One of the newer forms of blackjack to be found in the casinos is a variation called Free Bet Blackjack. Can you imagine a form of blackjack where a player could double or split without risking their own money in most cases? It almost sounds too good to be true, and like Vegas itself the shiny exterior often masks what is behind the scenes.
What is Free Bet Blackjack?
The blackjack variation known as Free Bet Blackjack was invented by a guy named Geoff Hall. Hall is no stranger to creating interesting variations of blackjack; he also invented Blackjack Switch. Like all good variations, Hall’s games combine flashy appeal with an insidious way to entice players to bet more money and therefore increase the house edge over time. Let’s face it: no casino would buy Hall’s variations of the game if they really gave the player an edge over the house.
The basic rules of Free Bet Blackjack are pretty standard:
There are three rule changes which work to create the variation of the game:
- “Free Doubles” on hard totals of two-card total of 9, 10, or 11. Regular doubles are still allowed on all other two-card hands. With a “free double,” the player’s original wager is matched with a “free bet” button and the player receives one additional card. At the end of the hand:
- If the dealer wins, the player loses his original wager only.
- If the hand results in a push, the player gets back his original wager only.
- Otherwise, if the player wins, the player gets back his original wager plus winnings equal to double that wager.
- “Free Splits” on all pairs except 10’s. With a “free split,” the player’s two cards are divided into two one-card hands. The player’s original wager is placed with the first hand and a “free bet” button is placed with the second hand. The player plays out each hand one at a time and is entitled to a “free double” or “free split” on both hands. For winning hands, each “free bet” button is replaced with real chips equaling the original wager. On hands resulting in a player loss or push, the dealer takes back the “free bet” button.
- Dealer pushes on 22. If the player has 21 or less and the dealer busts with 22, then the player’s wager is a push.
Now, this sounds like a blackjack game that would be great for the player! Doubling down and splitting without having to risk a dime and getting your original wager back if you push has to be a great thing, right?
Is Free Bet Blackjack good for the player?
The kicker is that third rule. Anytime the dealer busts with a 22 and the player has 21 or less, the result is a push. This means that if you draw a hand of 21 the dealer now has two ways instead of one to push the wager. He can tie you with a 21 or a 22.
Giving the dealer one extra card to work with may not seem like a big deal, but the devil is in the details. On the surface, allowing free doubles does give the player an added edge. It is small but still tilts the game in the player’s favor. The question then becomes why would the casino ever introduce a game that was clearly favorable to the player?
The answer is simple. The casino knows that the majority of people playing blackjack variants are not skilled card counters. Professional blackjack players tend to mostly stick to standard blackjack. Variants were created to introduce the concept of luck in an effort to attract more novice players to the blackjack tables.
Free Bet Blackjack kind of works in reverse where the house edge is concerned. The idea is to entice people to bet more on the chance that they will have an opportunity to win a bigger double or split. When a person gets behind they are tempted to make a big bet in the hopes of being dealt a 9, 10, 11, or a pair. Of course, we all know that the standard house edge applies in this case. Players still have the same chance of receiving those hands as they do in a standard blackjack game.
If a player is skilled and plays basic strategy along with card counting, Free Bet Blackjack might provide some nice winning sessions, but the trick is being disciplined enough not to chase a potential free bet by wagering more than you should on any given hand. The casino knows that most people will lose in the long run and this game might make them lose more.
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