Most inventors of card games are never remembered. That’s partially because most card games evolve from something else, with their history difficult to trace precisely. Texas Hold’em is one of the most popular variations of poker in the world, for example, and yet very little is known about its origins other than the fact that Texas Legislature officially says that it was ‘born’ in Robstown.
It is interesting to note, therefore, that Geoff Hall is known as being the man who invented not just one but several variations on the base game of blackjack. If you’ve ever played a different form of blackjack than just the straight twenty-one variety then the chances are high that you’ll have played a game that Geoff Hall came up with. Even so, there’s not a lot known about the man himself.
Who Is Geoff Hall?
A quick look on a popular search engine for the name ‘Geoff Hall’ will reveal plenty of people with that moniker. From doctors to professors, it’s not exactly an unheard of title. Yet to find out about the man who took the game of blackjack and created a myriad of different variations of it, you have to search much deeper. Even then, the information you find will be scant.
Geoff Hall isn’t someone who cares much about the limelight, instead preferring to create his casino games away from the watchful eye of the public. The oldest of four boys, his interest in card games ways piqued by the fact that his parents were talented bridge players. A talented mathematician at school, Hall went on to study the subject at the University of Leicester.
Having gained his Honours degree, Hall went on to do a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education, hoping to teach Mathematics and Statistics in schools around the West Midlands area. Eventually he left teaching in order to enter sales, but that career wasn’t for him. Instead, he returned to teaching on a part-time basis and became a professional gambler in order to top up his earnings.
Falling in Love with Blackjack
Hall’s first proper experience with blackjack came on a work night out when he became fascinated with how the game worked. That you could give yourself a natural advantage simply by using mathematics and innate ability was something that he found intriguing. He soon learnt how to count cards before developing other advantage techniques. These included shuffle tracking and ace locating, both of which gave a higher return.
Soon a number of casinos in the United Kingdom banned Hall from being able to play there, so he took up a game called Kalooki in order to prolong his gambling career. Kalooki is a rummy-type game, which offered tournaments at casinos. When he got his dates wrong one night, the tournament being played was poker rather than Kalooki. Despite not knowing much about it, he joined in and soon found that he could earn as much in poker tournaments as in blackjack.
Having been counting cards since the late 1980s after a fellow blackjack player lent him a book on the subject, Hall soon switched his allegiance to poker tournaments. He realised that that way of making money was not just as profitable as blackjack, but that he wouldn’t be banned from casinos because of it. Towards the end of his career as a professional gambler, Hall estimates that around eighty percent of his time was spent playing poker and the rest on blackjack.
Becoming a Game Inventor
Hall’s preference on the blackjack table was to sit at the end and play the last two boxes. He would often notice that he would have had a much stronger hand if he’d been able to switch the top cards in the two boxes. This remained in Hall’s head for sometime, giving him pause for thought on a trip to Las Vegas when he played a variation of blackjack known as Spanish 21. That was in 1999, the point at which Hall officially became a game inventor.
Having worked on his new game for a year, he demonstrated Blackjack Switch for the first time at the G2E conference in Las Vegas in the October of 2000. By February of 2001, the new game was installed in its first ever venue – Harvey’s Casino in Iowa. The major players were still unsure about taking the game up, but when Hall added the Push 22 rule everything changed. His new game was installed at The 4 Queens in Las Vegas in December 2003.
Hall believes that his experience as a card counter and an advantage player is part of what makes him such a good game inventor. What he refers to as his ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ persona gives him the ability to see things from the perspective of both the player and the casino, trying to find flaws in his games that advantage players could abuse. He also tries to think about what would make the game more appealing to a gambler and make them want to play.
Games Hall Invented
At the time of writing, Geoff Hall is still alive and very much in the business of coming up with new games to be played in casinos around the world. With that in mind, it’s fair to say that this list is unlikely to be an exhaustive one and new games could have been created by the time that you come to read this piece.
That being said, here’s a closer look at the games that Geoff Hall has created so far in his game-making career. We’ll explain how the games work and, where possible, how he came up with the ideas.
Patented by Geoff Hall in 2009, Blackjack Switch is a version of the game that sees players dealt two hands instead of one. They’re then allowed to decide whether or not they’d like to switch the top two cards in their hands. Part of the change to the rules involves players being paid out at 1/1 instead of 3/2 for a natural blackjack, plus the dealer pushes all players apart from a natural blackjack if they hit a hard 22.
Hall came up with the game when playing two hands at once in standard blackjack and being frustrated that he’d have had a better hand if he’d been able to switch his top cards. After demonstrating the game that he’d created at the G2E conference in Las Vegas at the turn of the millennium, the game was installed in the Iowa branch of Harvey’s Casino but wasn’t taken up by bigger casino chains.
After continuing to tweak the formula of the game, Hall came up with the idea of the dealer pushing on 22. Once this modification was added to the game, bigger venues became interested and the game was installed at the Four Queens in Las Vegas. Soon it became a popular game at casino venues all around the world, resulting in the software developer Playtech coming up with a version of the game for the online casino market.
One of the biggest money-makers for casinos in blackjack games isn’t the play itself, but rather any side bets that exist. In the case of Blackjack Switch, many casinos offer a Super Match side bet. This pays out if the initial four cards dealt to the player contains a pair, which pays 1/1, three-of-a-kind (5/1), two pair (8/1) or four of a kind. The latter is the highest payout, giving the player odds of 40/1.
Free Bet Blackjack
Another of Hall’s inventions, Free Bet Blackjack gives the player the ability to split or doubling their hand without risking their own money. It was first played at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas on the twentieth of June 2012 and is popular because it presents more doubles and splits than you’d find in a game of standard blackjack. That appeals to those who find basic strategy in standard blackjack too difficult to get to grips with.
The game uses the same rules as normal blackjack, but with a number of alterations. Firstly, it uses six decks and the dealer takes a hit on a soft seventeen. You’re allowed to double after a split, though you can only double on two cards. You can re-split pairs for up to four hands, which includes aces. There is no surrender, whilst the ‘free doubles’ only happen on hard totals of nine, ten or eleven. You can still do a standard double and free doubles see your original bet matched.
When getting a free bet, you only receive one additional card. If you lose then you only lose your original wager, whilst if the hand ends up being pushed, which happens on a hard 22, you’ll only receive your original wager back. If the player ends up winning then they get back not just the original bet but also the associated ‘free’ bet wager, essentially resulting in a double win.
When it comes to the free splits side of the game, you can take the offer up on any pair except for a pair of tens. Your cards will be divided into two one-card hands, with the original wager placed on the first hand and the ‘free’ bet placed on the second hand. You then play out each hand one at a time, taking free doubles and free splits if and when they occur. If you win, your free bet will be paid out with real chips, but you lose the free bet on losing hands or pushes.
The Push 22 rule that Geoff Hall created, which sees bets pushed if the dealer hits 22, has given him the flexibility to create any number of different blackjack variants. Zombie Blackjack is a good example of this, allowing a player’s busted hand to ‘come back to life’ if the dealer also goes bust. A hand can become a zombie hand if the dealer’s first card is a seven up to an ace.
The game was first trialled at The Venetian in Las Vegas during August of 2017. As with other versions of the game that Hall has created, it is based on the standard rules of blackjack but with a number of slight tweaks. These include:
- Between six and eight decks being used
- Dealer hitting on soft 17
- The dealer can peak for blackjack
- The player must double a two-card hand, unless it is two aces
- A double after a split is allowed
- No surrender is allowed
- If the dealer shows a 7, 8, 9, 10 or ace then a player’s busted hand will be ‘boxed’, paying out at Evens if the dealer busts with 23 or more
- A ‘boxed’ bet will be a loser if the dealer gets 22
- Blackjack tends to pay either 1.5/1 or 1.2/1 depending on the casino
- You cannot re-split aces, unless permitted by the casino
The idea of still being alive in a game despite going bust is a popular one. It allowed punters to be a bit more risky with their choice of whether to hit or stand, knowing that they could go bust but still be paid out at even money. The fact that the dealer’s hand will result in a push if it’s a 22 might well shift the odds in the favour of the House, but that doesn’t put players off.
Zappit Blackjack is the most recent creation of Geoff Hall and is therefore not as widespread as the other versions of the game. He sold it to Scientific Games after creating it, which is why it’s most commonly found online and is only in a limited number of physical casinos at the time of writing. As with the other variations that Hall has created, it is based on the basic rules of standard blackjack and is compensated before thanks to the Push 22 rule.
The basic notion of Zappit Blackjack is that a player can choose to ‘zap’ their hand if it sits within a certain range. Say, for example, that your hand is something between 15 and 17, you might not know whether to take a hit or to stand as its an awkward hand. You can choose to ‘Zappit’, which will see your original cards replaced by the next two in the deck, presenting you with an entirely new hand.
You cannot zap your cards after you’ve already zapped, so the ones that you’re dealt after you’ve chosen to Zappit are the ones you’ll need to play with. There are other rules that can be decided upon by the casino, including the fact that a player can choose to Zappit before the dealer peaks for blackjack. A natural blackjack before zapping pays at the standard rate of 3/2, whereas if you’re dealt a blackjack after zapping then it pays 1/1.
Other rules for Zappit Blackjack include the fact that players may surrender and that you can double after you’ve split. If you split aces then they’re dealt one card each, but you can’t re-split aces that have already been split. Dealers will hit on soft seventeen. The game is likely to become as popular as Hall’s other inventions because it offers a player the chance to get rid of an awkward or bad hand in favour of a potentially better one.