Multiple Action (or multi-action) blackjack requires the same blackjack basic strategy as standard blackjack games. Multi-action blackjack is great for card counters, both for camouflage and for allowing more effective risk-averse blackjack betting strategies.
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Multiple-Action (or Multi-Action) Blackjack: Basic Strategy and Card Counting Tips

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Multi-Action Blackjack


How to Play Multiple-Action Blackjack

By Arnold Snyder
(First published in Card Player, November 27, 1992)
© 1992 Arnold Snyder

I’ve received many questions in the past few months about “Multiple Action” (or multi-action) blackjack. No wonder, the game is popping up at casinos all over Nevada, and elsewhere in the country as well. The most common question I get from players is: How do I alter blackjack basic strategy when I have a stiff on my first or second hand? The second most common question is: How does this affect the player/house advantage?

Here’s the scoop: At a Multiple Action blackjack table each player has three betting spots. He must bet on at least two spots, but may bet on all three if he desires. Some casinos require a bet on all three spots. The player receives only one hand, regardless of how many spots he is betting. The dealer, however, will play out his upcard two (or three) times, against the consecutive player bets.

Example #1: Player with three bets on the table is dealt a hard twenty, vs. a dealer ten, and stands. The dealer turns up his hole card to reveal a five. Dealer hits with a seven, busting, and pays off the player’s first bet. Dealer discards the five and seven, hits again with a five and a six, and beats the player’s second bet. Dealer discards the five and six, hits again with a ten, and pushes the player’s third bet.

Example #2: Player, with three bets on the table, is dealt a hard sixteen vs. a dealer ten. Player hits with a seven and busts. Player loses all three bets. Ouch!

History of Multiple-Action Blackjack

The multi-action blackjack game was invented, patented, and is being marketed by the Four Queens Casino in Las Vegas. Casinos who purchase the rights to this game must pay the Four Queens $500 per month per table to offer it. If that fee sounds high to you, rest assured that it does not sound high to the casinos who are offering the game.

The Four Queens has already sold layouts to 27 Nevada casinos, including many major properties in Las Vegas, Reno, Tahoe and Laughlin. You’ll also find it on Indian reservation casinos in Wisconsin, Connecticut, Michigan, and Texas, and on riverboats running out of Illinois and Mississippi. This game is selling like gangbusters.

Why do casinos find this game so attractive? The promotional literature provided by the Four Queens answers this question.

In the first nine months of operation, a Multiple Action blackjack table with a $2 minimum bet showed a gross win almost 50% higher than a traditional blackjack table with a $5 minimum bet. Both tables were open 24 hours per day, seven days per week, with six decks and otherwise identical rules.

Since the Multiple Action blackjack table required at least two bets, the actual minimum bet per player hand was $4, meaning the table action should have been just slightly less than the traditional $5 blackjack table. In fact, the Multiple Action blackjack table showed a “drop” (amount of chips purchased at the table) 10% higher than the traditional table, indicating that either slightly more players were attracted to the Multiple Action table, or that the players who were attracted to Multiple Action were betting slightly more than the traditional blackjack players, possibly by utilizing that third betting spot.

But if the drop was only 10% higher, why was the gross win 50% higher? Good question. The answer is that the “hold” (the percentage of the drop that the dealer wins back from the players who buy in) on the Multiple Action blackjack table was almost 22%, compared to about 16% for the traditional game.

The first assumption that a game analyst might make, looking at these figures, is that Multiple Action blackjack has a greater house advantage over the player than traditional blackjack, but that for some strange reason, players are more attracted to it. I’m sure, in fact, that many casino execs who have looked at these numbers and decided to purchase Multiple Action blackjack tables have done so with this assumption.

The analyst’s first assumption, however, would be wrong. The fact is: Multiple Action blackjack has the exact same advantage over the basic strategy player as traditional blackjack, all other factors being equal (rules, number of decks, etc.).

Basic Strategy at Multiple-Action Blackjack

So why do the casinos win more money from Multiple Action players? The answer to this one is simple: More Multiple Action players are violating basic strategy. Why? Remember Example #2 above? The player is dealt a sixteen vs. a dealer ten. Player hits (which is the correct basic strategy), and loses all three bets! Players at Multiple Action tables, even smart players who should know better, are standing on their stiffs when they should hit.

The way it works in the player’s mind is: “Gee, if I bust, I lose three bets. Now normally I would hit this hand, but if I stand, I’ve at least got a chance of beating one of the dealer hands . . . and I might not lose all three . . . ” Bad logic. The fact is: correct basic strategy does not change one bit at a Multiple Action table. The house advantage does not change one bit. The casinos are cleaning up on this game because smart players are playing like dumb tourists, and dumb tourists are playing like dumber tourists.

Why Card Counters Love Multiple-Action Blackjack

Now, here’s the strange part: Card counters love these Multiple Action Blackjack tables. Why? Because with the combination of multiple bets and lots of players frequently varying from basic strategy, it is much easier to disguise a card counting system. So, I think these Multiple Action tables are great, too. Rarely does an innovation come along at blackjack that allows both the casinos and the card counters to make more money. Multiple Action blackjack does just that — at the expense of the “average joe.”

My advice to card counters is to seek out these tables for the increased profit opportunities. If you’re just a basic strategy player, stick to your basic strategy. Don’t be tempted to stand on those stiffs you know you ought to hit. If you do, you’re just allowing yourself to be counted as a statistic in some casino’s increased hold percentage. That’s not a statistic you want to be a part of.

More Multiple-Action Blackjack Mindbenders

(First published in Card Player, January 1993)
© 1993 Arnold Snyder

On November 27, in this column, I discussed the new “Multi-Action” blackjack games that were popping up all over Nevada. I have received quite a bit of mail on this subject, so I would like to take another chance here at clarifying the Multi-Action blackjack strategies. The specific game we are referring to is the one in which the player places up to three separate bets on his hand, as the dealer’s hand is played out three times in succession, using the same upcard.

There is already a bastardized version of this game being dealt in Las Vegas in which the dealer deals himself three separate upcards, against which the player must play his one hand. Do not play the 3-upcard version.

The difficulty of attempting to play one hand against three different upcards can be illustrated with a simple example: You are dealt an ace and a seven (soft 18) vs. dealer upcards of 5, 7 and ace. How do you play your hand, since your one playing decision must go against each dealer upcard in succession?

According to normal basic strategy, you should double down vs. the 5, stand vs. the 7, and hit vs. the ace. No matter which decision you make in this example, you’ll be playing two out of three hands incorrectly. This insidious form of casino blackjack forces the player to continually violate basic strategy. No card counting system can beat this game. Hopefully this version of multiple action blackjack will not spread.

Another player queried me about the effects of rule variations in the Multiple-Action game. Specifically, if a casino allows surrender, would the Multi-Action strategy differ from standard basic strategy, since you will be surrendering three hands instead of one?

No. It doesn’t matter. If you are dealt a hand that basic strategy tells you to surrender in a normal blackjack game, you should surrender your three half bets in a Multi-Action game. And don’t surrender any other hands.

The most important thing to remember in a Multi-Action blackjack game is that the format of the game should not affect your playing decisions in any way. Casinos are cleaning up on unsophisticated players who are not only afraid to hit their stiffs (because it means losing all three bets if they bust), but are also more timid about doubling down and splitting pairs (because of the treble amount of money put at risk).

Multiple-Action Blackjack and Risk Averse Strategies

Multiple-Action blackjack has proven itself a boon to card counters because it so effectively disguises betting spreads and playing strategy variations. Sophisticated counters, in fact, will see more occasions to employ “risk averse” strategies in a Multi-Action game. Otherwise, card counters should simply follow their card counting systems as if in a normal blackjack game. As risk averse strategies are more important to employ in Multi-Action games, and such strategies are not all that difficult to use, it would be wise for all card counters to understand the risk averse basics.

A risk averse strategy is one in which you technically violate the “correct” strategy because there is a conflict between correct play and the optimum bet. These types of situations only present themselves when you must make a betting decision in the midst of playing a hand. Pair splits, double downs and insurance all put more money on the table after the hand is in progress. Surrender pulls money back. A risk averse player will sometimes violate his count strategy on these types of plays in order to minimize fluctuations to his bankroll.

For example, say you are dealt a hand totaling 11 vs. a dealer ace in a 6-deck game. Basic strategy is to hit, but your slightly positive count tells you that you should double down. If a risk averse player already has a big bet on the table, he will violate his count strategy and hit, not double. Why?

The amount that a player bets on any hand should correspond to the player’s advantage at the time the bet is placed. In the above example, the player put a big bet on the table prior to his hand being dealt. However, if he had known the dealer was going to deal himself an ace, he would not have placed a big bet. Much of the player’s potential advantage on the hand was killed when the dealer’s upcard appeared.

Luckily for the player, his own total of eleven is strong, and with the slightly positive true count, is strong enough to justify doubling down instead of just hitting. But since this is a borderline decision, and the player already has a large bet on the table, doubling this bet will put a greater proportion of the player’s bankroll at risk than he will potentially gain.

According to the Kelly Criterion (somewhat simplified), if you have a 1% advantage, you would optimally bet 1% of your bankroll. If you overbet your bankroll, the fluctuations will slow down your rate of winning, and if you overbet too much (by a factor of 2), you will inevitably go broke due to the inevitable negative fluctuations, despite the fact that you technically have an advantage over the house. Does this make sense? No matter. Here’s how to use risk averse strategies, especially in Multi-Action blackjack games:

With any borderline double down or split decision, if you already have a high bet on the table (or, if the total of your Multi-Action bets constitute a high bet), don’t do it. Just hit or stand as appropriate.

With any borderline surrender decision, if you have a high bet on the table, do it — even if the count does not quite justify surrendering. This play will reduce fluctuations in the long run.

And here’s a good risk averse strategy that will drive the card counting traditionalists bonkers: If you have your high bet on the table, insure your “strong” hands in borderline insurance decisions — even if the count is slightly too low to justify an insurance bet according to the system you are using. Again, this bet will act as a hedge to keep fluctuations down. ♠

For more information on blackjack basic strategy and rules, see the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library .

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