A rare Englishman among the many Americans on this list, Geoff Hall is a midlands born blackjack game inventor amongst other things, responsible for some of the most popular variations both in land based and online casinos.
The eldest of four boys, Geoff enjoyed meddling with the rules of board games as a child, and with parents who were serious bridge players card games were part of his life from birth.
Like almost everyone who has made a name for themselves in blackjack, Geoff is a competent mathematician, going from a promising maths student at school to earning a degree in mathematics from the University of Leicester.
He topped up his education with a post grad in education before going into teaching for 5 years. He enjoyed the job but didn’t enjoy the pay packet, so he dipped his toe in the world of sales where he liked the pay packet but hated the job.
This led him back to teaching part time, but in an effort to top up his salary Geoff turned to gambling. This was the beginning of a very exciting new chapter for Mr Hall.
Although not widely known as a player, Geoff was successful in his own way.
He first became aware of blackjack on a works night out to a casino in the 1980s. The idea of a game where the player could gain the advantage using mathematics piqued his interest, and he began looking into the various methods of advantage play.
His career crisis came at a time when he was already proficient at card counting and shuffle tracking, as well as Ace locating later on. This enabled him to turn blackjack into a profitable past time and for the next decade he would periodically visit his five closest casinos and make consistent profits.
He never made the big bucks doing this, but then he wasn’t playing aggressively enough as he still had a job, and this actually helped him to stay under the radar – he wasn’t barred from playing for years.
When this did finally happen he mixed up his play at the remaining casinos to give himself more camouflage, starting with a game called Kalooki, before dabbling in poker.
He realised he could use his head for numbers to win similar amounts playing poker and with none of the heat associated with advantage play in blackjack, so his time in the casino was being spent 80% on poker and only 20% on blackjack by the time he came up with his first blackjack variation idea.
It was in 1999 that Geoff Hall taught his last school lesson, and launched his first ever game, Blackjack Switch.
Geoff used to play two hands at the same time, and while playing one night he had a run of hands where if his top cards had just been the other way around, he would have been onto a winner.
This got the cogs whirring and 6 months later Blackjack Switch was born.
Geoff took the game to Vegas, exhibited it at the G2E (Global Gaming Expo) in October of 2000, and by February of the next year the game was making its’ debut at Harvey’s Casino in Iowa. It lasted for 10 months and the feedback was that players loved the ‘switch’ aspect, but that some of the other rules weren’t going down so well, specifically the fact that the dealer was winning ties on 17, 18, and 19 and that Aces could not be switched.
As interest was dwindling in Iowa, the Taj Mahal installed the game in New Jersey using the same rules and similar feedback came back.
This led to Geoff developing the game changing Push 22 rule that he would go on to use on many of his other inventions. It was a way for the casino the gain some edge back while allowing players more freedom with the switch element.
The trick with this rule was psychological, because although the hand would be a push for all players every time the dealer bust on 22, a win turned into a push is a lot easier to stomach than a push turned into a loss as it worked in the old rules.
This change transformed the game, and not long after the Casino Royale, an all important strip casino, got in touch and wanted to install Blackjack Switch. They marketed the game heavily – it was an attempt to get customers back through the door after the 2007/8 crash – and soon had 6 tables all packed out.
The director of The Wynn visited Casino Royale and saw how popular the game was and soon had it installed in his casino, then MGM followed, and after that things snowballed and the game was well and truly established.
Other Blackjack Games Invented by Geoff Hall
The initial success of Blackjack Switch made it much easier for Geoff to get his future inventions in front of the right people, many of which are covered on this site.
His unique ability to look at a new game from both the casino’s perspective and the players has made him prolific, creating variations that are both profitable and engaging.
He is often cited as being able to come up with the best ‘hooks’ of any game inventor.
His best loved games are:
- Blackjack Switch
- Free Bet Blackjack
- Zappit Blackjack
If you are familiar with these games, you will notice that his creations make an attempt to give the player more control, flexibility and choice.
Geoff’s own list of his games that he feels never received the momentum he had hoped for include:
- Zombie Blackjack
- Power Blackjack
- Burn 20s Blackjack
- Never Bust Blackjack
- Deal and Reveal
- Blackjack Press
That said, most of them are still available in at least a few casinos, and online versions of his games have been made available too. Playtech created a very popular version of Blackjack Switch and he has worked with IGT as well, most notably on Power Blackjack.
Halls’ relationship with Shuffle Master (bought out by Bally under the Scientific Gaming umbrella) has resulted in numerous online blackjack variations as well.
Interestingly, he was also involved in the early stages of Playtech’s iPoker network, before handing the reigns over to a friend, and he created a poker game called Poker XX. However, another friend was also developing poker variants and he didn’t want to be in competition with a pal, so he agreed not to push that side of things.
What a guy.
Geoff Hall the Man
Despite his success over in Nevada and the rest of the United States, Geoff still lives in England. The father of two is no rock and roll casino star, despite having a penchant for sports cars, and visits Vegas for around 10 weeks of the year for business purposes and to see how his games are doing.
He is still developing new ideas too, with Lucky Cat Blackjack being his latest brain child. Time will tell how that one goes down, but it involves using special dice to determine a payout that can be as high as 100:1.
Outside of work, Geoff is a skilled pianist, an aspiring writer (fiction), and likes getting away to the countryside with his cocker spaniel.
Not, perhaps, the stereotypical pursuits of someone responsible for creating games that cause the sort of hype associated with Vegas casinos. He does still enjoy the occasional night at the casino but he is more likely to be found in his hot tub than counting cards at the blackjack table these days.