The Non-Intimidation Factor

            It is virtually impossible to predict which game will be a success in the casino as it is being invented.  As I've written in my column numerous times, predicting which game will fail is much easier.  Frequently inventors will look at past games and try to replicate what appears to be a formula for success for that game.  But I have longed believed that if you look at successful casino games you will see a progression and not just a replication of success.  To put it another way, I think that if Three Card Poker were invented today and put up against the other games that are out there, it would not have done nearly as well as it did.  In similar fashion, if Ultimate Texas Hold'em had been created in the mid 1990's, I don't think any of us would have ever heard of it.


            UTH would've been way too intimidating for the 1990's.  With an Ante and Blind and its 4x/2x/1x betting structure, I think it would have scared away too many Players.  I doubt very many UTH Players are first time table Players.   UTH strategy is complex and it requires a sizeable bankroll.  At the other end of the spectrum is Three Card Poker.  It has about the easiest strategy in the casino to go along with one of the easiest betting structures.  You make an Ante wager, you see your hand.  If you like your hand, you Play.  If not, you Fold. 


            Not all new games are this obvious in showing their intimidation factor.  In general, I think new gamblers start with Slots.  You can't be a bad slot player.  Of course, you can't be a good one either.  You can just be one.  It is as unintimidating as it gets.  You put your money in, you press the button.  You win or lose without making any decisions.  AND, you play by yourself.  Even if you could make a mistake, no one will ever know.  From there, when Players get bored and what something new, I think many go to either video poker if they want to keep to the solitary play or they go to blackjack if they want something more social.


            Blackjack is far from the easiest game in the casino.  Quite the contrary.  Its strategy is amongst the most difficult.  But the concepts of blackjack have become common to most casino goers.  The goal is to get as close to 21 without going over.  You hit 16 or less and stick on 17 or more (I say that tongue in cheek).  Players hear that it has a good payback, so that attracts them as well.  The problem here is that the strategy is complex and without it, the payback won't be so attractive.  There are lots of ways to make mistakes while playing.  If you make a very bad one, the table might let you know and over time you will (hopefully) become a better player, avoiding certain common mistakes.  But, the table probably won't let you know when you should have doubled on a Soft Hand, so you're never going to fully take advantage of that payback unless you spend the time to learn the strategy.


            Ironically, one would think that a blackjack variant would only make things more complex.  But things aren't always as they seem.  The relatively new Free Bet Blackjack actually simplifies the decision making process for the Player.  In Free Bet Blackjack, the Player gets 'free' doubles (on 9, 10 or 11) and 'free' splits (on anything but 10's/Faces).  There goes most of the decision making.  Just say 'yes'.   Say yes to all free splits and free doubles.  Free in this case means that you do not have to make another wager to double or split.  The Dealer will place a lammer in the place where you would normally make an additional wager.  If you win the hand, you'll get paid for the win and the Dealer will take the lammer.  If you tie or lose, the Dealer will simply take the lammer.  No additional money was put at risk.


            Of course, it is not quite that easy.  If the Dealer busts with a '22', then all Player non-busted hands (that weren't Blackjack) will now push.  This little rule change impacts the rest of our strategy.  So, if you've learned basic blackjack strategy you're going to have to go back a couple of steps and relearn when to hit or stick.  AND, you still need to learn when to Double on soft hands, but because of this Push 22 rule you do it far less often.

            Splitting, however, has been make completely 'idiot proof'.  Except for a Pair of 5's, which you treat as a Hard 10 and take your free double, you split everything they'll let you and you keep on doing it until they say you can't (usually 4 hands).    Once you split, you can even take a free double if you get a 2-card 9, 10 or 11!  Again, you will have to learn when to double on a soft hand after you split.


            This does bring us to the other tricky part of the strategy.  Because you are playing with 'free money' that only wins when you win (and does not push when you tie), your hit/stick/double strategy changes a bit when playing a free hand.    But, overall, the amount of strategy you need to learn goes down greatly.  Also, when you play Free Bet, you rarely risk more than your original wager.  In a standard game of Blackjack, you actually wager about 1.15 units per hand.  So, if you are playing at a $10 table, you are really wagering about $11.50 when you take into account doubling and splitting.  At a Free Bet Blackjack table you are wagering about $10.20.


            At first glance, Free Bet might seem more intimidating than regular Blackjack, but once you realize what is going on, you may find that it is really a simpler version of this casino classic.