Free Bet Blackjack @ Golden Nugget, LV
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.
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 :)