Blackjack Insurance is an extremely popular side bet that enables the players to place an extra stake before the cards are revealed and the wagers settled. Not all blackjack variants will include this option and the opinions on whether or not you should take advantage of blackjack insurance are opposing. According to some, the insurance is devised to give an extra edge to the house, and veteran players are known to advise the rookies against it. At the same time, the prospect of protecting oneself against the dealer’s blackjack hand is tempting and some blackjack aficionados argue that there are circumstances when the insurance option is, in fact, justified.
The origin of the insurance bet is unknown; it is, however, becoming fairly easy to find a blackjack variant that offers the option. Wagering on the dealer’s natural blackjack is optional and the players can disregard it altogether. If you decide to take this bet, it is important to understand the mechanics and probabilities surrounding it so that you would be able to make an educated decision and determine if the chances are against you.
What Is the Blackjack Insurance Bet and how does it work?
Blackjack insurance is extremely contradictory as the players are essentially wagering against themselves. In other words, the players are betting that the dealer will have a blackjack hand, which automatically increases the odds of the player landing the losing hand. The good news is that, unlike other side bets, insurance does not have to be claimed before the cards are drawn from the shoe.
In blackjack, the cards are being dealt after the players submit their qualifying bets and the insurance is only offered if the dealer’s upcard is an Ace. This means that there is a fair chance that the second card (facing down) is either ten or one of the face cards, which means that the dealer’s hand might form a natural blackjack hand, trumping the player’s total. For the sake of damage control, the house will offer you a way out by means of adding another 50% of your original wager. If you are playing online, a pop-up window will appear on the screen, asking you if you would like to take insurance; in the land-based casinos, the dealer will present you with the option, ideally without lobbying for or against it.
The payout rate for the insurance is 2 to 1, which means that the players will end up with an even pay if their hunch was correct and the dealer does have a natural blackjack. For example, if you place $1 and decide to go for the insurance, an extra $0.50 will need to be added. Should you win the insurance and lose the main bet, your payout will be $1.50. If, on the other hand, the dealer does not have blackjack, the insurance will be lost, and the game will assume its natural course.
(When) Should I Take Insurance?
The insurance bet is conditioned by the number of decks in play and the players’ own blackjack proficiency. The house edge can be massive – over 7% – and the players’ chances of spotting winning insurances are equivalent to their strategic skills.
If you are a blackjack beginner and still struggling with the basic strategy, the best possible option would be to stay clear of this or any other side bets that have a low hit frequency. As your blackjack skills advance, you will be able to tackle with probabilities and decide if this bet is worth a risk – most players deem otherwise and never wager on insurance.
The circumstances are slightly different at live blackjack tables – here, the players can count cards, which will give them an advantage and ideally eliminate the house edge. Card counters will be able to exploit the insurance bet with a higher level of accuracy, but only if they have mastered the strategy. For this to work, you will, of course, need to find a variant with fewer decks, which is not that easy online. Most live tables are played with 6 to 8 decks that are randomly shuffled throughout the session, delivering a more balanced playground for all the participants and making things that much harder for the counters.
What Are the Odds for Insurance Bets?
Let us assume that a Blackjack variant is played with a total of 6 decks and that the only information the players have regarding the dealer’s hand is the up card. This means that there are 96 winning cards out of the total 311 cards (the dealer’s Ace is not being taken into account), leaving us with 215 cards that will not result in winning the insurance bet.
Percentage-wise, this means that there is 61.73% of winning the bet, but 69.13% of losing it, on 2:1 blackjack insurance payout odds:
(96/311) x 100 = 30.868
30.868 x 2 = 61.73%
(215/311) x 100 = 69.13
69.13 x -1 = – 69.13%
This produces a house edge of 7.39% or 92.61% return to the player percentage. Converting this back into monetary value, the players are expected to return 92.6 cents on every invested $1 – a rather low turnover, especially for blackjack.
What if I Have Been Counting Cards?
If you have mastered the fine art of counting cards, the insurance bet will be just an extra opportunity to make a profit. Most blackjack players, however, play the game recreationally and have no way of knowing if the dealer hole card will qualify. So basically, you will only be playing on the assumption that the dealer will reveal a face card. If this is all you got, insurance should be declined without giving it a second thought.
Even money is similar to insurance bet – the house will present this option when the player has already landed the blackjack hand and the dealer holds an Ace. According to some players, this is the only time when taking the insurance bet may actually be a good idea. Accepting it can lead to the following scenarios:
a) The player accepts the deal and the dealer also reveals the blackjack hand. Instead of resulting in a “push”, with no payout for the player, the side bet will be settled at 1:1 payout rate for the player and the main bet will be a tie.
b) The player decides to take the bet, but the dealer does not qualify, in which case the main bet will be paid 3:2 and the side bet will be lost.
Should you decide to turn down the bet and the dealer matches your hand with the blackjack, you will simply get your initial bet back and the next round will commence. If it turns out that the dealer has a hand that’s lower in value than the anticipated blackjack, the player wins at 3:2 payout rate.
Setting aside the three known cards (the player’s two cards and the dealer’s Ace card), the chances of the dealer’s hole card being a 10 is 95 divided by 309 – the number of the remaining cards.
The probability of the dealer’s card being Ace through 9 is 214 ÷ 309. With 3:2 odds, this will produce 103.88% rate:
(214/309) x 100 = 69.25%
69.25 x 1.5 = 103.88%
So, basically, the house is offering an even money payout, but declining it can generate an average 103.88% RTP.
Once again, we must underline that these examples illustrate universal odds, relevant for recreational players who only use the basic blackjack strategy. If you possess card counting skills, you will already know what to do when the insurance, even money, or any other side bets are available.
What Happens if I Decide to Decline the Insurance and End Up Losing Everything?
It is very important to understand that we are talking about high-frequency occurrence rather than isolated incidents. Every once in a while, the dealer will land a blackjack and you will regret not accepting the insurance bet, but the numbers do not lie. What counts is consistency, and if you decide to keep a record on the number of times insurance bet actually won, you are likely to find the end result disappointing.
At the same time, the risk factor is what elevates the game to a higher level and without it, gambling would lose most of its appeal. While you should never disregard logic when gambling, you should also remember why you decided to play in the first play and make sure precaution does not suck your game dry of fun.
If you decide to use the basic strategy charts and follow them to the T, you will soon discover that are no references to the insurance bet or when it should be accepted – unless it’s “don’t do it”. This is because these charts are designed to assist the blackjack beginners, and, as such, maintain the notion that there is never a good time to bet on the dealer’s blackjack.
Having said that, it’s important to emphasize that the blackjack insurance is not a mortal sin, although one can hardly be blamed for being inclined to think that, with all the bad rep attached to it. If you can afford it and you are fully aware of the lousy long-run prospects, but still want to increase the risk rate and play a bet that has a lower probability, go for it. In reality, it’s no different to placing a stake on any other type of side bet. If you only do it occasionally and as a means of simply breaking the routine, there’s absolutely no harm to it.
The same cannot be applied to card counters. Should you decide to master the skill, you will not have any doubts about the optimal time to take the insurance – you will know exactly when the odds are working to your advantage and wager accordingly.
What exactly is “blackjack insurance?”
Blackjack Insurance is a type of optional side bet offered in certain land-based and online blackjack variants, that allows the players to bet on the dealer’s natural blackjack (a hand that consists of an ace and a face card). The option will only be available if the first dealer’s card is an ace – when the players feel that they will be outranked by the dealer’s hand, they can just add a 50% stake on top of their original bet and possibly claim 2:1 payout.
Is taking blackjack insurance bet recommended?
Popular opinion is against this bet and the most experienced players will advise you to avoid the insurance at all times. Should you decide to use the strategy charts, you will notice that there are no references to the insurance. The explanation is simple – statistically speaking, there is never a good time to take the insurance and you are much more likely to lose the extra 50%.
Are there any circumstances when a blackjack insurance bet is allowed?
Strictly speaking, higher risk side bets should only be taken by the players who have a competitive edge. Those who know how to count cards are probably not among the ones reading this article, as they know exactly when you need to take or leave the blackjack insurance bet. If your interest in blackjack is purely recreational, then we suggest sticking to the basic strategic rules and forgetting all bets that will not increase your balance in the long run.
What is the house edge for blackjack insurance bet?
The house edge is determined by the number of card decks in play. The blackjack variants with 6 or 8 decks (which are the most common ones online) have a higher house edge rate than the ones with fewer decks. So, if you are planning to wager on the insurance, try to find a blackjack game that’s played with no more than 4 decks. The edge will still be high, but lower than 7.4% produced by 6 and 8-deck variants.
What is the difference between even money and insurance bet?
Both bets are offered when the dealer’s up card is an ace, but even money bet can be placed only by the players that already have the blackjack hand. The objective is to avoid a push outcome and get an even money payout instead of simply taking their original bet back.