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Series / Gambit

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It's all in the cards!

Merrill Heatter-Bob Quigley Game Show which premiered on CBS in 1972, on the same day as The Joker's 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 (following a 1979 pilot). 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 Game Show Network from 2008-11 as Catch 21. The show was hosted by Alfonso Ribeiro and marked the return of not only Gambit, but Heatter, who had not gotten a game on the air since The Last Word ended 18 years earlier. Game Show Network announced a 2019 revival, again hosted by Ribeiro with Whitney Carson as the dealer.



  • Actor Allusion: In one episode of Catch 21, a contestant (a wedding planner) talks about an incident where she accidentally caused the bride and her father to trip down the aisle during a wedding. Alfonso jokes that it sounds like good material for "[his] other show".
  • The Announcer: Kenny Williams for the first two versions, and John Cramer for Casino. Neither incarnation of Catch 21 has an announcer.
  • Bonus Round:
    • The Gambit Board, where the winning couple picked numbers for prizes or cash, and was given a card after each pick. 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 the prizes, the front game jackpot, and a new car.
    • The 1979 pilot had "Gambit 6-Ball", where you played a giant skee-ball board, with 6 balls and tried to get two balls into up to 4 holes for various prizes. Roll into an Ace or Jack hole, you get a car. Lighting up all the letters in "GAMBIT" won $10,000. There were also two empty spots which made you lose a ball.
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    • Originally, Las Vegas Gambit started with an 18-square Gambit Board, where hitting 21 won $5,000 plus the prizes and jackpot. Around May or June 1981, this was changed to the Gambit Galaxy note . 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 — a number that couldn't be removed from the board — or leaving just the 1 on the board ended the game with $100/number. Rolling doubles awarded an insurance marker; if the couple hit a bad roll, they could turn it in and keep playing.
    • The 1990 pilot had a "beat the dealer" game; the contestant gets five chances for cards by answering questions. Once they get the cards (up to five, or less if they chose to freeze), the dealer begins drawing cards; if the dealer busts by getting more than 21, or by being unable to beat the contestant, the player wins $5,000. If they managed to get a 21 during the question half, they get $10,000.
    • Catch 21 used three hands with one card dealt to each and the contestant directing the subsequent cards to any column they wanted. If they got a card they didn't want to play, they could remove it by spending a Power Chip earned during the front game (one for each round won, plus one for winning the game, for a maximum of four), but doing so meant they were required to play the next card drawn (or use another Power Chip). Getting a 21 awarded $1,000 for one column, $5,000 for two columns, and $25,000 (sometimes $50,000) for all three columns. Busting in any one column at any time ended the game and caused the contestant to lose any money earned during the bonus round, though the player could choose after playing a card to stop and keep their current winnings. This was imported from the Casino attempt, where it had a potential top prize of $100,000.
    • The 2019 revival changes the payout structure slightly, so that the prizes for hitting 21s are now upgrades (the original run added the player’s bonus winnings to the $1,000 the contestant gets for winning the front game). The first 21 upgrades your initial $1,000 prize to $2,500, with the $5K and $25K prizes staying the same.
  • Bonus Space:
    • The Gambit Board often included hidden spaces that gave the players a chance to win extra money in different ways, as long as they didn't bust. For a period in Summer 1975, the show instituted a special rule where any couple who hit a two-card 21 at any time won $10,000.
    • Also applied to a period where "Half-Checks" were used: "$5", "$1,", "$2,5", "$5,", and "$10," spaces were on the board plus the relevant zeros. When two were paired together, the couple would win the money if they didn't bust. Non-zero spaces could also carry over to subsequent games if they didn't bust.
    • The second through fourth seasons of the original Catch 21 awarded a bonus prize to the first player (if any) to make a 21 in the front game. Averted in the 2019 revival.
  • Celebrity Edition: One episode of Catch 21 featured a reunion of Alfonso's co-stars from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air — James Avery, Tatiana Ali, and Karyn Parsons — as contestants.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: The finale of Las Vegas Gambit had a couple who tried to take advantage of Wink failing to hear their answer to the question "From what direction do the east winds blow?" They initially responded "west to east", after which Wink asked them to repeat the answer; the couple, knowing they had given the wrong answer, tried to take advantage by changing their answer—however, the judge did hear the original response and signaled to Wink, who immediately ordered them — not too kindly — to "say what you said", to which the couple did. (Fortunately for this team, their mess-up came at the start of the game in which this occurred.)
  • Failure Is the Only Option: During an episode of the GSN era, one contestant was caught between a rock and a hard place in Round 2 — Player 3 froze with a 20, making 21 the winning score. The middle player had 19 and the first player had 16. The middle player drew a 5 and had two choices — bust himself, eliminating himself from the round and holding out a hope that Player 1 busted as well, or give the 5 to Player 1 so his 16 becomes 21. Player 2 busted himself and Player 1 wound up getting a 5 anyway, getting 21 and eliminating Player 2 from the game. Poor guy had no chance.
  • Golden Snitch:
    • A score of 21 was an instant win, awarding the Gambit Jackpot (see below).
    • Also applied to Catch 21, minus the Progressive Jackpot. However, from Season 2 onward there was 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 were played with Scoring Points, at 100 per question and 500 for winning the hand. The third round wiped the scores of the last two players, and the winner of that hand (no Scoring Points here) won 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 Round 3 could win with one correct answer at just the right time.
      • You didn't even need a correct answer as long as you could pull a 21 off your opponent's freeze. You read that right: once one player froze, the other player was dealt cards with no more questions asked until they won or busted. This only applied to Catch 21, though — in Gambit, you had to continue answering questions to keep getting cards; one wrong answer lost the round.
    • The 2019 revival of Catch 21 doesn’t use Scoring Points at all. Instead, winning either or both of the first two hands puts you through to round 3. If the same player wins both of the first two hands, the other two draw cards for the other spot. You read that right: the number of questions you answer means nothing at all now.
  • History Repeats: Alfonso later went onto host America's Funniest Home Videos- the previous host, Tom Bergeron, had also hosted a revival of a Heatter-Quigley game show (The Hollywood Squares).
  • Kazoos Mean Silliness: The theme to Las Vegas Gambit uses kazoos.
  • Long Runner: The first GSN run was four seasons, a rarity for them — most of their games tend to stop at two seasons.
  • Lovely Assistant: Elaine Stewart (Mrs. Merrill Heatter) on the CBS run, Beverly Malden and later Lee Menning on the NBC run, Mikki Padilla on the original Catch 21, Witney Carson (aka Alfonso's dance partner on Season 19 of Dancing with the Stars) in the 2019 revival. Susie Fawcett held the role in the 1990 pilot, and it was Tanya Memme for Casino.
  • Luck-Based Mission:
    • In the bonus round of Catch 21, there was nothing to back you up if the cards failed you and you ran out of power chips.
    • The tiebreaker for elimination on Catch 21 as well. If two players were joint second after two hands, a draw of cards determines who goes through. The 2019 revival doesn’t use Scoring Points in any round; if the same player wins both of the first two hands, the other players draw for it.
    • The front game of any version counts—since only the first card of each game was shown, winning a question meant having to choose between taking a card of random value or giving it to the opponent. Taking the card is only safe if the couple has a score of 11 or lower (12 or greater had a possibility of busting); giving the card away gave the opposing couple a chance at a good hand (which could immediately be frozen).
  • Obvious Rule Patch: On Gambit, couples that had cards given to them could immediately freeze despite not winning the immediate question beforehand. On Catch 21, barring hands of 21, players could only freeze after winning a question and taking the immediate next card.
  • Porky Pig Pronunciation: Wink once had some difficulty telling a couple they had received a copy of the World Book Encyclopedia.
  • Product Placement: The power chips on Catch 21 were sometimes sponsored early on by Burger King. Often, the contestants said (and were likely instructed to say) that they would "have it their way" when using them.
    • In one of the episodes with the BK power chips, the question "If your husband is wearing undershorts marked Home of the Whopper, which fast food restaurant did they most likely come from?" appeared in Round 1.
    • Also in the early seasons, Round 3 was sponsored by Foster Grant, and both Alfonso and Mikki (who wore the glasses) made sure to ask "Who's behind those Foster Grants?"
  • Progressive Jackpot:
    • As stated, the Gambit Jackpot—get a 21 in the front game, get $500 plus $500 for every show (every match on Las Vegas) not won. This was also picked up in the endgame when the Gambit Board was in use.
    • For the Big Numbers/High Rollers endgame, the Gambit Galaxy would be the top prize- $5,000 plus lots of prizes (growing every day).
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: A long-running one on ITV, from 1975 to 1985 (outlasting both American runs); since it was from Anglia (the people behind the 1970s/80s UK Sale of the Century), it had a far smaller budget, though compared to Sale it wasn't the butt of jokes as much. Fred Dinenage served as host until 1983, with Tom O'Connor taking over for the final two years (Dickie Davies of World of Sport fame hosted the unseen pilot). The show came back briefly in 1995, albeit in the Anglia region only; for that revival Gary Thompson hosted and the format was taken from the unsold Bob Eubanks pilot.
  • Title Drop: You don't hit 21 on Catch 21, you "catch 21 exactly".
  • Viva Las Vegas!: Las Vegas Gambit was taped at the Tropicana Hotel. The 2019 revival of Catch 21 is also recorded in Las Vegas.
  • Whammy:
    • Going over 21 meant you automatically lost the game/match, and at the Gambit Board, meant you forfeited whatever prizes you had picked up.
    • In the "Gambit 6-Ball" endgame, there were two "Dead holes" that made you lose a ball.
    • In the "Gambit Galaxy" endgame, making a bad roll without an insurance marker.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: Not stated directly, but Wink would often come across a question that was incredibly silly.
    Wink: Marlon Brando starred in the 1957 film Sayonara as an American officer in love with a Japanese girl. Now, in Japanese, does the word sayonara mean "I love you", "good-bye", or "tablecloth"?
    Mr. Brown: Good-bye.
    Wink: That's right. (pauses, then tears up a card) I'm gonna tear that one up. I'm never gonna run across that one again. You know, I've been breaking up at some of these questions. The guys have been working overtime, haven't they? Yes.

Alternative Title(s): Catch 21