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Making My Point

The new blackjack games demonstrate that nothing ever stays the same

Making My Point

In the nightcap of a doubleheader in July 1946, Boston Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams—aka The Kid, aka the Splendid Splinter, aka the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived—dug his spikes into the batter’s box at Fenway Park and saw something between third base and second base that must have freaked him out.

He saw nothing.

No shortstop. No third baseman. No, well, anybody.

Williams, it bears mentioning, was in the midst of a tear that could only be described as, well, Williamsian. He had already doubled in his first at-bat; this after belting out four hits and driving in eight runs in the opener. Now Williams, by preference, was an inveterate pull hitter. He generated ungodly amounts of power and torque from his Icabod Crane frame by getting out in front of the ball and yanking it to the right side of the field.

So when Williams strode to the plate again, Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau decided it was time to pull the plug on all this pulling. They say necessity is the mother of invention, but tell Maury Povich to get the DNA test ready, because desperation may be its Baby Daddy. Boudreau flushed 50 years of positioning precedent down the clubhouse toilet and stationed six of his defenders to Williams’ pull side. The only Indian on the left side of the field was, un-ironically enough, the left fielder.

The Boudreau Shift, as it was immediately and eponymously dubbed, was so visually outrageous that even a blind man—or if you prefer, a baseball umpire—could have seen it.

But what about the Blackjack Shift?

Well, that takes more of a learned eye to detect. But it’s just as real, and it’s just as pronounced.

As most people know, the history of proprietary table games is largely a history of poker games: Caribbean Stud, Fortune Pai Gow Poker, Let it Ride, Three Card Poker, Casino Hold’em Poker, Casino War (aka one-card poker), Four Card Poker, Crazy 4 Poker, Flop Poker, Texas Hold’em Bonus, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, and High Card Flush. The list goes on and on, or at least it would if this column wasn’t subject to a strict word count.

And there’s still plenty of new poker titles coming out. You’ve got DJ Wild and Wild, Criss Cross and Double Draw, Match ‘em Hi-Lo and 7-Up Pai Gow. So, the time will not come for poker to surrender its preeminence anytime soon.

But those times, however, are a’changing. And a’changing a’quickly. More and more, the axis of proprietary table games is tilting away from poker and towards blackjack.

“Players today love blackjack with all the bells and whistles,” a casino executive on the Las Vegas Strip told me recently. “They love these new games with different rules or progressive bets. The blackjack game we all grew up on is going away, and it’s because the market wants something different. Something new. Something exciting.”

He’s right, you know. That old-school blackjack game that pays three-to-one on naturals and has the dealer stand on all 17s is harder to find nowadays in a casino than a keno lounge. Or a slot machine that accepts coins. Or a clock.

This movement is already afoot. Actually, it’s afoot about a mile. Just look at the fastest-growing titles in the industry right now:

6-to-5 Blackjack: Lots of industry experts chuckled when casino executive Bill Zimmer introduced this to the Las Vegas Strip 10 years ago. But it’s the casinos themselves who are having the last laugh, as 6-to-5 (and its massive house edge over 3-to-2) has migrated from Las Vegas to much of the blackjack-playing world.

Blazing 7s Blackjack Progressive: In the past 18 months, this has become the most successful blackjack progressive in history. Blazing 7s just cracked the 500-install mark and will soon go live on a wide-area network in Delaware.

Super 4 Blackjack Progressive: Super 4 ushered in this new era of blackjack progressives with its 100-unit placement at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut two years ago. Super 4 and its sister product, Super Match, are played in markets throughout North America. You’re also seeing a surge of electronic blackjack bonuses hitting the market, including Bonus Spin and Count’s Kustoms.

Dealer Envy Bonus: Occam’s Razor, as known to anyone that ever took a philosophy course in college—or who did a Google search, like, five seconds ago—says the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Well, a corollary to that would be the simplest solution is usually the optimal one. And that’s where Dealer Envy comes in. These side bets automatically toke the dealer when players get premium hands, turning them from disinterested game administrators into commissioned salespeople for the house.

Buster Blackjack: Since the dawn of humanity—OK, since the early 1990s—most, if not all, blackjack side bets were based on the player’s first two cards and perhaps the dealer’s up card. Super 7s, Royal Match, Perfect Pairs, Lucky Ladies, 21+3, and so on and so forth. But Buster? He don’t play that game. This side bet wins if the dealer busts; the more cards he took to bust, the more they win. Buster Blackjack has been around for many years, but it more than doubled its install base in 2016.

The Geoff Hall Collection: Geoff Hall may not be the greatest blackjack visionary in history, but he’s definitely, as the old joke goes, in the group photo. Just look at his (abridged) list of accomplishments: Blackjack Switch, Free Bet Blackjack, Burn 20 Blackjack, Zappit Blackjack, Deal & Reveal Blackjack, and Zombie Blackjack. How good and how prolific is Geoff? Put it this way: If you’re in a casino and you come across a blackjack derivative not named Spanish 21, it’s likely to be one of his.

Roger Snow is a senior vice president with Light & Wonder. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Light & Wonder or its affiliates.

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