Buster Blackjack

Most of the technical conferences I speak at are in Las Vegas. One of the things I love about Las Vegas is the constant innovation — every trip I see new restaurants, new kinds of entertainment, and new games.

When I was young I loved all kinds of card games, and I’m still fascinated by them. On a recent trip I saw a new variant of Blackjack called Buster Blackjack. The game is basically regular Blackjack, but on each hand you can bet $5 on an optional side bet. The side bet is independent (so you can win the buster bet even if you bust yourself) and you win if the dealer busts (goes over 21).

If the dealer busts with three or more cards (say she has a King and a Five, then draws an Eight), you win 1 to 1 ($5). The payoffs at the MGM Grand hotel and casino where I was are:

8+ cards  250 to 1
7 cards    50 to 1
6 cards    20 to 1
5 cards     8 to 1
4 cards     2 to 1
3 cards     1 to 1

There is some fascinating math here. If you are counting cards, for regular Blackjack you want the deck to hold mostly high cards (8, 9, 10, Ace) and very few low cards (2, 3, 4, 5) but if you’re betting that the dealer will bust, you want the deck to have low cards so that a busted hand will have more cards in it and give you a higher payout.

The only way you could analyze a strategy would be to write a computer simulation.

I didn’t play Buster Blackjack but maybe I’ll give the game a try after I do some analysis.

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