The best blackjack side bets compared with the worst blackjack side bets can offer some staggering insights into the math behind the game.
But what is a side bet in blackjack?
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It’s basically a proposition bet separate from the main bet. You determine the outcome of this bet by who wins the hand.
Blackjack side bets are all over the place in terms of payouts and probabilities. Some of them are fun and have a low house edge.
But most have a high house edge and are best avoided.
In this post, I offer a detailed explanation of side bets in general and the best blackjack side bets specifically.
What Are Blackjack Side Bets? (And How Do They Work?)
Your main bet in blackjack is the bet you put right in front of you to play the main game. In many games, this is basically the ONLY bet available.
And side bets will have a smaller area to place your chips near the main betting space.
How do blackjack side bets work?
Go to a casino near you that offers blackjack. Find a table, and sit down. Then start by putting your chips down in the designated spot on the table for that bet before the cards are dealt. The side bet outcomes are usually determined by the first 2 cards that are dealt. Sometimes the dealer’s cards matter, too.
The easiest way to understand side bets in blackjack, though, is to learn about some example.
In the list of best blackjack side bets below, you’ll find detailed descriptions of how the side bets work. The most common side bets are 21 + 2 and Blackjack Perfect Pairs, so I’ll start with those.
Keep in mind, too, that not all side bets are available in all blackjack games. Most games don’t have a side bet at all. Those that do usually only have one side bet available.
You’ll also see, and quickly, why most high limit blackjack players avoid side bets.
The 21 + 3 Side Bet in Blackjack
The main bet in blackjack is how your hand does against the dealer’s hand. Most of the time, if you win, you get even money. Sometimes (about 5% of the time), you’ll get a “natural” or “blackjack.” That’s a 2-card hand worth 21 points. You get 3 to 2 odds when that happens.
But the 21 + 3 side bet offers a range of payouts based on your 2 cards and the dealer’s face-up card. The 21 + 3 side bet bases its pay table on poker hand values.
Here are the paying hands and payouts for this side bet:
- A flush pays off at 5 to 1. This is when all 3 cards are of the same suit.
- A straight pays off at 10 to 1. This is when all 3 cards are of adjacent ranks, like 5-6-7 or 10-J-Q.
- A three of a kind pays off at 30 to 1. This is when all 3 cards are of the same ranking.
- A straight flush pays off at 40 to 1. This is a hand where all the cards are the same suit and are adjacent in ranks.
- A suited three of a kind pays off at 100 to 1. This is a hand where all 3 cards are the same rank and the same suit.
- If the 3 cards don’t qualify for any of those hands, the side bet loses.
This is the best possible pay table for this side bet, and the house edge is about 3.7%, according to Michael Shackleford. You can find additional pay tables at that link and see that the house edge is higher with most other pay tables.
The Perfect Pairs Side Bet in Blackjack
“Perfect Pairs” is probably at least as popular as 21 + 3, if not more so. This is a side bet on whether the first 2 cards in the player’s hand will be a pair, or not. Different types of pairs have different payouts.
In blackjack, cards have both rankings and suits, but the suits only matter in side bets. Being a pair means having the same ranking, so if both cards are 7, you have a pair. If they’re both jacks, you also have a pair.
For payout purposes, you have the following kinds of pairs:
- Mixed Pairs – These are pairs with the same ranking but in different suits AND different colors.
- Colored Pairs – These are pairs with the same ranking but the same color — even though the suits are different.
- Perfect Pairs – These are pairs with the same ranking and the same suit.
The perfect pairs side bet gets paid off based on your first 2 cards and has no effect on the rest of the main hand.
What kinds of payouts can you expect?
They vary from casino to casino. The Wizard of Odds is an authority on this kind of thing, and he lists multiple pay tables on his page about the bet.
The Insurance Bet in Blackjack
You may not think of taking insurance in blackjack as a side bet, but that’s what it is. It’s a side bet based on the possibility of dealer blackjack. The win here is small – a 2:1 payout. That payout is small consolation, considering all it does is allow you to break even on your hand.
Insurance is probably the most common side bet in blackjack. Every live blackjack game I’ve ever played has included insurance. I’m sure there are exceptions.
Here’s how the insurance side bet works:
When the dealer’s face-up card is an ace, you’re offered a chance to take insurance. It’s called insurance because it protects your wager against the chance that the dealer has a blackjack. After the insurance side bet is made, the 2:1 payout comes only if the dealer’s hole card has a value of 10. Otherwise, the insurance bet is lost.
The dealer’s hand has a 1 in 3 chance of being a blackjack. The payout is only 2:1. Clearly, this is a losing bet over the long run.
Our expert on the subject of insurance side bets in blackjack says “… for every dollar the player bets on insurance, he can expect to lose 7.4 cents or 7.4% of whatever his insurance bet is.” A house edge of 7.4% is high relative to blackjack’s overall house edge, but it’s low compared to some blackjack side bets.
The ability to count cards would help when making this blackjack side bet. When you know a shoe is rich with ten-point cards, you avoid taking the insurance side bet. The opposite is also true; when the shoe is low on 10-point cards, the house edge on insurance bets drops considerably.
Unless you can count cards, you should probably only try the insurance side bet for fun. It gives the casino an even bigger edge against you.
The Over/Under 13 Bet in Blackjack
The Over/Under 13 bet has a surprisingly modest house edge relative to other blackjack side bets.
We’re getting into less-common territory now. The Over/Under 13 bet is considered to be the first side bet in the blackjack gambling industry, but these days it’s a rarity.
Here’s how it works:
Before your cards are dealt, you bet that the sum of your first two cards is either over or under a point total of 13. If your point total is exactly 13, you lose the bet.
The payout is 1:1. The limit is generally between the table minimum and the size of your original bet.
I’ve read online about casinos outside the US offering a bet on the total being exactly 13. This has a 10:1 payout.
Wizard of Odds offers a lot of good details about this bet, even breaking down the house edge and probability by the number of decks in the shoe.
In a typical 8-deck game, the house edge on Under 13 bets is 10.06%. The house edge on Over 13 bets is 6.54%. If you can find a table offering the Exactly 13 bet with a 10:1 payout, the house has an 8.66% edge in a normal 8-deck game.
Because there’s no benefit to betting Under 13, it’s clear that betting Over 13 is the way to go if you’re looking to take this side bet. A 10:1 payout against an 8.66% edge isn’t necessarily worth chasing, considering you can get a 35:1 payout for a single number bet in roulette with a house edge of 5.26%.
Is a 6.54% house edge good for a blackjack side bet? 6.54% is about the same edge as a good slot machine. It’s about the same edge you face playing American roulette on a double-zero wheel. That edge is probably 4.5% worse than you’d get playing a standard game of blackjack, even if you play sloppy and without much strategy.
The Royal Match Bet in Blackjack
Here’s another uncommon blackjack side bet that has relatively good odds.
Royal Match has three possible outcomes. If your first two cards are suited king and queen, you win the Royal Match payout. That’s typically 25:1. If your first two cards are suited, but not a king and a queen, you win the Easy Match payout. It’s typically 2.5:1. If neither of these things occurs, you lose your bet.
Go ahead and check out the coverage of Royal Match at Wizard of Odds. You’ll see that for a typical 8-deck game, the house edge is 3.49%.
When you place this bet, you’ll see some kind of win (either an Easy Match or a Royal Match) on about 24.6% of all hands you place.
If you place this bet on every hand, at 30 hands an hour, you’ll see 7 or 8 wins – most if not all of those wins will be of the 2.5:1 variety. You’ll have to play a couple of hours before you’re likely to see a Royal Match at 25:1. At that point, you’ll have placed 60 bets. At $10 each, and with a house edge of 3.49%, you’ll be out around $21 over that time.
Some versions of this side bet offer other payouts based on other specific combinations. A common variant is a payout for both the player and dealer having a Royal Match. I’ve seen tables with a progressive jackpot that pays out under this situation.
The Pair Square Bet in Blackjack
Pair Square is one of the most popular side bets in the game. I’d put it up there along with 21+3 and Perfect Pairs. Some casinos call it Bet the Set or Any Pair. I’ve even seen it called other things.
But it’s the same bet, no matter what you call it. If your first two cards are a pair, you win a payout. The payout is higher for a suited pair.
Again, I bow to the master of this sort of content and point you toward the Pair Square page at Wizard of Odds. You’ll see lots of different pay tables with a huge range in house edge.
This is one of the annoying things about the Pair Square bet – the huge number of different pay tables. This has a big impact on the bets’ odds. The Pair Square pay table you choose matters a lot.
The best readily-available Pair Square pay table is 20-10. That’s because it pays 10:1 for a non-suited pair and 20:1 for a suited pair. Under this pay table, the house edge is 2.57%.
You’ll draw a suited pair on about 1.6% of all hands. That means you’ll see a 20-credit payout about once every 60 hands. Along the way, you’ll draw a non-suited pair (and win a 10:1 payout) 3 or 4 times.
When you start looking into blackjack side bets and their odds and probabilities, you’ll start to see the inner workings of the game. If nothing else, learning about the best blackjack side bets will help you learn the game, and show you why most side bets are a waste of your bankroll.
Having said that – if you enjoy placing side bets, by all means, you should place them. Just do it with the knowledge that the casino is making more money off you in the process.
This post points to blackjack side bets toward the ones that will hurt them the least.
If you use them properly, playing side bets in blackjack can add to the entertainment value of your gambling dollar.
Also, for good coverage of how to play blackjack in general, and some thoughts specifically on side bets, Michael Bluejay’s tutorial on how to play is essential reading.