Gambit (game show)

Gambit (game show)

show_name = Gambit

caption =
format = Game Show
runtime = 30 Minutes
creator = Wayne Cruseturner
producers = Merril Heatter and Bob Quigley
starring = Wink Martindale
Announcer: Kenny Williams
country = USA
network = CBS (1972-1976)
NBC (1980-1981)
first_aired =September 4, 1972
last_aired =November 27, 1981|

"Gambit" was a television game show, created by Wayne Cruseturner [ [ IMDB] ] 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, 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.

Main game

Wink 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 got to control the next card off of an oversize regulation deck (whose style and size would later be used in "The Price is Right" pricing game "Hit Me") of 52 playing cards. (The first would be shown before the question, the rest would be presented face-down.) Once a couple got control of a card, they had the choice to either add the card to their own hand or force their opponents to take it (unless they had "frozen," or were standing; see following). The objective of the game was quite similar to that of Blackjack: for either couple to get their hand as close to 21 without going over(getting "too much"), or obtaining blackjack with an ace and a face card or a ten. As in blackjack, the value of cards 2 through 10 were as shown; face cards (Kings, Queens and Jacks) counted as 10s and an Ace could count as either 1 or 11.

After a couple received any card, if they had the lead (a tie was not good enough), they could elect to "freeze" their board, which was the same as standing on a hand in blackjack, after which no more cards were permitted to be added to their hand. Once this happened, the other couple answered questions until one of the following conditions occurred:

Conditions for winning

There were four ways to win:
* Getting 21, which not only won the game, but the Gambit Jackpot, which started at $500 and went up $500 at the start of each day (at the start of each match on "Las Vegas Gambit"), except that if it was won with the last card of the day, it started the next day at $500;
* Having the opponents go over 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 ($250 on "Las Vegas Gambit"). The first team to win two games won the match and advanced to the bonus round.

The Gambit Board

For the entire original run and the first half of the "Las Vegas" run of "Gambit", the winning couple played the "Gambit Bonus Board." They faced a large game board with 21 cards numbered 1-21 on "Gambit", or 18 video screens numbered 1-18 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 got 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 the Gambit Jackpot and the prizes.

During the CBS run, returning champions could continue until winning a grand total of $25,000, and would be required to relinquish any winnings over that amount.

Also during the CBS run, in the show's first three years, they ran an annual promotion where the first couple to get a two-card 21 in the bonus round won either $200 a week for a year (totalling $10,400) or a flat $10,000, depending on the year.

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 be 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 under 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 bonus round for the "Las Vegas Gambit" pilot 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. During the early episodes of the actual series, a couple could elect to stop only when their hand totaled 17 or more.

The Gambit Galaxy (Las Vegas version)

The second half of the "Las Vegas" run 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 "knock off" 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 eliminated 4 and 6; 3 and 7; 1, 2, 3 and 4 or any other combination that added to 10.) Each number the couple knocked off won $100 per number, and if all nine were knocked off, an accumulating "Gambit Galaxy" prize package was awarded, starting at $10,000 and increasing until won. In the event a double was rolled (e.g. a pair of ones, twos, threes, fours, fives or sixes), then an insurance marker was awarded; it could then be used in the event a bad number was rolled.

This version's last week of shows consisted of reruns from an earlier "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"); during the close of the Friday show, a taped picture-in-picture announcement was shown of Martindale stating it was the last episode and that the program would be replaced by the "Regis Philbin Show" the following Monday.

Theme music

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

cheduling history

CBS, 1972-76

CBS put "Gambit" in originally at 11 a.m/10 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, where it faced NBC's struggling quiz "Jeopardy!". NBC moved "Jeopardy!" to the afternoons on July 1 and placed one of the many Bill Cullen-Bob Stewart collaborations, "Winning Streak", in the slot. That show's weakness made late 1974 the high point of "Gambit"'s original daytime run, at least in the Nielsen ratings.

However, "Wheel of Fortune" would later on debut on January 6, 1975. Not only did "Wheel" impact "Gambit"'s audience, but NBC's expansion of "Another World" in the afternoons forced CBS to return "The Price is Right" to the morning after a two-year run at 3/2 Central. In order to make room for "Price", the network decided to return "Gambit" to its original slot on August 18, where it remained for the rest of its run. At that slot, "Gambit" had to go against its sister Heatter-Quigley show "High Rollers". The network cancelled the four-year-old game two weeks before Christmas 1976, replacing it with Goodson-Todman's "Double Dare".

NBC (Las Vegas), 1980-81

In June 1980, NBC cancelled Heatter-Quigley's flagship show "The Hollywood Squares" and the revival of "High Rollers" in favor of a 90-minute (later 60) 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 a.m./9 Central, NBC found out, however, 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, even though 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.

"Las Vegas Gambit" lasted 13 months. Over the next several months, NBC would rid itself of all the other games on its daytime schedule except for "Wheel", which became NBC's sole daytime game show until January 1983.

Episode status

It is believed very few episodes exist except for one episode of the original series and a few episodes of the Las Vegas version. In the fall of 1977, reruns of the original CBS version of Gambit aired in syndication (primarily on WPIX New York and KHJ-TV Los Angeles), so it is most likely that the series was not wiped (CBS had mostly abandoned the practice of erasing old tapes by the early 1970s), but rather misplaced.


Three pilots were made in an attempt to revive the series, none of them sold (and none using married couples like the original and Las Vegas versions).

1985 Pilot

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 jump-in 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). Getting a double 21 won an additional prize of a Car.

1990 Pilot

A pilot for another revival was shot for ABC in 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. Now 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 on the nose, 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.

The Casino Pilots

Originally, "Las Vegas Gambit" was to have been replaced by a new Heatter-Quigley game show, titled "Casino", hosted by Jim Perry. It is believed that nine episodes of "Casino" were produced, but the series was never picked up on NBC; instead, Regis Philbin hosted a talk show in that timeslot. Another attempt to get "Casino" on television occurred in 1983, this time hosted by Peter Tomarken, which also did not make it to TV. Both pilots featured contestants playing various casino-style games (similar in format to "The Price Is Right") such as blackjack, poker, roulette, craps, and slots.

2000 Casino Pilot

A third attempt was made for GSN; this was hosted by Ron Pearson and co-host Tanya Memme. This pilot was made for GSN and distributed by KingWorld, owners of the format rights to the Merrill Heatter library.

In this pilot, three players competed.

At the start of the game, each player was given one card. Then host Pearson asked a series of questions for control of the next card. The first player to buzz-in with a correct answer wins $100 and control of the next card. After the card was revealed, the player in control can choose to either take that card or pass it to one of their two opponents. At any point in the game, the player in control can ask for a "Freezer Question" in which a correct answer freezes their score. As in regular Blackjack, the object of the game is to get to 21 or as close to 21 as they can without going over. In this game, a player can bust another player if a card puts that player over the top. In addition, if there's one player left standing, no questions were asked and cards were revealed immediately. The winner of the round wins $1,000; the first player to reach 21 not only wins the round but also wins a bonus of $2,100. Question & game values double in Round 2. At the end of the second round, the player with the lowest score is eliminated from the game, but keeps their earnings.

In Round 3 correct answers were worth $300. The first player to come closest to or reach 21, or have their opponent bust wins the game, $3,000 more, and goes on to play the bonus game. The loser keeps their money, as well.

In the Bonus Round, the winning player was shown three prizes they could potentially win, randomly assigned to three lines, each staked with an up card. Three down cards were then dealt, marked 1, 2 and 3. Pearson asked four questions, each of which earned an additional down card with a correct answer (for a maximum total of seven). After the questions were asked, the player used the total number of down cards to make hands for the three prizes. The player selected a down card, and after it was revealed, placed it in any one of the prize hands. Each time a hand reaches 18 or more, the player wins the prize behind the hand. Each time a hand hits 21, the player wins a bonus of $2,100 in addition to the prize. If all three hands hit 21, in addition to three prizes, the player also won $100,000. If at anytime the player busted on any one hand, the game is over and they lose the prizes. If a player was worried about busting they can choose to stop and take the prize(s) won after each placement of a card.

Catch 21

Years after the Casino pilot was scrapped, GSN announced that they will go through with the revival this time around, under the name Catch 21. The show premiered on July 21, 2008. Alfonso Ribeiro is the host and Mikki Padilla is the dealer. [ [ Blog ] ] This also marks 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 "Casino" pilot, with these changes:

Points are used in the front game (100 for a right answer, 500 for a round win), there are no "Freezer Questions", and no bonus for a 21. Also, values don't increase.

Round 3 has no score, just questions and cards. The winner of this round earns $1,000.

In the Bonus Round, there are no questions, and instead of seven cards pre-dealt, only the first three are dealt. The player receives one Burger King Power Chip for each round that the player won during the first 3 rounds; each Power 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". As before, if at anytime the player busted on any one hand, the game is over and they lose everything but the $1,000 they've won earlier. But they can stop and take the money earned at any point.

"Good Morning America" one-off episode

Martindale returned for a one-off episode of "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.

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 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.


External links

* [ The Unofficial Gambit Page]
* [ Curt Alliaume's Game Shows '75: "Gambit"]
* [ "Gambit"] at

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