When first playing blackjack, players learn to hit, stand, and split as a basic strategy. But the insurance bet is one of the most popular and straightforward side bets available.
Paying 2/1, the insurance bet gives the player a little protection should the dealer be given a strong card. But does it pay to take the bet?
We usually take out insurance to mitigate the financial impact of something bad happening. We have health insurance, auto insurance, and homeowner’s insurance.
You can even get insurance while playing blackjack. It certainly sounds like a good idea on the surface, but is blackjack insurance actually worth it? Let’s break down the numbers to find out.
What is blackjack insurance?
Once all the cards are dealt in blackjack, and if the dealer’s face-up card is an ace, players at the table are offered blackjack insurance.
The insurance is effectively another wager, usually half the value of your initial bet, and it pays out 2:1 if the dealer reveals his second card is a ten or picture card, making blackjack.
Let’s say you bet $10 in the initial hand, and the dealer’s upcard is an ace. You take the blackjack insurance for $5.
If the dealer has blackjack, you win $10 from the insurance, and get your $5 insurance bet back – but you lose your initial $10 bet (unless you also have blackjack), so you come out of the hand even.
However, if the dealer does not have blackjack, which he won’t the majority of the time, you lose your $5 insurance bet, and the hand continues as normal.
Is Blackjack insurance worthwhile?
Unlike health, auto, and property insurance, blackjack insurance is not worth it. Sure, it might be profitable in a single night, but working out the pros and cons of casino gambling is a long-term game. And in the long term, blackjack insurance will cost you money.
Let’s put it in simple terms. For you to win your insurance bet, the dealer must have a ten or a picture card. There are 16 of those in a single deck, meaning there is only around a 30% chance of it hitting.
When it does hit, you get a 2:1 return, so your 30% shot does not sound so terrible.
But, and it’s a big but, that 30% assumes there are always 16 potential value-ten cards left for the dealer to turn over. In reality, several tens or picture cards will be on the table already.
If there are seven players, it’s entirely feasible there will be, say, four tens or picture cards in play. That drops the chance of the dealer having blackjack to just 23%!
Let’s take a closer look to see if this is one insurance policy you should take out…
How does blackjack insurance work?
Blackjack is a straightforward game: get as close to 21 with your hand without going ‘bust’. But, sometimes, you simply have to beat the dealer’s total to win.
When playing blackjack online, the player always makes the first move.
Without complete information, they have to make the best guess as to whether their hand is better than the dealers’. Depending on the dealer’s upcard, the player should know when to hit, stand, or double down.
But what if you could hedge your bet against the dealer beating your total? That’s where insurance comes in.
Insurance is a special side bet that lets the player stake half their original bet against the dealer hitting a natural blackjack (a hand containing an ace and a picture card for a total of 21).
Insurance can only be taken if the dealer shows an ace. When this happens, the table will flash on your computer screen and give you the option to place your bet.
If the dealer does reveal 21, the insurance bet is paid out at 2/1.
Advantages and disadvantages of insurance betting
In a game of blackjack, the player simply has to beat the dealer’s hand to win. But any tied hands end in a ‘push’, where the player’s stake is returned.
Insurance can be a good bet to take in a game with lots of decks. The more decks that are used, the more cards there are in the shoe with a value of 10. And with so many 10-value cards to draw, the better the chance the dealer has of making blackjack.
If a player has a marginal hand, like 14 or 15, insurance isn’t worth a punt. You are in a poor position to win the hand anyway, so save your money.
In any case, it’s usually accepted that taking insurance is a long-term loser for players. The 2/1 price isn’t large enough to warrant taking the wager.
When to take insurance in blackjack
Insurance can seem like an attractive option for the player if the dealer’s up-card is an ace, as there is a close to a one-in-three chance their other card has a value of 10.
However, probability suggests that insurance is likely to be a losing bet in the long term unless you are a very capable card counter.
You need the dealer to have a 10-value card as his hole card to win your insurance bet. Expert card counters can keep track of the amount that is still in the deck and ascertain when there are enough to make insurance the percentage call.
Why insurance should generally be avoided in blackjack
The following example shows why, even in a best-case scenario such as the one below, betting blackjack insurance is a losing strategy in the long run.
- You are playing alone against the dealer in a one-deck game and neither card in your initial hand has a value of 10.
- This means 16 of the remaining 49 cards have a value of 10, giving your £10 insurance bet the highest possible chance of winning.
- Despite this, your position remains one which is not likely to be possible in the long term.
- On average the £10 insurance bet wins 16 times and loses 33 times. Each win pays £20 profit, making a total of £320.
- However, the 33 losses at £10-a-time leaves you £10 down overall.
This hand is a best-case scenario because neither you nor any other players have 10-value cards in their initial hands. If this was the case, the chance of the dealer having a 10-value hole card (and therefore you win your insurance bet) would be even lower.
Finding alternative online blackjack side bets
The insurance bet isn’t the only side bet available in Betway’s online casino.
Many of Microgaming’s variations feature a bonus wager of one kind or another. In most cases, you can also take insurance on top of any side bet.
1. Bonus Blackjack Multi-Hand:
Microgaming’s variation of European blackjack lets players gamble on four hands in one game. As well as insurance, you can place side bets to earn 50/1 (jack and Ace of spades), 25/1 (jack and Ace of diamonds, clubs, or hearts), or 5/2 (two cards of the same suit).
2. Atlantic City Blackjack Gold Series:
This is a unique blackjack variant powered by Microgaming. Based on a popular version of blackjack devised in Atlantic City, the US gambling hotspot, it allows players to “surrender” half their bet if they feel they are about to lose against the dealer. The insurance bet is still in play if the dealer shows an ace.
3. High Streak Blackjack Gold Series:
High Streak Blackjack features a neat side bet that rewards players who win two consecutive hands. With the insurance bet safeguarding against the dealer’s blackjack, savvy players can work the odds in their favor by backing both wagers.
Trying the insurance betting system in blackjack
Insurance is a way of claiming some of your stakes back if the dealer looks like winning. But a better bet for players is to find a version of blackjack with a surrender feature.
Despite the well-meant intentions of your slightly boisterous new friends on the blackjack table, or even in some cases an ill-informed dealer, insurance is never a good idea for a casual blackjack player.
The surge in tables paying 6 to 5 on blackjack has caused a lot of confusion about taking even money. Casinos don’t offer this shortcut because the math doesn’t work the same as on a 3 to 2 table, but you can still take insurance on your blackjack.
Perhaps the only positive to come out of 6 to 5 blackjack is reigniting the debate about eliminating insurance altogether.
Casinos make money on their hands per hour. Spending 10 or 15 seconds tracing the layout asking for insurance when almost no one ever takes it can seriously impact the bottom line over hundreds of thousands of hands.
The saving grace on the old 3 to 2 tables was the ingrained (but bad) advice to take even money and walk away with something. This provided at least some player participation on the insurance side bet.
But now, with 6 to 5 games forcing folks to actually insure a blackjack, participation has fallen to all-time lows.
Don’t be terribly surprised if in the not-too-distant future you walk into a casino and insurance is no longer on the layout in bold letters.
But not to worry, your garrulous friend down on spot 7 can probably opine for hours about 12s against a bust card.
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