If you’ve spent some time in Las Vegas casinos or even played online, you’ve heard of some of the more common blackjack side bets.
The most common of these, of course, is insurance, which is available in every blackjack game I’ve ever played.
In this post, I look at insurance and 6 other blackjack side bets.
I also offer some analysis of why I think these are bets with lousy odds. (See my post about blackjack probability for more details about how the odds work in blackjack.)
See if you agree with my reasoning.
1- Insurance Is the Most Common of the Various Blackjack Side Bets
An insurance bet is basically just a bet that the dealer has a blackjack. The insurance bet is only available when the dealer has an ace showing for her face-up card.
When you take insurance, you have a chance of getting some money back even if the dealer wins. (And the dealer always wins with a blackjack, unless you also have one — in which case, it’s a push.)
Insurance pays off at 2 to 1 odds, and the size of your insurance bet must be half the size of your original bet.
If the dealer’s upcard is an ace, the player is offered the option of taking “insurance” before the dealer checks the hole card.
If you’re making an insurance bet, you’re betting that the dealer’s face-down card — her “hole” card — is a 10. Since there are a lot of 10s in the deck — the 10s, jacks, queens, kings, and aces — insurance SEEMS like a good bet.
Why Insurance Is a Bad Bet
But it’s not.
If the dealer had a blackjack 1 out of 3 times, this would be an even-money wager.
But the dealer actually has a blackjack slightly less than 1 out of 3 times.
You have 51 cards left in the deck. There are 16 cards worth 10 in the deck. This means the probability of having a 10 is 16/51, which is 31.37%.
The probability of winning the bet would need to be 33.33% or higher for you to break even in the long run on insurance.
But if you’re counting cards, insurance can sometimes be a positive expectation bet.
In all card counting systems, a deck relatively rich in 10s is a deck with a positive count.
It’s easy to calculate the house edge for insurance in blackjack. The odds are 35 to 16 that you’ll win the bet, and the payoff is 32 to 16,
This means the house edge is 3/51 or 1/17, which is the same as 5.89%.
In a game with an overall house edge of 1% or lower, taking a bet with a house edge of 5.89% is foolhardy at best.
2- “21 + 3” Is an Interesting Blackjack Side Bet, Too
The 21 + 3 side bet is becoming more common. It’s a bet on the result of your first 2 cards and the dealer’s face-up card. 21 + 3 combines poker hand rankings with blackjack.
The following poker hands pay out when you achieve them with those 3 cards:
- 3 of a kind of the same suit
- Straight flush
- 3 of a kind
A 3 of a kind of the same suit is the best possible hand in 21 + 3. It consists of 3 of the same card — when you’re dealing with a game made up of multiple decks, it’s possible to wind up with a suited 3 of a kind. This usually pays off at 100 to 1 odds.
A straight flush consists of 3 cards of the same suit that are also adjacent in ranks. For example, if you have the 10 and the jack of clubs, and the dealer’s up-card is a 9 of clubs, you have a straight flush.
This is the 2nd- best possible hand in 21 + 3 and usually pays off at 40 to 1 odds.
A 3 of a kind is just 3 cards with the same ranking, like 7s or jacks. This usually pays off at 30 to 1.
A straight is 3 cards in consecutive order, but they don’t have to belong to the same suit. This one pays off at 10 to 1.
A flush is 3 cards of the same suit and pays off at 5 to 1.
The house edge for the pay table used in this example is 3.7%, but it varies based on the specific payoffs. The pay table varies from casino to casino, but this is a common one.
You’ll even find some casinos offering a game where the payout for all these hands is more or less the same, like 7 to 1 regardless of which hand it is. That’s one of the worst versions — with a house edge of over 7%.
3- What about Perfect Pairs? Is That a Good Bet?
The Perfect Pairs side bet pays off when you get a pair, and it pays off more when you meet specific criteria:
- Mixed suits
- Same colors
- Perfect pair
A mixed pair is the easiest to get, of course — this means that your pair is made up of different suits AND colors, and it usually pays off at 5 to 1 odds.
A colored pair consists of 2 cards of the same ranking and the same color, even if the suits differ. If you have the 7 of diamonds and a 7 of hearts, you have a colored pair. This one pays off at 10 to 1.
A perfect pair is when you have 2 cards of the same suit AND rank. For example, if you have the 7 of spades AND another 7 of spades, you have a perfect pair. The payout is 30 to 1 for this one.
Different casinos might have different payouts for the Perfect Pairs side bet, but the one I used in the example is common.
The house edge for the version described is 3.4%.
With a different pay table, the house edge might be higher.
More Common Side Bets in Blackjack
Those are the most common side bets in blackjack, but you’re not limited to those. Various casinos offer various other side bets.
Here are some of the more common of those:
4- Lucky Ladies
The lucky ladies side bet is a bet that you’ll have a total of 20. If the cards are unsuited, the hand pays out 4 to 1. If the 2 cards are of the same suit, you get a 10 to 1 payout.
When you have 2 cards of the same rank and suit, like both jacks of clubs, you’ll get a 25 to 1 payout.
A pair of queens is a 200 to 1 payout.
And if you have a pair made up of the queens of hearts, and if the dealer has a blackjack, you get a 1000 to 1 payout.
5- Over/Under 13
The over/under 13 side bet is one of the easier bets to understand. You’re predicting whether you’ll be dealt a hand totaling more than or less than 13. Some casinos also allow you to be on getting an exact total of 13. The over/under bets pay even money.
The house gets its edge because they win on an exact total of 13, regardless of whether you bet over or under.
6- Royal Match
The royal match side bet is another easy one. If your cards are suited, the hand pays out at 5 to 2. If you have a king and a queen of the same suit, the payout is 25 to 1.
7- Super 7s
The super 7s side bet pays off any time you get at least one 7 in your hand. The more 7s you get, the more the bet pays off.
A single 7 is a 3 to 1 payout. If you get a pair of 7s, you get a 50 to 1 payout. And if those 7s are both suited, you get 100 to 1.
If you get a 3rd 7, you get 500 to 1 if they’re not suited and 5000 to 1 if they’re all of the same suit.
Not all casinos give you a 3rd card when the dealer has a blackjack, which (of course) increases the house edge.
The house edge for any of these bets is 5% or higher.
And keep in mind that the payouts I’m listing are typical, but you can and will see variance in rules from table to table and from casino to casino.
Why Do Players Make these Side Bets?
If everyone knows that the house edge is so high on these side bets, why do players make them?
The truth is that many blackjack players NEVER make side bets, and that’s the best strategy.
But some people at the blackjack table like to hit jackpots, and they feel like the house edge on these side bets is comparable or better than the house edge they would see playing a slot machine.
The only way you can see 5 to 1, 10 to 1, 50 to 1, or higher payouts in blackjack is to take advantage of these side bets.
The 7 blackjack side bets explained in this post include:
- Perfect Pairs
- Lucky Ladies
- Over/Under 13
- Royal Match
- Super 7s
The house edge for all these side bets is sky-high. In a game where the main game has a house edge of between 0.5% and 2%, you should never take a sucker bet like this.