Free Bet Blackjack – Rules, Strategy and Odds
Free Splits and Doubles Make for Aggressive Strategy in Free Bet Blackjack
When you first see the rules of Free Bet Blackjack it sounds like every player’s dream. Any time you double (on 9, 10 or 11) or split your hand, the house provides the bet for free. Since losing this free bet and a push are now of equal value, you can play these free hands very aggressively compared to the main game.
There are rules which help the house keep their edge of course (the game could not exist otherwise). The main one here is that when the dealer busts with 22, player wins become pushes. This real money blackjack variant was invented by Geoff Hall – who is also responsible for the popular Blackjack Switch. It was first introduced at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas in 2012.
This page takes you through Free Bet Blackjack in detail. First below you will see an overview explaining how this game works. After that the strategy is covered, before I look at the pros and cons of this game compared to the many other blackjack choices available.
Overview of Free Bet Blackjack
The main game play up to when players make their decisions looks like any regular blackjack game. Each player gets two cards and the dealer shows one card with the other face down. If there are no splits or doubles, hands will play out with only one difference – that 22 for the dealer results in a push for players and not a win.
When players have 9, 10 or 11 they get to double-down for free. What happens is that a player will request a double, and the dealer will place a ‘free bet’ button next to the player’s original bet. As usual a double is one card only. If this hand then wins, the player will be paid 2 units instead of one (the dealer retrieving the free bet button). In other words, you can double without risking any more than your original bet. You are allowed to double with any other total, though the free bet will not be used and you must pay as usual.
Splits are also free, and can be done up to 3 times for 4 hands total. If your cards are the same rank (not 10’s) then you split them and the dealer adds the free bet button to one of the hands. If you resplit, then you get another free bet – and so on. Most casinos will also allow you to double after a split, getting yet another free bet in the process.
With a solid strategy and 6 decks in play, this game can have a house edge as low as 1.08%.
Strategy for Free Bet Blackjack
Losing a free bet is no different to a push against the dealer. This means that it is optimal to play your free hands more aggressively than you would if it were your own money. Not only is this optimal strategy – it has the side-effect of also making this game more entertaining.
If you are dealt a pair of 5’s, the correct strategy is to take the free double – rather than the free split. Obviously, any total of 9, 10 or 11 you should always take the double, and any other pair 9’s and under you should take the free split. Rules about resplitting aces will vary.
An example of the more aggressive strategy is when you have a 14 on a free bet (after a split) against the dealer’s 2. Here you should hit, whereas if it were the original hand with your own bet, then you should stand instead. There are several more examples like this. I advise you to check out a strategy card before you play for real money – and to note the main differences between token bets and cash bets.
Pros and Cons of Free Bet Blackjack
This variation has quickly become a player favorite in live casinos – and it is easy to see why. You can double, split or even a combination of both using the house’s chips to bet with instead of your own. This keeps the risk to 1 unit, and gives you the potential to win several units on each hand. You can sometimes find a side-bet based on the number of tokens you’ll receive in a hand.
The downside is the ‘push on dealer 22’ rule. This is what swings the house edge back into positive territory for the casino. While this is only one way for the casino to bust, their hand can only get up to 26. This means one of the 5 ‘bust’ numbers (and one of the most frequent) will result in a push each time.
Summing Up – How Does Free Bet Blackjack Compare?
This game is making its way into more casinos, and I expect we will see it online soon. Like Geoff Hall’s other game (Blackjack Switch) it is a player favorite. The upside of winning multiple bets while risking only one is attractive to the players. While the push on 22 mathematically balances things out, Free Bet blackjack is still an entertaining game.