Multiple-Action (or Multi-Action) Blackjack: Basic Strategy and Card Counting Tips
FROM ET FAN:
How to Play Multiple-Action BlackjackBy 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?
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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