Everybody knows that Google has hired investment bankers and will likely be trading by April. The question now is: Will you get pre-IPO shares?

It's a question I'm asked a lot. First, know that Google is not necessarily a slam-dunk. Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) is a formidable foe, as TheWall Street Journal highlighted yesterday in breaking down that company's "three prong" attack on Google. And Google faces other mega competitors, including Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) MSN, and even Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN).

But, let's say that you still want to roll the dice on some pre-IPO shares. Initial offerings typically go down one of two ways. There's the traditional method where an investment bank sets the price of the offering and gives a big chunk to wealthy clients and institutions. Then there's the online auction, where any investor can make a bid. If you win the bid, you get shares.

Interestingly, Google may be eyeballing a combination of the two approaches (call it an "auction combo"). Reportedly, the company has hired traditional investment banks, such as Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MWD) and Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), as well as the pioneer of IPO auctions, WR Hambrecht & Co.

There is some precedent. Back in May 2001, when Instinet came public, CS First Boston managed the traditional part of the offering. In that particular deal, WR Hambrecht got a 17.5% allocation of the 32 million shares offered which it auctioned through its OpenIPO system.

As it turns out, WR Hambrecht & Co. elicited significant demand for the offering, with bids for over 74 million shares. In fact, while CS First Boston's initial price range was $11.50 to $13.50, the IPO was priced at $14.50, suggesting that WR Hambrecht & Co.'s Open IPO system was a critical factor in the price discovery.

Assuming that Google does allocate, say, 15% to 20% to an online auction, there is a decent chance you will get pre-IPO shares. After all, assuming the company raises $4 billion at $25 per share, and there is an auction for 20% of the amount, this would leave 32 million shares up for bid.

Tom Taulli is the author of six books on investing, such as Investing in IPOs (Bloomberg Press).. You can reach him at tom@taulli.com.