Last Updated: October 3, 2013

Free Bet Blackjack

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Introduction


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.

Rules


Free Bet Blackjack plays much like traditional blackjack, with the following standard rules:

  • 6 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
  • Split aces receive one card only
  • Late surrender allowed

However, the game introduces two major rule changes:

  1. "Free Doubles" on hard totals of 9, 10, or 11 with any number of cards. 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.
    • 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.
  2. "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.

Basic Strategy

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.


House Edge

The house edge of the game for the Golden Nugget rules above, as provided by ShuffleMaster, is 0.79%. The following table shows the house edge of possible future rule variants.

Rule Variants

Following are the effects of some possible rule variants. The effects are the change in the player's expected return.

  • Player may do free split on pair of tens: +0.24%.
  • Dealer stands on soft 17: +0.22%.
  • Eight decks: +0.02%.
  • No re-splitting aces: -0.08%.
  • No surrender allowed: -0.21%.
  • No doubling on three or more cards: -0.60%.



Acknowledgement


I would like to thanks 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.


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