Pick One 21
Pick One 21 blackjack is an unusual game, even among the ever-expanding landscape of hybrid table games. Based on blackjack, the game requires players to bet on one of two hands – the Blue hand or the Red hand. In both cases, the hands are played out according to regular blackjack procedure, hitting to improve their total or standing when they’ve reached a certain value.
In this case, however, players don’t have to make the hit/stand decisions, and instead, wager on which hand (Blue or Red) will win. In order to make this decision, players can see a single card from each of the two-card starting hands, using this partial information to determine which hand has the higher likelihood of winding up the winner.
This page has everything you need to know about Pick One 21. We’ll run through the game’s rules and gameplay setup, including the unique dual hand system, available wagers, and player actions. You’ll find a discussion on the game’s current status within the brick and mortar casino industry, followed by a guide to the overall Pick One 21 strategy used to play properly.
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Pick One 21 is an offshoot of traditional blackjack, so before we move on any further, readers who may not be accustomed to the rules of twenty-one should take a moment to read up on the game at our main blackjack page.
Once you know how blackjack works on the most basic level, you’ll be better equipped to tackle the innovations and updates included in Pick One 21 blackjack.
The first aspect of Pick One 21 blackjack to take note of concerns the deck of cards you’ll be playing with.
In this game, the “Spanish” deck is used. A Spanish deck is the standard 52 card deck of playing cards, minus the four 10s. This deck is used in popular variants like Spanish 21. A shoe holding six Spanish decks will be put in play to streamline the dealing process.
Aside from the absence of the four 10s, the deck remains the same. So you’ll be playing with 2s through 9s, followed by Js, Qs, Ks, and As.
Another difference to keep in mind is how these cards are valued. Just like in regular blackjack, the 2s through 9s are valued at their numerical rank, while the face cards (Js, Qs, Ks) are valued at 10. But in Pick One 21, the four aces (As) in the deck hold a value of only 1.
This differs from the usual blackjack values, which make an ace count as a 1 or an 11, depending on the situation.
The Premium Rule
Based on the rules, experienced blackjack players may have noticed by now that Pick One 21 can be played quite easily when the cards line up properly.
Suppose you see a 10 value card as the Blue hand’s up card, while the Red hand shows a lower valued up card (a K versus a 4, for example). In this case, the clear and overwhelming choice is to back the Blue hand, as it is highly likely to find another 10 value in the hole to create a 20 total and a big favorite.
Pick One 21 addresses this discrepancy through the “Premium” rule. In this game, any combination of Blue and Red cards which features a 10 value against a 2 through 9 is considered a Premium.
Obviously, you’ll be taking the 10 in these Premium scenarios every time out. In order to level the playing field, and preserve the house’s precious edge, the game’s inventors dictated that players taking the 10 in a Premium matchup must beat the other hand in order to collect on their wager.
In other words, when backing the 10 in a Premium scenario, ties won’t result in a push like usual, and instead, your bet will be lost to the house.
How to Play Pick One 21
Place an Ante Bet
To begin a hand of Pick One 21, players must put up a mandatory ante bet which equals or exceed the posted table minimum.
Going forward, we’ll rely on a running example hand to help illustrate important gameplay concepts from the player’s perspective. So, imagine that we’ve placed a $5 chip on the ante bet.
Dealer Distributes the Cards
When all players have anted up, the dealer will then distribute four cards onto the felt, which will be separated into a pair of two card starting blackjack hands. One of the hands is labeled “Blue,” while the other is labeled “Red.”
In both the Red and Blue hands, one card will be turned face up (the “up” card), while the other remains face down (the “hole” card).
For the running example hand, we’ll imagine that the Blue hand shows the 8d as the up card, while the Red hand shows the 4c.
The Player Picks a Hand
After examining each of the up cards, the player’s job is to guess which hand will become the winner after the usual blackjack hit/stand procedures are followed.
Players may choose the Blue hand, the Red hand, or the Tie, and to input this decision, you’ll press a specially designed button outfitted on the Pick One 21 table. This step is to ensure that each player is making their own decisions, rather than simply copying the actions previously taken by other players.
When betting on either the Blue or Red hand, players also have the option to double their initial wager.
When betting on the Tie, players are hoping to see the Blue and Red hands wind up with identical, non-busted totals.
Let’s return to the running example hand to see how all of this shakes out. With an 8 showing for the Blue hand and a 4 showing for the Red hand, the obvious choice would be to back the Blue hand. Think of this decision as you would a normal blackjack scenario: if you show a 4 versus the dealer’s 8, you’re clearly the underdog. So with a 4 versus an 8 in this game, go with the hand which has the best chance of winning.
That means we’ll back the Blue hand here, and with such a strong up card against a relatively weak up card for the Red hand, we’ll even use the double option to increase our wager. We now have $10 at risk and we’re betting on the Blue hand to win.
The Dealer Turns the Cards
Once all players have inputted their decisions, the dealer will then turn over the hole cards for both the Blue and Red hands. From here, normal blackjack procedure is followed.
Thus, any total of 17 or under will take a hit, or draw another card, in order to improve the total. In this game, soft or hard 17s don’t make a difference, so any total of 16 or less will be hit, and any total of 17 or more will stand.
As is true in standard real money blackjack games, hitting and taking a card which causes the total to exceed 21 is known as “going bust.” Any non-busted hand will always beat a busted hand, and in the event that both hands go bust, wagers on either the Blue or Red hand will wind up losing, while wagers on the Tie bet will win.
Falling back to the running example hand, let’s assume the Blue hand finds a face card in the hole, as is expected (the Jc), while the Red hand’s hole card is the 9s. In this case, the Blue hand shows a total of 18 (8 + 10 = 18), so it will stand and take no further cards.
The Red hand isn’t so lucky, however, and showing a total of 13 (4 + 9 = 13), it must hit. After taking a third card (the 4h), the Red hand has reached a total of 17 and will stand.
Declare a Winner and Get Paid
In Pick One 21 blackjack, the hand which reaches a total of 21, or closest to it, without going bust is declared the winner.
Wagers on the winning color hand pay out at even money while winning wagers on the Tie bet payout at 3 to 1. When betting on either color, ties result in your wager being returned as a push.
For the running example hand, we’ve wagered $10 ($5 ante + $5 double = $10) on the Blue hand to win. We got lucky and the Blue hand’s 18 total just pipped the Red hand’s 17 total, so we’d win even money on our total wager for a profit of $10.
If the Red hand had hit and found a 5 instead of a 4, producing an 18 total to tie the Blue hand, only wagers on the Tie would win. Our bet on the Blue hand would be returned as a push in the event of a tie.
Best Places to Play Pick One 21
According to industry lore, Pick One 21 made its debut placement at the now defunct Sahara Casino in Las Vegas in 2001.
After about a year on the floor, the game disappeared entirely from the casino landscape, residing in table game limbo for more than a decade. Eventually, Pick One 21 is said to have been revived by the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville in 2013 – but searches on that venue’s website show no current listing for the game.
The Game’s Forgotten State
An extensive search for casinos offering Pick One 21 at this time revealed nothing of note, which suggests that the game faded away into obscurity for a second time after its most recent revival.
Of course, you may be able to find holdover tables hidden away on your local casino floor, but given the ever-evolving nature of the table game industry, chances are good that Pick One 21 has fallen by the wayside.
Pick One 21 Strategy
For a one stop shop on Pick One 21 strategy, we humbly recommend the wizard himself, Michael Shackleford, over at the Wizard of Odds.
Shackleford is a world renowned casino game theorist and mathematician who has devoted his professional career to cracking the code behind casino games.
He’s performed his usual magic on Pick One 21, so head here to Shackleford’s main page for the game, where you’ll find a detailed basic strategy chart designed to mimic that used in traditional blackjack.
Identify the Best Play
Using a simple grid system, Shackleford has sketched out the correct play for every possible Red and Blue card.
Find yourself working with a 6 for the Red card and a 5 for the Blue card?
Using Shackleford’s chart, it’ll take you only a few seconds to determine that betting on the Tie is the optimal play in this situation.
Shackleford’s page also includes crucial information on the house edge offered by Pick One 21 blackjack (2.09 percent), along with a wealth of data on the various probabilities and expected returns inherent to every possible wager.
Pick One 21 Blackjack History
The original trademark application for a casino game concept known as Pick One 21 was filed in 1998 by a company called Hambolu, LLC.
Based out of Independence, Missouri, local business directories refer to Hambolu, LLC as,
“a manufacturer of relays and industrial controls (with) the capabilities to design and manufacture electro-mechanical products.”
This vague description makes a modicum of sense, considering the use of electronic button controls during the game.
An official U.S. patent on the Pick One 21 blackjack concept and the specific electronic table equipment used to play the game was issued in 2001. On that paperwork, the game’s invention is officially credited to a trio of designers: Timothy E. Eaton, Christopher M. Eaton, and Jeffery D. Hohman.
The current status of Hambolu, LLC, and Pick One 21 along with it remains unknown.
Debut and Current Status of the Game
The game received a debut placement in the Sahara Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2001, but it only lasted for about a year before being removed.
For more than a decade after that Pick One 21 languished as an unplaced game, but in 2013 it was somehow revived, appearing at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma.
Once more, though, the game failed to catch on with players, and it was eventually removed from the floor for the second time. Since then, no further installations for Pick One 21 can be located.