If you happen to enjoy Blackjack Switch, there is a good chance you might get intrigued by Free Bet Blackjack. Both variations were invented by professional gambler Geoff Hall, a highly acclaimed figure in the landbased gambling circles.
Hall first introduced Free Bet Blackjack in June 2012 at the Golden Nugget Casino in downtown Las Vegas and himself deems it his most successful creation to this date. The game mostly plays like conventional blackjack with two major differences. Players get to double down and split on certain two-card hand values for free.
Basic Rules and Payouts in Free Bet Blackjack
Free Bet Blackjack is normally dealt out of a six-deck shoe and requires the dealer to hit soft totals of 17. Minimum bets are typically either $5 or $10. The round starts with players posting their chips in the betting circles corresponding to their spots on the table.
Once bets are posted, all participants receive two face-up cards, except the dealer whose second card is dealt face-down. A starting hand of an Ace and a ten-value card is an instant winner and returns a payout of 3 to 2 although an increasing number of gambling halls choose to cut down the odds for blackjacks to 6 to 5. Regular winning hands pay out even money.
Players have a choice from the usual playing decisions like hitting, standing, doubling down, and splitting. Surrendering a hand is no longer permitted in Free Bet Blackjack.
The free doubling down and splitting rules are outlined in the sections below but they come at a cost. Instead of busting on hands that total 22, the dealers in Free Bet Blackjack push with the players. Thus, if the player’s hand totals 21 or less and the dealer has a total of 22, the player’s wager is considered a tie.
Payouts for the Push 22 Side Bet
Some gambling halls like San Diego’s Pala Casino give players the opportunity to earn extra money with the Push 22 side bets. The payouts for these optional wagers are as follows:
- 50 to 1 for a dealer with suited cards that total 22
- 20 to 1 for a dealer hand of 22 that consists of cards of the same color
- 8 to 1 for any hand combination of the dealer that totals 22, regardless of suit and color
Doubling Down in Free Bet Blackjack
Regular doubling down is permitted on any two-card total. However, the player gets to double down for free on two-card hands of 9, 10, and 11. In this instance, the dealer matches the player’s initial wager with a free bet chip and deals one more card to the hand.
If the player wins, the dealer pays the successful double with real money. If the dealer wins, the player loses only the original bet they have posted and the free-play chips are removed from the felt. When the two push, the player gets their original wager back. Free doubling is also allowed after the player splits pairs.
Splitting in Free Bet Blackjack
At Free Bet Blackjack tables, players can split for free all pairs with the exception of 10s, although splitting 4s at no cost was also prohibited initially. The pair is then divided into two separate hands and a card is automatically drawn to each one.
The hands are played one at a time, with players having the option to hit, stand, double for free, or resplit for free. Resplitting is possible to up to four individual hands, including those consisting of Aces. Respectively, a free-bet chip is used for each split hand. Should the player win, their free chip is replaced with a real chip that equals the amount of the initial wager. If the dealer wins, they collect only the players’ original bet.
House Edge and RTP
When Free Bet Blackjack first hit the floors of Las Vegas casinos, players had the opportunity to exercise the late surrender decision, i.e. to fold their starting hands in exchange for half of their original wagers. However, it was soon established this led to a significant reduction in the house edge, which dropped to 0.21% only.
Gambling halls then decided to boost their own advantage by removing the surrender option altogether. The rules outlined above presently yield a house edge of around 1%, which is still rather decent for a game where you get to double down and split for free. Respectively, this corresponds to a long-term theoretical return-to-player percentage of 99% at 3-to-2 tables.
Strategy and Tips for Free Bet Blackjack
The optimal strategy here bears a number of similarities with that for conventional blackjack but there are several exceptions you need to have in mind when you attack the Free Bet Blackjack tables. The first exception is that players should split all pairs for free except those consisting of 5s where they should double at no cost instead.
Keep in mind splitting 10s is generally a bad idea. If you insist on doing it, nevertheless, remember the free split rule does not stand on paired 10s and you will have to pay for this decision. You should also double down for free on any two-card total of 9, 10, and 11, regardless of what the dealer’s exposed card is.