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Best of Donald Catlin

Gaming Guru

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Hit & Win

3 June 2000

    Last month I wrote about the first of three new casino games that were displayed at the fall gaming conference and exposition in Las Vegas and that I found to be interesting games.  This month I want to describe a game called Hit & Win.  This game is the brainchild of Derek Webb of Prime Table Games.  Although it is not yet in play in casinos, I'm sure that it will be, as explained below.

    In his March 13th article Evolution versus Creationism: What Works Best for Table Games?, John May writes: "New game developers face a virtually impossible task trying to replace the big five table games: blackjack, poker, roulette, baccarat and craps.  These games were developed over hundreds of years.  They are as they are because the people who played them decided how they should be.  This is called a 'continuous feedback process'."

    May has a point.  Each year when I attend the gaming show, I see many, many new games and then never see them again in succeeding years; they fall flat on their faces.  Derek is an exception to this.  His game Three Card PokerTM has been a real success and was recently bought by Shuffle Master.  What about this Hit & Win game?

    Casinos are constantly trying to attract more table game players.  This might sound strange since the machine games have a lower overhead and now provide the majority of casino profits.  The reason is quite simple.  Table games provide the 'life' in the casino.  They are at the heart of the gaming experience.  A casino doing a good business at the tables is a lively place; it is doing a good business in general.  The hooting and hollering of the Craps players, the joking around at the Blackjack tables, and the challenge of the Poker tables breathes life into the casino; at the tables people actually talk to each other.  Whatever type of player, this revelry draws people in.

    Why is Blackjack so popular?  I think it is because it is a game involving skill; the player has some control over his or her fate.  The downside?  The game looks complicated to a beginner.  Some of the correct plays in Basic Strategy are not obvious even to a seasoned player and to a beginner there are many more plays that seem confusing.  People are afraid of doing the wrong thing and receiving the scorn of their fellow players.  Of course, poor players don't affect one's chances at all and the courteous thing to do with a novice player is to keep one's mouth shut.  But there are invariably a few ploppies (ask Frank) around who are generous with their (so-called) expert opinions and make life miserable for the beginner.

    So what does all of this have to do with Hit & Win?  Hit & Win is a Blackjack-type game that does indeed involve a modicum of skill, but the correct playing strategy can be learned in a few minutes (this, you may recall, was also the case with High Country Poker that I discussed last month).  This, I believe, makes it a good transition game for a beginner wanting to eventually become a Blackjack player.  Here's how it goes.

    Hit & Win is a game played using ordinary Poker-style playing cards and is played on a standard Blackjack table.  The game is dealt using either four or six decks.  The value of the cards is identical to normal Blackjack, that is, Aces count 1 or 11, 2 through 10 count as shown, and face cards count 10.  The value of any hand is the sum of the card values; suits are irrelevant.  Soft hands are those that contain an Ace counted as 11, all other hands are called hard hands.

    A round is played as follows.  The player places a unit bet in the betting space on the layout in front of him.  The player then receives two cards face up and the dealer receives two cards face down.  The player then has options as in regular Blackjack.  The player can hit the hand and receive another card.  The player can stand with two or more cards keeping the hand as it is. The player can double the hand by placing another unit bet in the betting space thereby doubling the bet.  Unlike regular Blackjack, the doubling rules here are quite generous.  Not only can the player double on any two card hand, the player can also receive more than one card after doubling; at least one card must be taken.  Pairs can be split as in regular Blackjack but only once.  Doubling after splitting is allowed and Aces can receive more than one card.  All of the above actions use regular Blackjack hand signals.

    After all players have finished playing, the dealer turns over his two cards and hits or stands according to standard Blackjack rules, that is, the dealer hits all hands of 16 and below and stands on all hands, soft or hard, of 17 and above.  The bets are settled as follows.

    In the case of both the player and the dealer, hard hands in excess of 21 are called busted hands or just busts.  The following table indicates the game's payoff structure.  PT will stand for "player's total" and DT will stand for "dealer's total."  BJ will stand for "Blackjack," which is any two-card 21 consisting of an Ace and a ten-valued card.

Player's Hand Dealer's Hand Payoff to Player
Bust Immaterial -1
PT <= 21 Bust 0 (push)
PT < 21 PT < DT <= 21 -1
PT <= 21 DT < PT PT - DT
18 <= PT <= 21(no BJ) DT = PT (incl. DT = BJ) 0 (push)
PT = 17 DT = 17 +1
PT = BJ DT = 21 (BJ or not) +1
Figure 1
Hit & Win Payoffs

    As an example, suppose that PT = 19 and DT = 17.  The payoff to the player would be 19 - 17 or 2 units.  Suppose the player has a Blackjack and the dealer has a 7-9-5 hand.  Though both have 21, the player wins one unit because of the Blackjack.  If the hands were reversed, however, it would be a push.  If both dealer and player have Blackjack, the player wins one unit.  If the player has a Blackjack and the dealer busts, the hand is a push.

    As you can see, the game has some generous payoffs.  Assuming a split and two doubles resulting in two 21s versus the dealer's 17, the payoff could be as high as 16 units.  On the other hand, the fact that the dealer's bust versus a non-busted player hand results in a push, gives the house an edge in this game.

    The optimum strategy for playing Hit & Win is quite easy.  The following two charts show the optimum Hit/Stand/Double Strategy for both hard and Soft Hands:

Hard Hit/Stand/Double Chart
Player's Total Action
21 Stand
20 Stand
19 Stand
18 Stand
17 Stand
16 Hit
15 Hit
14 Hit
13 Hit
12 Hit
11 Double
10 Double
9 Hit
8 Hit
7 Hit
6 Hit
5 Hit
4 Hit
Figure 2
Optimum Hit/Stand/Double for Hard Hands


Soft Hit/Stand/Double Chart
Player Total Action
21 Stand
20 Stand
19 Stand
18 Hit
17 Hit
16 Hit
15 Hit
14 Hit
13 Double
12 Double
Figure 3
Optimum Hit/Stand/Double for Soft Hands

Here is the strategy for splitting pairs:

Splitting Strategy
Player's Pair Action
A- A Split
2 - 2 Hit
3 - 3 Hit
4 - 4 Hit
5 - 5 Double
6 - 6 Hit
7 - 7 Hit
8 - 8 Split
9 - 9 Split
10 - 10 Stand
Figure 4
Optimum Splitting Strategy

   Using the above strategy I wrote a simulation program for Hit & Win using a random number generator to shuffle the shoe.  In other words, the program plays Hit & Win with the dealer playing according to his fixed rules and the player playing according to the strategy in Figures 2, 3 and 4.  The simulator can be set to either 4 or 6 decks and a cut card can be placed anywhere in the shoe.  For four decks I placed it at 53 from the bottom and for six decks I placed it at 79 from the bottom; these are typical placements.  The four-deck game resulted in a house edge of 1.86% and the six-deck game resulted in a house edge of 1.83%.  Unlike regular Blackjack, the more decks the better it is for the player.

    So there you have it, a new Blackjack-type game that has an easily learned strategy and yet doesn't have an unreasonably large house edge the way many of the new games do.  Will it fly?  Will it attract new table players?  I don't know, but it will be fun watching to see what happens.  I think, knowing Derek's track record, you just might want to save the above strategy tables.

    Next month we'll look at another Blackjack spin-off that I think looks promising.  Its optimum strategy is more complicated than the optimum strategy for Hit & Win, but still much easier to learn than that for Blackjack.  See you in a month.

Donald Catlin

Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers
Donald Catlin
Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers