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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Is Free Bet Blackjack really a freebie?

31 October 2014

Dear Mark: We have a casino a little north of Toronto, Ontario that has added one blackjack table with some variations. If you get a hard 9, 10 or 11, the House will double down for you. Also, if you get a split opportunity, the house will double down for you. If the dealer total is 22, it's a push. A blackjack still pays 3:2. My question is, if you play basic strategy, is the house advantage lessened on this type of blackjack? Bert W.

The variant of the blackjack game that you e-mailed me about is called "Free Bet Blackjack." It’s free, Bert, to the extent that with your initial wager, the casino forks over the money needed for your double-downs and split wagers.

On this modified version, standard blackjack rules and table minimums/maximums apply, and blackjacks pay 3:2 on a six-deck shoe. On a single deck game – not advised – blackjacks pay only 6:5.

As everyone knows, there is no such thing as something for nothing. You always pay a price. So yes, Bert, there is a trade-off for the “free.” If the dealer gets a 22, all wagers left standing push instead of it being a win for the player.

Here are some of the generalized rules for Free Bet Blackjack.

• Free double-downs on a hard 9, 10 or 11.
• Free splits on all pairs except 10s and 4s.
• You get up to four free re-splits, including Aces.
• You get a free double-down after your free splits.
• Finally, with your own money, you can double down on other hands, including after a split, even if it’s a free split.

An example of what “free” means, anytime you reach a hard total of 9, 10 or 11 (including drawing cards in some casinos), you can double down on the house's dime and your regular wager is matched by the casino. The dealer will place a distinct button on the layout, and if your hand wins, that button is paid the same amount as your original wager.

As for some simplified basic strategy, you will want to double down for free on 9, 10 or l1 against any dealer up-card. Likewise, split – for free – on any pair except on 5s (you would double instead), and on 10s, where you would just stand.

With a much simpler basic strategy than your typical blackjack game, the house edge on this game is approximately 1 percent. I’d say that’s not too shabby for the added fun this game seems to provide. Heck, why not. I’m giving this game, Bert, two thumbs up.

Dear Mark: In regards to your column last week about Wide Area Progressive machines, you stated that “As for long-term paybacks, they are consistent, as casino A would not allow casino B to offer a higher long-term payback.” Am I to assume that also means I have the same chance of hitting the progressive jackpot in casino A as in casino B? Susan L.

Well, Susan, each machine on the linked network has the same likelihood of hitting those super-sized jackpots.

However, if a large casino has more machines linked on the Wide Area Progressive than a smaller casino does, it is more likely that the progressive will hit in the larger casino. This is strictly because of the number of connected machines the larger casino has on its floor.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “The difference between your one or two-tenths of a percent, and my five-tenths of a percent is just a matter of time.” – John Gollehon, A Gambler's Bedside Reader (1998)
Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.