Discount Gambling

Free Bet Blackjack @ Golden Nugget, LV

Posted in blackjack, free bet blackjack by stephenhow on June 22, 2012

Well, the tables are turned around, and now it’s me that’s on the hook for the house edge in a new game. I did the analysis for Geoff Hall’s (the inventor of Blackjack Switch) new Free Bet Blackjack. The game just went live at the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas this week, and everyone is on edge that the game performs as calculated. There were a lot of winners on Wednesday, and because the game seems so crazily liberal, people were concerned (including me). So, I double checked all my work today, and while I found a few small things in the report (**ahem**), everything seems to check out. Basic strategy simulations are running at a 0.64% house edge, vs. my calculated optimal strategy 0.625%.

Ok, here’s why the game is crazy. The game is called “Free Bet” Blackjack, because you get free doubles on any hard 9, 10, or 11, and free splits on all pairs except 10′s and 4′s. What that means is that instead of paying for a double (say on a 3-card 11), the dealer will give you “free play” chips, matching your original bet, to wager. The same applies for “free” splits. Plus, you get up to 4 free re-splits, and you also get free doubles after free splits. So you can have like 7 free bets in the game (and only 1 real bet at risk). If you win the hand, the dealer pays all the free play with real money. If you lose the hand, you only lose your original bet. The dealer retrieves all the free bets at the end of the hand. Of course, the “catch” is that it’s a 22-push game. But overall, it works out very well for the player, since you are generally not at risk for your doubles and splits. You might push more hands than you like, but it beats the dreaded “losing (all) your doubles”.

You can see how it’s possible to have a nice run in the game.

Here’s the specific rules:

  • Free double anytime on hard 9, 10, or 11.
  • Free splits on all pairs except Tens and 4′s
  • Up to 4 free re-splits, including Aces
  • Free double after (free) split
  • Normal double on any two cards, including after (free) split
  • Late surrender (no longer?) available on first two cards
  • Blackjacks pay 3:2
  • Dealer 22′s push
  • 6 deck shoe

They initially offered late surrender, but we told them it brought the house edge down by 0.21% (huge). I don’t know if they took it away yet. If allowed, late surrender on 15 vs. T or A, on 16 vs. 9, T, A, and on 17 vs. dealer A.

Here’s the basic strategy generated by my analysis program. Note you treat free splits differently than normal hands. This is because you can’t lose any real money by hitting hard-17 against a dealer 7 upcard, so you might as well try to improve your hand (given push-22, and push-17 yields nothing on the free bet). Also note the regular doubles for free-split soft totals. It’s worth it to risk a real-money double rather than just hitting a free hand. These exceptions are listed in the bottom part of the strategy chart.

Basic Strategy for Free Bet Blackjack (6 Decks).

where FD = free double, FS = free split, DD = double down. Note that you take all your free doubles, and all your free splits.

I have to admit I overlooked a small rule until this morning (**ahem**), but everything is now fixed. Luckily, the numbers still worked out. This is my first time doing the math for a live game on the floor. I was slightly nervous today :)

12 Responses

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  1. Hunterhill said, on June 24, 2012 at 6:54 am

    Great work Stephen.
    I thought splitting 5s might be the correct play against 5 or 6 seeing you could possibly get 6 or 7 free bets on the table.I guess 10 is just such a strong total.

  2. gj said, on June 24, 2012 at 11:25 am

    I’m a bit surprised you told them to take out Late Surrender, or that they did. The cost (.21) is not so
    much greater than double after split (.14), but whereas people seldom misuse the DBS rule, casinos
    make a fortune off the former from players who surrender their 13 vs 7 etc. I can see this casino advantage increasing in a situation where players have lots of “free bets” which are likely to win, thereby allowing players to “lock up” wins when playing two hands by making further poor surrenders and hoping for the best with their 20s and 21s, which will be more numerous with all these extra hands on the layout.

    Many European casinos have this rule in an even more advantageous form and enjoy the benefit of the commonly-made bad plays I note above, with little fear they are giving up all that much.

    Nice site, btw.

    • stephenhow said, on June 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      You’re probably right about surrenders netting for the house. How could I forget about the over-surrendering I saw at Spanish 21?! The only one I ever see surrendering correctly is my friend, who learned his basic strategy from the WoOs. No one surrenders, except for those who over-do it. Thanks, I’ll pass the word along this week.

  3. Bob Dancer said, on June 24, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    We’ll be talking about this game, and others, when Stephen is a guest this coming Thursday on “Gambling with an Edge,” a weekly radio show I co-host with Michael Shackleford. You may listen live if you live in Las Vegas on 1230 AM from 7-8 p.m. local time, or on http://www.klav1230am.com from anywhere in the world.

    If you miss the live broadcast, past shows are archived on http://www.bobdancer.com/radio.cfm as well as wizardofodds.com

  4. sally mustang said, on June 24, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    Are you going to show soon how vulnerable this game is to counters?
    Seems to me that Free opens up a very large window.
    you have a neat site.
    Thanks for the great work!

    • stephenhow said, on June 25, 2012 at 10:11 am

      I’ll take a look at the EORs for the game, but I’m going to guess that the sensitivities to card removal (and counting) are less than normal blackjack. Aces and tens probably have less value here, because of the fewer soft double opportunities. And I’d think that removing low cards isn’t so great, because you actually want them for free double opportunities. We’ll see what the real numbers say.

  5. fivecardcharlie said, on June 28, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Hello Stephen,

    Congratulations on a job well done with this analysis, and welcome to “the club”, such as it is, of real world casino math analysts. For what it’s worth, when my first game went live, I was pretty nervous too. Completely natural reaction and, for obvious reasons, completely understandable. And dare I say, a most prestigious start — working with Geoff Hall and Shufflemaster right out of the gate is impressive indeed.

    I’ve watched your website for some time, and it seems you really have a passion for gambling as well as the underlying math. I suspect you’ll go as far in this business as you want to go. So, if you ever want to chat about the industry or about gambling life in general, shoot me an email any time you like. The honor will be mine, I assure you.

    Charles R. Mousseau
    charles@futuresightgaming.com

  6. Dave Wang said, on July 17, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Sounds like an awesome game, and I happen to be staying at the Golden Nugget next week — I’ll definitely check it out!

    Do we know yet how the variance of this game compares to standard BJ?

    • Hunterhill said, on July 18, 2012 at 7:06 am

      The variance should be much lower since you are not putting up the extra money for splits and doubles.

  7. Joe said, on February 15, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    are there any more updates on the EORs for this game? Thanks for everything Stephen!

  8. Francisco Lopez said, on February 27, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Should a card counters be exploding this version of Blackjack? It seems like advantage, nothing is worse than losing a split or double when you are placing a max bet at high count.

    • stephenhow said, on February 27, 2014 at 6:32 pm

      The magnitude of the EORs are about the same as for regular blackjack (I’ve calculated them). But you’re right, it’s probably a lower variance play. One day I’ll get around to posting about the count for this game.


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