This Merrill Heatter Game Show
premiered on CBS
in 1972, on the same day as The Jokers Wild
and The Price Is Right
. Two couples played blackjack while answering knowledge questions asked by host Wink Martindale. Very few episodes are known to have survived.
Martindale returned as host of the successor series, Las Vegas Gambit
, on NBC
in 1980-81. A decade later, Bob Eubanks was the host of a Gambit
pilot for ABC
in 1990, with solo contestants and a different question format; ABC rejected it in favor of a Match Game
revival. GSN attempted a revival in 2002 with three solo players and Ron Pearson as host under the name Casino
, but turned it down for Cram
and Friend or Foe?
With some slight tweaks, the essence of the Casino
format finally made it to GSN
in 2007 under the title Catch 21
, hosted by Alfonso Ribeiro
, one of the few black game show hosts.
- Bonus Round:
- The Gambit Board, where the winning couple picked numbers for prizes or cash, and was given a card. The couple could stop whenever they wished, as going over 21 would forfeit the prizes they had uncovered, but hitting 21 in any way won a growing cash prize and a new car. This format was used for the entire CBS run and for the first few months of the Las Vegas Gambit version.
- Midway through the NBC run, this was changed to the Gambit Galaxy – in actuality, the former High Rollers bonus round. The objective was to, through rolls of two dice, remove the numbers 1-9 from a gameboard; successfully doing so won the Gambit Galaxy (an accruing prize package), while a bad roll – rolling a number that could not be removed from the board – ended the game with $100 given for each number that had been eliminated.
- Catch 21 uses three hands with one card dealt to each and the contestant directing the subsequent cards to any column they wish. Getting a 21 awards $1,000 for one column, $5,000 for two columns, and $25,000 (sometimes $50,000) for all three columns...but busting at any time ends the game.
- Bonus Space: In the pre-"Gambit Galaxy" bonus game, four spots on the board awarded $500 each time any card with the suit pictured was drawn (retroactively including any cards already drawn).
- Golden Snitch: A score of 21 is an instant win, awarding $500 plus $500 for every show (every game on the NBC version) not won. This is also picked up in the endgame.
- Also applies to Catch 21, minus the progressive jackpot. However, since season 2, there is a bonus prize awarded to the first player (if any) to make a 21 in the main game.
- Round 3 of Catch 21. The first two rounds are played with Scoring Points, at 100 per question and 500 for winning the hand. The third round wipes the scores of the last two players, and the winner of that hand (no Scoring Points here) wins the game. A player could get totally curb-stomped in the first two rounds, but as long as their other opponent got curb-stomped worse (100 points vs. no points at all, for example), the guy who barely survived to the third round can win with a single correct answer at just the right time.
- You don't even need a correct answer as long as you can pull a 21 off your opponent's freeze. You read that right: once one player freezes, the other player is dealt cards, no more questions asked, until they win or bust.
- That only applies to Catch 21, though. In Gambit, you have to continue answering questions to keep getting cards; one wrong answer loses the round.
- In the summer of 1975, Gambit instated a special rule. Any couple who hits a two-card 21 at any time won a $10,000 bonus.
This show provides examples of:
- Cheaters Never Prosper: The last-aired episode of Las Vegas Gambit — a rerun of a show aired during the late summer of 1981 — had a couple who tried to take advantage of Wink Martindale failing to hear their answer to the question, "From what direction do the east winds blow?" They initially respond, "West to east," after which Martindale asks them to repeat the answer; the couple, knowing they had given the wrong answer, tries to take advantage by changing their answer. But the judge did hear the original response and signals to Martindale, who immediately orders them — not too kindly — to "say what you said," to which the couple does.
- Failure Is the Only Option: One contestant was caught between a rock and a hard place in the second round of Catch 21. The third player froze with 20 points, making 21 the target score to become the winner. The middle player had 19 and the first player had a 16. The middle player drew a 5 and could only either bust himself, eliminating himself from the round and hopes the first player busts as well, or give the 5 to the first player so his 16 becomes a 21. The 2nd player busts himself and the 1st player winds up getting a 5 anyway, giving him a 21 and eliminating the 2nd player from the game. Poor guy had no chance.
- I Am Not Spock: Alfonso avoids any opportunity to do the "Carlton Dance", even mentioning that GSN gave him a deal that he wouldn't have to do it.
- Large Ham: Alfonso Ribeiro.
- Long Runner: Catch 21 has run four seasons, which is a rarity for GSN — most of their games tend to stop at two seasons.
- Luck-Based Mission: In the final round of Catch 21, there is nothing to back you up if the cards fail you.
- Porky Pig Pronunciation: Wink Martindale had some difficulty telling a couple they had won a copy of the World Book Encyclopedia.
- Product Placement: The power chips on Catch 21 are sometimes sponsored by Burger King. Often, the contestants say (and were likely instructed to say) that they will "have it their way" when using them.
- Title Drop: You don't hit 21 on Catch 21, you "catch 21 exactly".
- Viva Las Vegas: Las Vegas Gambit taped at the Tropicana Hotel.