Blackjack Too Mathematically Challenging? New Format Simplifies Game

Posted on: August 15, 2017, 05:00h. 

Last updated on: August 15, 2017, 04:15h.

Blackjack is the most popular table game in American casinos, due at least in part to its basic structure of trying to beat the dealer’s hand without going over 21, and because of its low house edge. But a student at UNLV’s Center for Gaming Innovation (CGI) is trying to disrupt how the card game is played by offering a new version called Easy Jack.

blackjack Easy Jack UNLV gaming innovation
While the player’s hand on the far left would have a great chance of winning in blackjack, it’s a bust in the new version of the game created by a student at UNLV. (Image: Business Insider)

Matthew Stream, a former blackjack dealer, said during his employment he often found players struggling to add up their cards to determine whether to hit or stay. His solution was to reduce blackjack from a game of 21 down to 11, and deal players just one initial card instead of two.

He took his idea to UNLV’s CGI, where he enrolled in an innovation incubator program. Led by Executive Director Mark Yoseloff, the institute helped Stream bring his concept to reality by giving him a chance to sorting through details, such as number of decks used, appropriate payouts, and calculated odds to maintain a house edge.

“Getting the input from everybody at the gaming innovation program was one of the main reasons I went to UNLV,” Stream told the Las Vegas Sun. “The math as well. I had no idea how to come up with the house edge or anything else like that. That was one big thing they helped me out with. Also, getting the provisional patent process going.”

At the end of each CGI semester, casino executives are invited to hear new gaming ideas. Caesars’ Melissa Price was so impressed with Easy Jack that she put it in Harrah’s for a 45-day test run. The trial was apparently well received, as Caesars recently revealed that the new game will remain on the floor through the end of the year.

Easy Jack Gameplay

The final game Stream created uses eight 52-card decks and allows players to make two wagers. The initial bet is comparable to a blackjack bet.

The player gets only one card to start, instead of two, with the goal being to get as close to 11 as possible without going bust.  The dealer also gets one card, and must hit on six or less but stays on seven or more. Wins pay 1 to 1, and a dealt blackjack (an ace) pays 3 to 2.

The secondary side bet in Easy Jack is on whether or not the dealer will bust. If the dealer goes over 11 on just two cards, the bet pays 3 to 1. On three cards, the wager pays 4 to 1. Four cards is 10-1, five cards is 50-1, and six cards pays 500-1.

Wizard of Odds says if a player stands on seven or more and hits on six or less, the casino’s house edge is 0.94 percent. That’s worse (for players) than typical blackjack house edges at eight-deck tables, which is around 0.45 percent.

Seeds of Innovation

Stream told the Sun that he came up with the game while trying to teach his seven-year-old cousin math.

“I was going to suggest we play 21 but remembered how difficult 21 could be for adults, so I said, ‘We’ll just stop at 11,'” Stream explained. “We started playing, and I realized that there might actually be something to this as far as those players who were overwhelmed by playing traditional blackjack.”

Yoseloff, who helped create the CGI in 2013, said Easy Jack’s run at Harrah’s “didn’t blow the cover off the ball, no field trial ever does,” but Caesars’ decision to keep it around longer is a positive development.

Not everyone is sold, however. Online commenters questioned who in the world can’t count to 21 yet is still playing blackjack. “If blackjack is too complex for you, and if counting to 21 is too tough, you should stay out of casinos. In fact, you shouldn’t leave your home,” opined one Las Vegas Sun reader.