Twisted 21 Review -- 08/16/2019

Last week I paid a visit to the Rio to check out a new table game on field trial, Twisted 21. It's basically blackjack with these changes and specifics:

  • Single deck.
  • Dealer hits soft 17.
  • Blackjack pays 6 to 5.
  • Dealer peeks for blackjack.
  • Both player and dealer are limited to five cards.
  • No splitting.

That part of the game is basically fine. The players are dealt three face down cards they can pick from if they want to hit or double.

However, there is also a side bet, called the Stud Bonus, based on the player's five cards, between the initial two face up cards and three down cards. I don't want this newsletter to just repeat what is already on my page on the game, so let me go deeper on the chaos this field trial has been so far and lessons to be learned from it by game inventors and casino supervisors on hosting a new casino table game.

The rule card on the game is very vague and confusing. The main point of confusion is a hand called the Twisted Stud that pays 20 to 1 on the Stud Bonus side bet. A Twisted Stud is defined as five cards that total 16 points or less. That doesn't sound so complicated. However, as stated, the Stud Bonus side bet would have a 8.35% player advantage. Many dealers indeed did deal it this way at first. I take it from the fact that it was difficult to get a seat during these days that the players did quite well.

What the rule card doesn't say and what many dealers and supervisors didn't know is that a Twisted Stud is the LOWEST ranked paying hand. For example, a hand of A-A-2-3-5 would qualify as both a Twisted Stud (with 12 point) as well as a high pair, which pays 2 to 1. Normally, in such situations, the player is paid for the highest qualifying hand, in any game. However, in Twisted 21 the pair of aces is supposed to rank higher than the Twisted Stud. When the game is dealt that way, the Stud Bonus has a 2.49% house edge.

However, it gets worse. Later they either changed or clarified the rules to state the player must hit into a card to get to use it for purposes of the Stud Bonus. I didn't analyze this variant, but seldom does a basic strategy blackjack player get to five cards without busting. I'm not sure if busting on the fifth card negates the Stud Bonus hand, but either way, it would incentivize terrible blackjack decisions and the house edge would go through the roof.

I played it myself and the dealer and supervisors seemed to be learning the game as they went. I tend to think some decisions made on the rules were arbitrary, as evidenced by the fact that when I got reports later from others, the game was following alternate rules.

However, we learn more from failure than success. What is to be learned here? Here is what I think game inventors can take away from it:

  • Create a good rack card. I'm sure the game inventor know his own game like the back of his hand, but that doesn't mean everybody else does. The rack card should explain every rule to the game, including rules that are bad for the player. An exception is that if the game is a variant of a commonly known game, like blackjack, you don't need to explain basic blackjack rules, just how your game is different from it. A good way to test your rack card is get somebody who isn't familiar with the game to read it and then ask them to deal it to you. If they run into situation they don't know how to handle and the rack card doesn't help, then you have a problem
  • Train the dealers yourself. Don't just hand the table games supervisor a list of rules and say "good luck." You need to see face to face as many dealers as possible and train them. The table game supervisor should set aside time for this training.
  • Observe your game. If the owners of Twisted 21 were around they would have seen all kinds of problems. In Nevada, a game owner can't play his own game on field trial, but he can watch and help

Here are lessons to be learned for table game supervisors:

  • Make sure YOU understand the game backward and forward and can deal it yourself. If you have trouble understanding the game, so will everybody else. Make sure the rack card conveys the rules properly.
  • Don't put the worst dealers on the game, as tends to happen on field trial games. You should put the best ones on.
  • If you find rules are ambiguous after the field trial starts, ask the inventor for clarification and then make sure everybody who might deal the game is up to speed on any rule changes or interpretations.

To follow all the confusion about this game, please visit the thread on that topic in my forum at Wizard of Vegas.