Gambit (game show)

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Gambit '80.jpg
Title card for the 1972-76 version
Also known as Las Vegas Gambit
Directed by Jerome Shaw[1]
Presented by Wink Martindale
Starring Elaine Stewart (Gambit)[1]
Beverly Malden (Las Vegas Gambit)
Lee Menning (Las Vegas Gambit)[1]
Narrated by Kenny Williams
Theme music composer Mort Garson (Gambit)
Stan Worth (Las Vegas Gambit)[1]
Country of origin United States
Executive producer(s) Merrill Heatter
Bob Quigley
Producer(s) Robert Noah[1]
Location(s) CBS Television City
Hollywood, California (1972–1976)
Tropicana Las Vegas
Las Vegas, Nevada (1980–1981)
Running time ~22–26 minutes
Original channel CBS (1972–76)
NBC (1980–81)
Original airing First Run
September 4, 1972 (1972-09-04)-December 10, 1976 (1976-12-10)
(CBS Daytime)
Las Vegas Gambit
October 27, 1980 (1980-10-27)-November 27, 1981 (1981-11-27)
(NBC Daytime)
Related shows Catch 21

Gambit is an American television game show based on the card game blackjack, created by Heatter-Quigley Productions. The show originally ran on CBS from September 4, 1972 to December 10, 1976 and was recorded at CBS Television City in Studios 31, 33, 41, and 43.[2] On October 27, 1980, NBC revived the show as Las Vegas Gambit and kept it on its schedule until November 27, 1981. As the title implied, this edition of Gambit was recorded in Las Vegas with the Tropicana Las Vegas, which had previously hosted Dealer's Choice and later hosted Let's Make a Deal, serving as the show's base. Both versions were hosted by Wink Martindale and announced by Kenny Williams. Elaine Stewart was the card dealer for the CBS version, while Beverly Malden filled this role for the first half of Las Vegas Gambit, and was later replaced by Lee Menning.

Another Merrill Heatter-produced, blackjack-based quiz show, Catch 21, began airing on GSN in 2008. This show shares some similarities with Gambit, but with several noticeable differences.


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 first couple who buzzed in and correctly answered the question 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 choice or by having a card passed to them from their opponents), they could elect to freeze, preventing them from receiving any more cards (neither team was permitted to freeze when the two were tied). This rule prevented their opponents from passing cards to them in order to strategically force them to bust.

A couple could win the game in one of four ways:

  • Reaching 21, which not only won the game but the Gambit Jackpot, which started at $500. After being won, the jackpot reset to $500. On the original series, the Gambit Jackpot increased by $500 at the start of each program if it had not been won on the previous show. On Las Vegas Gambit the Gambit Jackpot increased for each match it went unclaimed.
  • Having the opposing team "bust" (exceed 21).
  • Having the opposing team get a question wrong after they had frozen.
  • Getting enough to pass a frozen team's total without going over 21.

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

Bonus round[edit]

Gambit Board[edit]

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 concealing a prize. After selecting a number, the couple received a prize and a card added to their hand from the top of the deck.

The bonus 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 chose to that point. In early episodes of the NBC version, a couple could elect to stop only when their hand totaled 17 or more.
  • Going over 21, at which point they lost everything they found on the board.
  • Reaching 21 exactly. On the original series, the prize for reaching 21 was a new car. On the Las Vegas series, that prize became $5,000 cash. In addition, the couple won whatever prizes they had accumulated as well as all the money in the Gambit Jackpot.

Throughout the CBS version, returning champions continued until winning a grand total of $25,000, relinquishing any winnings over that amount.

From 1972 to 1975, the show featured an 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.

The bonus round on the CBS version often featured a subgame called "Beat The Dealer", triggered by a selected card on the Gambit Board. The couple could win an additional prize by beating Martindale (acting as the dealer, although the cards were still dealt by Stewart) in a round of traditional blackjack, with the Dealer required to hit to 16 and stop on 17 or more. This subgame was resurrected as "Beat the House" on the NBC version for a $1,000 bonus.

In addition, other special awards were occasionally scattered among the numbers. The CBS version featured markers containing $500 and one of the four playing card suits, which would earn the couple an additional $500 for every one of that suit they held (i.e. turning over a $500 diamond and holding a card with a diamond suit would earn $1,000 total). Another bonus was the "Hot Card", which was worth $1,000 if the couple had a certain card in their hand but $100 if not. Late in the show's run there were several "Swap" cards added to the board. If a couple uncovered one, at the end of their round (provided they had not busted) they were allowed to trade one of the prizes they picked off the board for another pick. Another game saw the couple play a second set of dealt cards after the Gambit Board for additional cash. The couple, provided again that they had not busted, were dealt a card and its value was multiplied by $100. They could draw for as long as they wished, but if another card in the same suit came up at any time the couple lost all the money and the game ended.

The NBC version featured markers saying "100 Times", "200 Times" or "500 Times", which would multiply the value of the next card by the figure uncovered, up to $1,100, $2,200 or $5,500 for an ace.

Gambit Galaxy[edit]

For the second half of the NBC version, the Gambit Board was replaced by a renamed Big Numbers bonus round from the Heatter-Quigley show High Rollers. In this round, called the Gambit Galaxy, the couple was presented with a pair of dice and was required 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 eliminated, and if all nine were eliminated, the couple won $5,000 and an accumulating "Gambit Galaxy" prize package, which generally totaled at least $10,000. 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.

Broadcast history[edit]

CBS, 1972–1976[edit]

Logo used from 1972 to 1976.

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 (the same day Now You See It with Jack Narz premiered), CBS moved the show ahead a half-hour to 10:30/9:30, where it faced NBC's struggling quiz Jeopardy!, just over a full decade before Trebek would commence hosting it himself. 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.

On January 6, 1975, NBC replaced Winning Streak with Wheel of Fortune, which took a chunk out of Gambit '​s audience. On the same day, NBC expanded the soap opera Another World to sixty minutes, and the impact it had on the ratings of The Price is Right, which aired at 3:00 pm, forced CBS to shuffle its schedule again on August 18, 1975 and move Price back to the morning schedule, which it had left in 1973. Gambit moved back to 11:00 am, bumping Tattletales back to the afternoon after two months, and remained there until its cancellation. At that slot, Gambit initially had to go against its sister Heatter-Quigley show High Rollers, also hosted by Alex Trebek. However, NBC decided to air a sixty-minute edition of Wheel beginning on December 1, with the second half competing with Gambit. Furthermore, NBC left Wheel at 11:00 am when the experiment ended seven weeks later in January 1976 and it continued to eat away at Gambit in the ratings. The network canceled the four-year-old game two weeks before Christmas 1976 and replaced it with Goodson-Todman's Double Dare, with Trebek taking the hosting position after High Rollers came to an end on June 11, 1976.

After the cancellation on CBS in December 1976, Gambit with the repeats of the CBS daytime version was seen on Los Angeles TV Station KHJ-TV Channel 9 (now KCAL-TV) starting in fall 1977 and ran all the way through spring 1978.

NBC, 1980–1981 (Las Vegas Gambit)[edit]

Gambit returned on October 27, 1980 as one of two replacements for the short-lived The David Letterman Show (the other was Goodson-Todman's Blockbusters). Stan Worth composed the theme for this version. with Beverly Malden serving as card dealer before she was replaced by Lee Menning. Producer Robert Noah, director Jerome Shaw, and announcer Kenny Williams carried over from the original.[1]

Despite limited competition in the form of sitcom reruns on CBS and local programming on ABC affiliates, the revival failed to draw the ratings of its predecessor and was cancelled after just over a year.


Both the original version and Las Vegas Gambit were hosted by Wink Martindale, with Kenny Williams, announcer of many other Heatter-Quigley shows, as announcer.[1] Jerome Shaw was the director of both versions, and Robert Noah the producer.[1] Elaine Stewart was the card dealer on the original version, while Beverly Malden served in this role on early episodes of Las Vegas Gambit before being replaced by Lee Menning.[1] Mort Garson composed the original version's theme, and Stan Worth composed the theme to Las Vegas Gambit.[1]

Catch 21[edit]

Main article: Catch 21

Gambit creator Merrill Heatter developed a similar show, Catch 21, which premiered on GSN July 21, 2008 with Alfonso Ribeiro as host and Mikki Padilla as dealer.[3]

International versions[edit]


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.

United Kingdom[edit]

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 to ITV in 1997 and was hosted by a UK comedian, Gary T Thompson, and ran for 12 weeks.

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.

Episode status[edit]

Five episodes of the CBS version from 1973 are held by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.[4][5][6][7][8] The unsold 1990 pilot also exists within the same collection.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Schwartz, David; Ryan, Steve; Wostbrock, Fred (1999). The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows (3 ed.). Facts on File, Inc. pp. 82–83, 123. ISBN 0-8160-3846-5. 
  2. ^ "Shows–CBS Television City". Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  3. ^ "CATCH 21: A Potential Hit For GSN!". Set News. June 15, 2008. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  4. ^ "Gambit—March 12, 1973 episode". UCLA Film and Television Archive. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  5. ^ "Gambit—March 20, 1973 episode". UCLA Film and Television Archive. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  6. ^ "Gambit—March 28, 1973 episode". UCLA Film and Television Archive. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  7. ^ "Gambit—April 5, 1973 episode". UCLA Film and Television Archive. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  8. ^ "Gambit—April 13, 1973 episode". UCLA Film and Television Archive. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  9. ^ "Gambit—1990 pilot". UCLA Film and Television Archive. Retrieved 15 February 2013.