Most Popular Blackjack Side Bets

Blackjack is already a thrilling casino game, but side bets take it to the next level. These optional wagers, placed alongside your regular blackjack bet, offer the chance for additional payouts based on specific card combinations. But here’s the thing: side bets often come with a significantly higher house edge than the base game, amping up the risk in exchange for potentially large wins.

Let’s delve into some popular side bets you might encounter at the blackjack table:

  1. Insurance
    • How it Works: Offered when the dealer’s upcard is an Ace. It’s a bet that the dealer has a blackjack (Ace + Ten-value card). Pays 2:1 if you win.
    • House Edge: Hugely varies depending on the number of decks. In a single deck, it’s about 5.8%. This worsens dramatically with more decks.
    • Strategy: Basic strategy says almost always decline insurance. Card counters may make an exception when the deck is heavily stacked with high cards, increasing the probability of the dealer having blackjack.
  2. Perfect Pairs
    • How it Works: A bet that your initial two cards will form a pair (any two 5s, two Queens, etc.). Three types of pairs with different payouts:
      • Perfect Pair (same suit, e.g., two Kings of Hearts): Usually around 25:1
      • Colored Pair (same color, different suits, e.g., King of Hearts, King of Diamonds): Usually about 12:1
      • Mixed Pair (different colors, different suits): Usually around 5:1
    • House Edge: Varies based on the number of decks, but generally a higher house edge, anywhere from 4% to over 11%.
    • Strategy: Mostly entertainment value. Even with card counting, the edge rarely shifts enough in your favor for consistent profitability.
  3. 21+3
    • How it Works: A bet that your first two cards AND the dealer’s upcard form a poker hand (flush, straight, three-of-a-kind, etc.). Payouts vary based on the hand formed.
    • House Edge: About 3.2% for most standard pay tables, but can vary slightly.
    • Strategy: There’s some potential for card counting to inform your decision, as you know three cards out of the deck. However, this is an advanced technique and unlikely to render the bet consistently profitable.

Lucky Ladies

  • How it Works: This side bet focuses on your initial two cards. You win if they total 20, with increasing payouts for suited 20s (both cards same suit), a pair of Queen of Hearts, and other specific combinations.
  • House Edge: Quite high, often ranging from 10% to over 24% depending on payout tables.
  • Strategy: Luck is your main weapon here, as there’s little strategic advantage to be gained.

Over/Under 13

  • How it Works: A straightforward bet on whether your first two cards will total over or under 13. Some versions may offer a “push” outcome if the total is exactly 13.
  • House Edge: Varies between casinos and specific rules, but generally around 6% to 10%.
  • Strategy: Can be slightly influenced by card counting to assess how many high or low cards remain in the deck.

Royal Match

  • How it Works: A bet on whether your first two cards form a suited King-Queen pair.
  • House Edge: Typically around 3% to 7%, depending on the number of decks.
  • Strategy: Pure luck – no amount of card counting will help you here.

Buster Blackjack

  • How it Works: You bet that the dealer will bust (go over 21). Payouts usually increase based on the number of cards in the dealer’s busted hand (e.g., busting with 8 cards pays out much more than busting with 3).
  • House Edge: Hugely variable. It depends on the payout table AND how many decks are used. The advantage can sometimes swing towards the player, but the edge is highly volatile.
  • Strategy: Card counting is beneficial here. If more high cards remain in the deck, the dealer’s chance of busting increases. Still, a risky choice due to the unpredictable payouts.

Key Points About Blackjack Side Bets

  • Increased House Edge: Almost all side bets have a significantly higher house edge than the base blackjack game itself.
  • Entertainment Value: Side bets primarily add additional excitement and the potential for a big payout, not a long-term advantage.
  • Exceptions Exist: Very rarely, specific side bet promotions or rule variations may temporarily shift odds enough for a slight advantage, but these are unusual.

Should You Play Blackjack Side Bets?

It depends on your goals:

  • Serious Blackjack Players: If you’re focused on optimizing your blackjack play, side bets should generally be avoided due to their inflated house edge.
  • Casual Players: If you enjoy the extra thrill and don’t mind the higher house edge, a small side bet occasionally can spice up your game.

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