Insurance is a blackjack side-bet which is designed to lessen the blow of the dealer getting a blackjack – which will beat all player hands and tie with a player 2-card 21. Different players have different opinions on whether to take this bet. This article looks at the insurance side-bet in detail – to let you make an informed choice of whether and when this should be a part of your blackjack strategy.
First of all, I have explained a little more about the mechanics of this bet and the payouts. Next you will find a note on how US and European blackjack rules affect how the insurance against dealer blackjack. After that some information about card counting, and whether this can influence your decisions on this side-bet .
Players are invited to participate in this bet by the dealer when the dealer’s upcard is an Ace. In a live game the dealer will ask the players, in an online game the question will pop onto your screen, along with yes / no buttons. If you decide to accept, then a bet equal to half of your stake is made, which will pay out at 2:1 if the dealer turns over a 10 and makes a blackjack. You will have seen your own cards at this point, and if you do not have 21 then you will lose your initial stake when the dealer turns over blackjack – and win that stake back in the form of the payout for the insurance bet. If you do have blackjack yourself, you can still make this bet. In this case you could win the insurance side-bet and also get your initial stake back – making a profit equal to your initial stake.
The odds of the dealer making blackjack when showing an ace are exactly 9:4 against. There are 13 differently numbered cards, exactly 4 of them are 10’s (10, Jack, Queen and King) and 9 are not. This puts the odds another way of looking at this is that for every 1 time the dealer makes blackjack, he will miss 2.125 times. This means that every time you make this bet, you are giving a 12.5% edge to the house.
That is a big edge.
In fact, it is one of the biggest edges you can possibly give to the house on a blackjack table. The only one which always beats this is a progressive jackpot side-bet made when the jackpot is reasonably small.
Serious players always decline this bet. Whether the dealer turns up with a 10 on any one occasion does not matter – over time you are giving away 12.5c for every dollar you bet, every single time. If you take away one thing from GamblingOnline.com today, make it that insurance is a sucker bet that should always be avoided.
In US blackjack games including Atlantic City Blackjack and Vegas Strip Blackjack games – the dealer will ‘peek’ at their holecard to check for blackjack before the players act on their hands with an Ace or 10 showing. In European Rules Blackjack there is no holecard to peek at. In this game the dealer gets the second (and extra) cards only after the players have acted.
This does make a difference to the correct strategy, since in US rules you will know that the dealer does not have 21 by the time you act on your own hand. In European rules you do not know this, and need to act a little more conservatively as a result.
It can be tempting for players of European blackjack to think of insurance as an extra ‘hedge’ against them taking the risks with their own hand, then seeing their work undone by a dealer blackjack at the end. This is not good thinking – the insurance bet has exactly the same house edge and is still a losing proposition in both sets of rules.
Here is where things get interesting, there are certain points in advanced card counting strategy where the deck becomes so ‘positive’ that taking insurance can be the right move. Note that with a lot of 10’s in the deck the dealer is more likely to get blackjack. This means that the card counter has calculated that they will lose a small percentage less on their initial stake by insuring at that point. Not so much an easy win, as a way of making a losing situation slightly less bad!
Realistically, you’d need to be a card counting expert to spot those situations, and be playing live blackjack too. For most players, the insurance is a bad bet all of the time – and it should be avoided.