Lately I have been writing about a variety of blackjack side bets. Though the side bets come in a number of variations, none have better odds than the regular game. Since the house edge of the side bets is higher, you stand to lose more money playing them. That means that as enticing as those side bets are, it’s best to avoid them.
There is one side bet that people don’t even think of as a side bet, though. That is insurance. The reason most people don’t think of insurance as a side bet is because it’s not something that is played up as one. Side bets usually get cool names that redefine the game, such as Perfect Pairs Blackjack or Lucky Sevens Blackjack. With insurance, on the other hand, everything is normal until the dealer draws an ace as an up card.
When the dealer draws an ace as his up card, he will offer you insurance. This isn’t out of the kindness of the dealer’s heart; it’s to make money. Many players will get worried and think that they must take the insurance, because the dealer is likely to have a blackjack, so it’s best to insure their bet against a certain loss.
The problem is that the dealer having an ace doesn’t mean he has a blackjack. Taking insurance is a side bet on whether the dealer’s hole card is a ten. If you take the insurance bet, you place a bet half the size of your original wager on the fact that the dealer has a ten in the hole. If he does, you receive a 2:1 payout on the insurance bet. Doubling half your bet wins you nothing; you only break even. If the dealer doesn’t have a ten in the hole, you lose that wager and then continue with the hand, giving you a chance to lose twice.
Sound good? I didn’t think so. One reason people think that insurance is a good bet is because they overestimate the odds of the dealer having a ten in the hole. They know that there are more tens in a deck than any other value, so it is most likely to be a ten, right? Wrong.
There are more tens than any other value, but there are more non-tens than tens. In a deck of cards, 4/13 of the cards (or 16/52) have a value of ten. That means that 9/13 (or 36/52) have a non-ten value. That means betting that the dealer has a ten in the hole is a bad bet.
There is one way in which taking insurance can be beneficial and that is if you know that the deck is rich in tens. If you are counting cards, you will know whether a lot of tens have been played or if there are still a lot in the deck. If the deck is rich in tens, taking this bet can be a good idea. Otherwise, I advise staying away from the insurance bet. Like any other side bet, it has worse odds than the regular game of blackjack.