dealer stands on soft 17: +0.31%.
- Late surrender allowed: +0.21%.
- Eight decks: +0.01%.
- No re-splitting aces: -0.08%.
- No free re-splits on a pair of fours: -0.27%.
- No re-splitting 2-9: -0.32%.
- No double or free-double after a split: -0.70%.
I would like to thank Geoff Hall, the inventor, for his cooperation with the rules and sharing the math report. The strategy and house edge figures are based on the work of Stephen How, which was in part confirmed by Cindy Liu and me.
- Original rule card. Please note that doubling on three or more cards is no longer allowed but free splits of fours is. Overall, the old rules were better, of course. Table game rules seldom get better for the player.