2011 Global Gaming Expo, part 6

10 November 2011

I've known Joe Awada since the late 1990s when I was asked to look in at the Sahara in Las Vegas, where his new table game was on the floor. It was at Lenny Frome's urging that I went — and more about Lenny in a minute.

Over the years, I've enjoyed Awada's fun little twists on table games, such as the tri-wager 3-5-7, which starts with a blackjack hand, turns it into five-card stud and closing with 7-card stud.

Awada was on the sidelines at Global Gaming Expo last year, but he was back at G2E 2011 with a blackjack variation that plays as much like a basic strategy variation as it does like a side bet. It's called Free Draw, already on Las Vegas casino floors at the Tropicana and New York-New York. By the time you see this, installation should be complete at Sunset Station, too.

"I didn't touch regular blackjack," Awada said when I caught up with him at G2E, at the booth he shared with electronic table games manufacturer Digideal. "All I did was create more action. I always felt that the game needed to be revised, and I always thought there was a way to do it without crashing the game."

You don't make the side bet until after you've seen your first two cards and the dealer's up card. At that point, you can make an extra bet equal to your original wager that the dealer will bust.

If you have a soft 17 or less — not hard 17, just a soft 17 or any 16 and under — and you make the side bet, you get a free draw, one card that you can keep if it improves your hand, but discard if it doesn't. If you have hard 17 or higher, you can still bet the dealer will bust, but you don't get the free card.

Awada, a former World Series of Poker seven-card stud champion, says that properly used, the option cuts 0.03% off the house edge in a six-deck game.

For one thing, if you have hard 17 or higher and don't get the free draw, you should never make this bet. Without getting the free card, it's a simple bet that the dealer will bust, with an even-money payoff. Regardless of dealer up card, that gives the house the kind of double-digit edges it's accustomed to getting on side bets. Stick to the hands where you get the free card.

There's an extra layer to think about. If you have 11 and the dealer has 6, you could double down as usual. Or instead of doubling, you could take the free draw and have two shots at improving your hand. If you take the free draw and get a 5 for a 16, you can discard the 5 and get another chance.

REMEMBERING LENNY: Pointing me to Awada's game wasn't the only time Frome asked to check out a new table game. He once introduced me to game inventor Derek Webb.

"He has a good game and it deserves to be played," Frome said. See what you can do for him. It failed a trial at the Stardust, but I think that was more the Stardust than the game."

The game was Three Card Poker, which later found a footing in Mississippi, then spread across the nation in becoming a casino standard.

But Frome was best known as the first video poker guru, the man who brought playable strategies to the public to help them get the most out of the game. Frome, who died in 1998, was a friend to players, and one of my first friends in gaming when I started writing about casino games at the beginning of 1994. When my wife Marcy and I visited Las Vegas, we loved our evenings with Lenny and his wife Rhoda, which always would start with dinner and conclude with Lenny taking me on a tour to check out new wrinkles in tables and/or video poker.

Now Midwest Gaming and Travel magazine is leading a push to have Frome elected to the Gaming Hall of Fame, an institution that's long on casino developers and owners (William Boyd, Jack Binion, Steve Wynn), entertainers (Frank Sinatra, Wayne Newton, Debbie Reynolds), and even celebrity chefs (Emeril Legasse, Wolfgang Puck), but short on people who taught players about the games they love.

The magazine lays out the case in its November issue with a biographical article by Lenny's son, Elliot Frome. I've contributed a personal remembrance. Check out midwestgamingandtravel.com.

Related Links
Global Gaming Expo (G2E) 2011

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at fscobe@optonline.net.