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Last Updated: May 11, 2014

War Blackjack

Introduction


I first saw War Blackjack at the Downtown Grand in Las Vegas on May 9, 2014. I'm told it was already at the Carson City Nugget and the Eureka in Mesquite by then. The game is a combination of War and Blackjack. The humdinger is that if the player wins the war bet, then he may parlay the win to his blackjack wager, already knowing his first card and the dealer's up card.

Rules

  1. War Blackjack can be based on any set of Blackjack rules.
  2. Play begins with the player making a Blackjack and optional War bet. The War bet may be any amount subject to table limits. It is not restricted to any multiple of the blackjack wager.
  3. The dealer will give the player one card and himself one card face up.
  4. The War bet shall be adjudicated based on these two cards. The higher card wins.
  5. For purposes of the War bet, aces are ranked low. Otherwise, cards are ranked according to poker value.
  6. For purposes of the War bet, the dealer shall win ties.
  7. If the player wins the War bet then he may choose to either (1) collect his original wager and winnings or (2) collect the original wager only and parlay the win by adding it to the blackjack wager.
  8. After the player makes his decision to parlay or collect his War winnings, the dealer will give the player one more card and himself one more, face down*.
  9. With two cards each for the player and dealer, the Blackjack wager will play out according to conventional blackjack rules.

* I have a report this game is also at the Coventry casino in the UK, where they don't deal a dealer hole card. While this rule depresses the blackjack expected value, it doesn't affect the strategy or value of the War wager.

Example

The player bets $25 on the Blackjack wager and $10 on the War wager. The players gets a queen against a dealer 5. The War bet wins $10, because a queen beats a 5. The player then collects the original $10 War wager and adds the $10 in winnings to the Blackjack wager. The Blackjack wager is now $35. The dealer gives the player one more card and himself a hole card. Play then continues according to standard blackjack rules.

Strategy

The strategy for parlaying the War bet is shown in the following table.


Another way to express the Parlay strategy is as follows:

  • Never parlay against a dealer 10, face, or ace.
  • Otherwise, if the sum of the player card and dealer card is greater or equal to 11, then parlay.
  • Also parlay player 8 against a dealer 2.

Play the blackjack hand according to the appropriate basic strategy for the table rules.

Analysis

The following table shows the expected value of the blackjack wager, based on the player's initial card and the dealer's face-up card, in situations of a winning War wager only. The table is based on infinite decks, where the dealer hits soft 17, double after split is allowed, and surrender is allowed. A "loss" in the table signifies that the player lost the wager so has no parlay decision to make. The player should parlay a winning War bet in any situation with a positive expected value.

Expected Value Table after Two CardsExpand

Player
Card
Dealer Card
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 J Q K A
2 Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss -0.477328
3 -0.067072 Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss -0.493467
4 -0.081435 -0.043845 Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss -0.509968
5 -0.094434 -0.056269 -0.013914 Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss -0.525235
6 -0.102975 -0.056679 -0.007415 0.042483 Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss -0.534153
7 -0.065916 -0.021684 0.025496 0.074316 0.125486 Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss -0.543463
8 0.03422 0.070862 0.109038 0.148831 0.190361 0.162702 Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss -0.486622
9 0.096481 0.128206 0.16138 0.196182 0.231257 0.185002 0.117605 Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss -0.390236
10 0.22864 0.252115 0.276744 0.302689 0.329076 0.301068 0.241753 0.160387 Loss Loss Loss Loss -0.226097
J 0.22864 0.252115 0.276744 0.302689 0.329076 0.301068 0.241753 0.160387 -0.006345 Loss Loss Loss -0.226097
Q 0.22864 0.252115 0.276744 0.302689 0.329076 0.301068 0.241753 0.160387 -0.006345 -0.006345 Loss Loss -0.226097
K 0.22864 0.252115 0.276744 0.302689 0.329076 0.301068 0.241753 0.160387 -0.006345 -0.006345 -0.006345 Loss -0.226097
A Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss Loss

The Downtown Grand follows the following blackjack rules:

  • Six decks
  • Winning blackjack pays 3-2
  • Dealer hits soft 17
  • Double after split allowed
  • Surrender allowed
  • Re-split allowed

Based on these rules, I calculate a house edge of 1.16% on the War wager. This includes the value of any parlayed portion on the blackjack wager.

My house edge calculator shows the house edge under these blackjack rules is 0.48%.

I don't want to quote a blended house edge, because the player can make the War and Blackjack wagers in any ratio he wishes, except a Blackjack wager is required.

Whether you call this a side bet or a new game, a house edge of 1.16% is low compared to other new games. However, if you're looking to lose as little as possible at this game, then that would be achieved by betting the blackjack wager only.


Written by: Michael Shackleford

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