Gambit (game show): Wikis


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Also known as Las Vegas Gambit
Format Game show
Created by Wayne Cruseturner
Presented by Wink Martindale
Narrated by Kenny Williams
Country of origin  United States
Producer(s) Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley
Location(s) CBS Television City, California (1972-1976)
Tropicana Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas (1980-1981)
Running time approx. 22-26 minutes
Original channel CBS (1972-1976)
NBC (1980-1981)
Original run September 4, 1972 – November 27, 1981

Gambit is a television game show, created by Wayne Cruseturner[1] and produced by Heatter-Quigley Productions, that aired on CBS from September 4, 1972 to December 10, 1976.

A slightly retooled version, Las Vegas Gambit, aired on NBC from October 27, 1980 to November 27, 1981, originating from the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Both versions of the show were hosted by Wink Martindale (often considered to be his breakthrough game show hosting job), and announced by Kenny Williams. Elaine Stewart was the card dealer for the CBS version. On the Las Vegas Gambit version, the card dealer was Beverly Malden; she left half-way through the series' run and was replaced by Lee Menning.

In 2007, GSN revived the Gambit format under the name Catch 21.


Main game

The object of the game was that of blackjack: come as close to 21 as possible without going over (or "busting"). As in blackjack, the cards 2 through 10 were worth their face value; face cards (Kings, Queens and Jacks) counted as 10 and an Ace could count as either 1 or 11.

Martindale asked a series of questions, usually multiple-choice or true-false, to two married couples. The couple who buzzed in and answered the question correctly won control of the next card from the top of a deck of over-sized (but otherwise regulation) playing cards. The first card was shown before the first question, but cards thereafter were presented face down.

Once a couple gained control of a card they had the option of adding it to their own hand or passing it to their opponents. After a couple received any card (whether by choosing to take it themselves or by having a card passed to them from their opponents) they could elect to freeze if they were in the lead (neither team was permitted to freeze when the two were tied), preventing them from receiving any additional cards. This rule prevented their opponents from passing cards to them in order to strategically force them to bust.

Once this happened, the other couple answered questions until one of the following conditions occurred:

Conditions for winning

  • Reaching 21, which not only won the game, but the Gambit Jackpot, which started at $500 and increased by that amount at the start of each day (or at the start of each match on Las Vegas Gambit). After being won the jackpot reset to $500.
  • Having their opponents exceed 21 ("bust"), even if the winners had no cards.
  • Freezing, and then having the opponents miss a question before getting a higher score without going over 21.
  • Having the opponents freeze, and then getting a higher score without going over 21.

Each game won was worth $100. The first team to win two games won the match and advanced to the bonus round.

Bonus round

The Gambit Board

For the entire original series and the first half of Las Vegas Gambit, the winning couple played the Gambit Bonus Board. They faced a large game board with 21 numbered cards (18 numbered video screens on Las Vegas Gambit). Each card/screen concealed a prize; along with each prize the couple chose, they received a card added to their hand from the deck.

The game ended in one of three ways:

  • The couple elected to stop before reaching 21 (especially if they feared the next card would push them over 21 or in some instances, if they won a desirable prize they wanted to keep), keeping all the prizes they've chosen to that point.
  • Going over 21, at which point they lost everything they found on the board.
  • Reaching 21 exactly, wherein they won a new car ($5,000 on Las Vegas Gambit) as well as another Gambit Jackpot and the prizes selected.

From 1972-1976, returning champions continued until winning a grand total of $25,000, relinquishing any winnings over that amount.

From 1972-1975 the show featured annual promotion where the first couple to get a two-card 21 (an Ace and a face card/10) in the bonus round won either $200 a week for a year (totaling $10,400) or a flat $10,000, depending on the year.

During the early episodes of the actual series, a couple could elect to stop only when their hand totaled 17 or more.

There were a number of recurring prizes on the CBS version, including:

  • "Anniversary Dinner" – The couple would be flown to a city on their next anniversary and treated to dinner; there were three of these on the board when this was played, each with a different city – usually two in Europe, but the third was always Burbank.
  • "Suit" Cards – One card of each of the four suits of cards; each was worth $500, plus $500 for each card the couple got in that bonus round of that suit as long as they did not go over 21.
  • During December, trips to various football bowl games including the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Cotton Bowl, were offered. A couple winning more than one of these trips would not be able to take all of them as they all occur around New Year's Day, and like most trips given away on game shows had to be taken within a year of winning them and could not be transferred.
  • "Beat The House" – Contestants winning this prize would then have the opportunity to play one hand of blackjack "against the house" for a cash prize using standard single-deck rules, with the possible exception being that there did not appear to be any cases in which contestants could split a pair or double down.

The Gambit Galaxy

The second half of Las Vegas Gambit featured "The Big Numbers", a game borrowed from another Heatter-Quigley game, High Rollers. The couple was presented with a pair of dice and was asked to eliminate the numbers 1 through 9 from a board in front of them. To do this, the couple eliminated numbers that added up to the total they rolled (for instance, if the couple rolled a 10 they could eliminate 4 and 6; 3 and 7; 1, 2, 3, and 4; or any other combination that added to 10.) The couple won $100 for each number they eliminated, and if all nine were eliminated, $5,000 and an accumulating "Gambit Galaxy" prize package was awarded, for a starting total of about $10,000 and increasing until won. In the event a double was rolled (the same number on both dice), an insurance marker was awarded; it could then be used in the event the couple made a bad roll.

Las Vegas Gambit pilot bonus round

The bonus round on the Las Vegas Gambit pilot episode featured a "Living Deck", a group of 52 audience members each holding a different card. Every time the couple earned a prize, the audience member with the selected card would win the same prize.

Theme music

Mort Garson composed the theme for the CBS version, while Stan Worth composed the theme for the NBC revival.

Broadcast history

CBS, 1972-1976

Gambit debuted on Labor Day 1972 at 11:00 AM (10:00 Central), where it defeated NBC's Sale of the Century. It also easily beat Alex Trebek's American debut program, The Wizard of Odds, which NBC began in July 1973. On April 1, 1974, CBS moved the show ahead a half-hour to 10:30 (9:30 Central), where it faced NBC's struggling quiz Jeopardy!. NBC moved Jeopardy! to the afternoon on July 1 and placed the Bob Stewart production Winning Streak in its slot. That show's weakness made the last six months of 1974 the high point of Gambit's original daytime run, at least in terms of the Nielsen ratings.

However, Wheel of Fortune would debut on January 6, 1975. Not only did Wheel impact Gambit's audience, but NBC's expansion of Another World in the afternoon forced CBS to return The Price is Right to the morning after a two-year run at 3:00 PM (2:00 Central). In order to make room for Price, the network returned Gambit to its original 11:00 AM slot on August 18, where it remained for the rest of its run. Gambit was now up against its sister Heatter-Quigley show High Rollers, and the two battled it out through November 28.

However, not only did the show disappear from September 8-12, 1975 due to Price's experiment with an hour-long format, Gambit faced off against Wheel again beginning on December 1. CBS canceled the four-year-old game just two weeks before Christmas 1976, replacing it with Goodson-Todman's Double Dare - which also did not fare well against Wheel and was simply replaced by the second half-hour of Price.

NBC, 1980-1981

On June 20, 1980 Heatter-Quigley's flagship show The Hollywood Squares and the revival of High Rollers were canceled along with Chain Reaction in favor of a 90-minute (60-minute beginning on August 4) talk-variety show hosted by future late night icon David Letterman. When Letterman's effort failed miserably after a four-month run, the network obviously decided to make amends to the packager by reviving Gambit.

Plugging the show in at 10:00 AM (9:00 Central), NBC quickly found out that many affiliates would not give the show a chance due to the increasing popularity of syndicated talk shows like Donahue and Hour Magazine, which station managers thought would draw larger audiences (and, more importantly, larger local advertising revenues) than NBC offerings. Further, although CBS ran sitcom reruns against Las Vegas Gambit, many of their stations carried those aforementioned syndicated offerings and often won their markets with those instead of the network feed.

However, despite these factors, Las Vegas Gambit lasted 13 months. Over the next several months, NBC would rid itself of every other game it still had in daytime except Wheel, which remained the network's only daytime game until January 3, 1983. Las Vegas Gambit appeared to go into reruns toward the end of its run, as the finale (which was never intended to be such) was a repeat of an earlier episode from "Singles Week" (in which teams of two complete strangers were paired up to play the game, and at the end of the week all couples who won a match rolled the dice for the "Gambit Galaxy"). A picture-in-picture box was inserted during the final segment, where Martindale announced that the episode drawing to a close would be the last one aired.

The series was replaced by a talk show hosted by Regis Philbin and Mary Hart - The Regis Philbin Show - which had only a four-month run, lasting until April 9, 1982.

Episode status

The status of Gambit is unknown outside of one 1974 episode traded among collectors and five 1973 episodes held by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

In Fall 1977, reruns of the CBS Gambit aired in syndication, most notably by WPIX in New York and KHJ in Los Angeles. While it may be possible that the series still exists in some form (as CBS had scaled back its erasure of older tapes by the time Gambit premiered), since the episodes have not been seen since they have been presumed lost.

Relatively few episodes of Las Vegas Gambit exist, despite NBC scaling back its wiping practices by 1980. Among the episodes that exist is the final aired episode.


Three attempts have been made to revive Gambit, none of which sold (and none using married couples like the original and Las Vegas versions).


This pilot featured former Camouflage host and Los Angeles DJ Tom Campbell as emcee.

This version featured three contestants to start the round, each dealt a "free card" to start off. Campbell asked a series of multiple choice toss up questions. Answering a question correctly won the right to either take the next card or pass it off to an opponent. This process continued until either a player reached 21 or a player went over. At that point, the player in the lead won a bonus prize, and the player in second place was allowed to continue on. The player who either bust or had the least amount of points was eliminated.

Round two was called "Beat the House". This time, a free card was dealt to both players, and to a rack next to Campbell. Again, players would be asked multiple choice questions, correct answers winning control. However, in this round, a player not only had to top their opponent, but also the "house" (the hand managed by Campbell). The house would take a card if it had 17 points or fewer, but would never pass a card to a player. If a player reached 21 or beat both the house and the opponent, s/he moved on to the bonus. If the house beat both players, Campbell asked a sudden death question to determine the winner.

The bonus round was named "Double Blackjack". The player would play two separate hands of blackjack, starting with a free card in each. One at a time, the player would draw cards off of the deck and place them into either of the two hands. The player won $25 a point per card on the board. Getting a single 21 won a special prize (a trip to Holland on the pilot), and getting a double 21 was also worth a new car.


A pilot for another revival was shot for ABC on October 20, 1990 with Bob Eubanks as host and Susie Fawcett as dealer.

After the first card is shown, two answers are put on the board and Bob reads a statement. The first to buzz-in either guesses the statement applies to both of them, one (naming that one in the process) or neither. If they’re right they get control of the first card, if not their opponent does. They can keep it or pass it to their opponent. The rest of the cards in the game are not shown. After getting control, the contestant decides where an unknown card goes. If they go over 21 at any time, they lose. A player is allowed to freeze their hand after two cards if they feel they have enough to win. That forces the other into solo play where they must keep answering questions to receive cards. They must beat their opponent without busting to win. If they bust or fail to answer a question, their opponent wins $100 and one game. If they beat the score they get the game. If anybody scores 21, they win the game and the Gambit Jackpot, this time starting at $1,000 and still growing by $500 per match. First to win two games goes to the bonus.

The third game in a match, if needed, is played differently. The champion decides where the first unknown card goes. Then they receive the next card by default. Following this, questions are brought back into play as above.

In the bonus round, the winner tries to beat the dealer. They get five chances for cards. Three answers are now revealed, and they have to decide whether statements apply to none, one, two or all three items. If they get a question right, they earn a card. They can continue up to five cards or when they want to freeze. After their hand is set, the dealer begins drawing cards. They draw as long as their total is 16 and below and stay at 17 and above. If the dealer busts or does not beat the player, the contestant wins $5,000. If the player gets 21, they win $10,000.

Orion (which had acquired the rights to the Heatter-Quigley library) was going through financial problems at the time, and the pilot did not sell.

Catch 21

GSN revived Gambit under the name Catch 21, with Alfonso Ribeiro as host and Mikki Padilla as the dealer.[2] The series premiered on July 21, 2008 and marked the return of original Gambit creator Merrill Heatter to television as the creator and executive producer of the new show.

The rules are similar to the 2000 Casino pilot, with these changes:

  • Points are used in the front game (100 for a right answer, 500 for winning the round). There are no "Freezer Questions", no increasing values, and no bonus for a 21 (during the first season; beginning with Season Two, the first player to score a 21 wins a bonus prize).
  • Round 3 has no score, just questions and cards. The winner of this round receives $1,000.
  • In the Bonus Round, there are no questions and only the first three are pre-dealt. The player receives one Power Chip for each round that they won of the first three (plus another for winning the game, beginning in the second season). each chip can be used to change a card. The player earns $1,000 for one "21", $5,000 for a second "21", and $25,000 for a third "21" (increased to $50,000 in some episodes of season 2). If at any point the player busts on any one hand, the game is over and they lose anything earned in the bonus round. However, the contestant may stop and take the money earned at any point.

2008 Good Morning America segment

Martindale returned to play Gambit for ABC's Good Morning America on August 20, 2008 as part of its Play it Again! Game Show Reunion Week. Also featured during that week were Let's Make a Deal and The Newlywed Game, both of which also featured their original hosts.

One round was played, with Robin Roberts as the dealer. Although Martindale's podium had the "ANY 21 WINS" on it, no amount was ever shown below the wording.

International Versions

A British version of the show was produced by Anglia Television for ITV, notable for its opening title sequence featuring various casino equipment including playing cards, casino chips, a roulette wheel and a fruit machine. It started in 1975 as a programme shown in the Anglia region only, but became a networked show in 1978 and ran until 1985. The original host was Fred Dinenage, later succeeded by comedian Tom O'Connor, and Michelle Lambourne was the card dealer. The programme returned briefly in the early 1990s, but only in the Anglia region and was hosted by Gary Thompson.

In the ITV version, each game was worth £20. The Gambit Jackpot started at £200 and increased by £50 until won or until it hit £500. Also, no cars were originally offered in the endgame (from 1981 onwards, they did offer a car as one of the star prizes). The cards used on this version had the same design as the U.S. version.

In Australia, a version produced for the Nine Network briefly aired in 1974. The host was Peter Hitchener and the dealer was Ros Wood. It was produced by the Reg Grundy Organisation.


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