Free Bet Blackjack Strategy Guide
Free Bet Blackjack is a game that’s been around for decades but that is primarily offered online in the live format by Evolution Gaming. The catch here is that you get free doubles and splits under many circumstances, and this leads to some really exciting play as you can get twice the winnings with no increased risk.
An Introduction to Free Bet Blackjack
If you’re familiar with the Blackjack Switch game that’s offered by a few different software providers online, then you’ll find it interesting to know that the Free Bet Blackjack game was created by the same person (Geoff Hall). The idea behind this game is that players get free bets in certain common situations in exchange for one significant rule change that helps the dealer.
We’ll get into the details of how and why this works below, but that’s the basic dynamic of how the game is set up, and all strategies flow from that basic concept.
Free Bet Blackjack strategy is easier in some situations than other games while more complicated than others. As a result, it offers a bit of a break from the common patterns that you see in strategy for the genre, and it gives players something fresh to work on if they’re tired of the more common games.
The Basic Rules and Gameplay Procedures
To understand what makes this game stand out in terms of strategy, you have to really understand the rules and how those rules are different than pretty much any other form of the game out there.
Here are the basic rules to know about this game that affect the strategies that you need to learn to perform well:
- A six-deck game is typically used here. Players get a lower house edge if eight decks are used.
- The dealer will hit on a soft 17, and blackjack only pays 3:2 instead of 2:1 (but thankfully not 1:1).
- You can only double when you have two cards, but you do have the ability to double after splitting, and you can split up to four hands total.
- Players can split aces but the resulting hands are automatically stood.
- Doubling and splitting is permitted, but there is no surrender option in this game.
Aside from that, there are three special rules that are different than most other games:
- If the dealer busts out with 22, and the player has 21 or less, than the player pushes instead of winning.
- Doubling is free with a total of nine, ten or eleven. You can double with other combinations of two cards, but there is no extra cost for doubling with 9-11.
- Splitting is free with any two matching cards except for those with a value of 10.
As you can tell from these changes, a higher level of aggression is called for both for splitting and doubling, and we’ll also have to take into account the change in value from the dealer busting with 22 only being a push instead of a win.
Free Bet Blackjack Strategy: Theory and Practice
When starting out with this game, you’ll have to break freak from the auto-pilot that many players go into when they sit down to play. Instead, you’ll have to focus on the rule changes compared to typical blackjack tables so that you don’t make massive strategic errors.
The main thing that you should be asking yourself at first is if the hand in front of you is normal or if it is the result of a free bet. This is because the strategies are different in the general sense because you’ll be more aggressive with the free bet hands. With that said, here is a fundamental idea that you want to keep in mind:
Always split when it’s free (ie: with all non-10 value cards), and always double with two-card totals of 9, 10 and 11.
From there, you can get into more specific strategies based on whether it’s a normal hand or a hand that’s the result of a free bet, which we’re going to get into below in separate sections because the strategies are so different.
Normal Hands in Free Bet Blackjack
Play with normal hands in these games is actually pretty close to standard with all things considered. However, you do have to make some serious adjustments for the fact that the dealer pushes on a total of 22. This means that you have to be a little more aggressive in certain spots and a little less aggressive in others.
There are basically only a few cases to know when playing normal hands with hard totals, and a couple of them are really obvious and easy to remember: Always hit with 8 or lower, and always double with 9-11. With that, we get to the more difficult points:
- When facing dealer cards of 2-6, you’ll always stand with two exceptions. Hit with a total of 12 when facing a 2-4, and hit with a total of 13 when facing a 2.
- With dealer cards of 7 and higher (including aces), you’ll hit with totals of 12-16. There are no exceptions here to remember.
- Always stand with any total of 17 or higher. There are no exceptions with normal hands that have hard totals.
In short, these spots aren’t that hard to learn, but there are some changes from typical multi-deck strategy, and a failure to adjust will hurt your bottom line substantially.
There are five spots where you should double with a soft total without a free bet. When facing a five, double with 17-18, and when facing a six, double with 16-18. Note that these doubles will cost the usual amounts because they aren’t covered under the free bet rule since you don’t have a total of 9-11 here.
Outside of those doubling situations, hit with a 17 or lower and stand with a 19 or higher. When you have an 18, you’ll stand with 8 or lower and hit with 9 or higher, which is the only really tricky part of this portion of the overall strategy to remember.
Free Hands in Free Bet Blackjack
With a free hand, things get quite a bit more complicated, and this is when getting off of auto-pilot and making sure you’re using the right type of strategy for the hand in front of you is so important.
One thing to know is that you shouldn’t always split when you have a free hand that’s paired up. If you have fives (for a total of ten), then you should double instead since it’s free. Also, you should stand with tens instead of splitting, but you should split with all over cards, which is free in all cases.
Like the above, we’ll split free hand strategies up into two sections: hard totals and soft totals.
Once again, you’ll always hit with eight or lower and double with 9-11. However, you’ll always stand with 18 and up (instead of 17 and up for paid hands).
From there, we can split the game into two types of hands for totals of 12 through 17:
- Against a dealer 2-6, always stand except in the following cases: 12 facing 2-4, 13 facing 2 or 14 facing 2 are all situations where you should hit.
- Against a dealer 7-A, always hit except if you have a 17 against a 10 specifically, in which case you should stand.
Again, it’s not that these situations are so difficult to learn as much as it’s tricky to turn off that “auto-pilot” mode and think about the type of hand that you have in front of you.
Against a 4, double with 18. Against a 5, double with 17-19. Against a 6, double with 16-20, the latter of which will be difficult for a lot of players to do because the underlying mechanics are a little tricky from a math standpoint, but suffice to say that these are the plays that will give you the best payouts on average, even though you actually pay money to make these particular doubles.
If you aren’t doubling, then you’ll always hit with 18 and lower, and you’ll always stand with 19 or higher with just one exception. If you have a soft 18 with a free hand against a 7, you should actually just stand. This is because of how often the dealer will hit once, get a ten and still lose to your 18.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
If you play correctly in this game, you’ll stand to have a payout rate of about 99 percent, which is a house edge of about 1 percent. That’s not bad in general, but it’s actually on the lower end for blackjack games. The reason for this is that this is actually a much easier game to learn than most other blackjack titles.
With that having been said, you’ll generally see Free Bet Blackjack set up as a live dealer game if you’re playing online, and that puts you in a position to use a card counting system to cut down the house’s edge a bit more than it would otherwise have. Whether you can get an edge against the house overall is up to how you pick your spots and how deep they allow the game shoes to go.
One more thing to note is that this game is atypical in another way: The more decks you have in Free Bet Blackjack, the lower the house advantage becomes. This can be anti-intuitive because it’s the opposite for virtually every other blackjack game out there, so if you see an eight-deck Free Bet Blackjack game, take that into account since the standard rules call for six.
This is an excellent game for players who enjoy having a good amount of strategy in their games without having to go to extreme lengths to practice and study. It’ll take a little while to get to the point that you can play perfectly, but most players will be able to do it with just a few hours of work.
In general, Free Bet Blackjack strategy allows for a lot more doubling and splitting, which makes it a much more exciting game. This also adds to the volatility a bit, which increases your odds of long winning streaks.