Insurance can be tricky. Whether it’s auto, renters, homeowners, pets – it feels like there are always more loopholes than we know what to do with. Once you understand the concept, insurance in blackjack is relatively straight forward.
Just because it’s a simple concept to understand, doesn’t mean it’s without dispute. There are differing opinions on whether it is a good bet or a sucker bet, and we’re here to set you straight. We will explain what blackjack insurance is, when it applies and whether you should use it.
Blackjack insurance is a side bet in addition to your initial bet. It lets a blackjack player pay half of their original bet on the side to “insure” against a dealer hitting blackjack when the dealer's upcard is an ace.
Once that happens, the dealer then offers insurance to everyone at the blackjack table, or if you’re playing online blackjack, a button will pop up letting you know that’s an option. Let’s say your original bet is $10. Should you choose to make an insurance wager, you place 50% of the bet ($5) to the side of your hand. The dealer then discretely checks their hole card to see if he or she has blackjack.
If the dealer has blackjack, they flip their cards and your insurance pays out 2-1, so you would get $15 total back, meaning you would essentially keep all the money you risked. If the dealer doesn’t have blackjack, you lose the side bet and then continue on with the blackjack hand as normal, knowing they don’t have a 10 or face card as their hole card.
Another type of “insurance” occurs if you have blackjack and the dealer is showing an ace. In this situation, you can accept an even money payout on your original wager instead of the typical 3-2 payout that a natural blackjack typically pays. If you decline and the dealer has blackjack, the hand is considered a push, or a tie. If the dealer doesn’t have blackjack, you receive the normal 3-2 payment on your initial bet.
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While the concept is simple, the decision on buying insurance can be tricky for a novice blackjack player. And there are benefits and drawbacks to both decisions.
The first pro to taking insurance is it obviously protects your hand. If you have a decent hand that you think has a good chance of winning against a non-blackjack (say it is a 20), protecting yourself can make sure you don’t lose money if the dealer has blackjack. And by taking an even money payout if you have blackjack, it guarantees a profitable hand.
It is also a decision that only impacts your stack and nobody else’s hand. Often in blackjack the decision to “play by the book” has ramifications across the whole table. For instance, hitting against a 5 unless you are in a clear double or split situation is always a no-no. To do so would change up the number of cards dealt in the hand and could easily have negative impact across the table.
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Buying insurance does not impact anyone else. That doesn’t mean it is a good bet; just not one that will get other players upset with you.
The primary con of an insurance wager is that it just isn’t a good bet. There is a strong possibility the dealer doesn’t have blackjack. The odds show that in the long run insurance bets will cost you money, but we’ll get into that more in a second.
Understand that by taking insurance you are eliminating any chance of winning the full amount of money you initially bet (unless you have blackjack). Either you will lose half of your original bet off the top, or you will keep your money – but that’s it.
The first thing to know is there is almost no way to calculate the exact odds for an insurance bet – it varies depending on the amount of decks involved and how many 10s and face cards have been dealt.
Assuming you’re not card counting and know exactly the number of 10-point cards that have been dealt (which is near impossible in online blackjack where the shoe is electronically reshuffled between hands), the odds are almost always against you. The more decks involved, the worse the odds become.
Statistically speaking if you play by the book, the inherent house advantage involved in blackjack is 0.5%, one of the lowest of all casino games. If you take insurance in a one-deck game, the house advantage on that decision is 5.8%. If you made the same decision in an eight-deck game, the house advantage climbs to 7.5%. Simply put, the odds of 2-1 don’t justify the bet.
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Even though most seasoned blackjack players consider it a bad bet, if you are insistent on taking insurance against a dealer blackjack, there are times when statistically it’s a closer call. For instance, taking the even money when you have a blackjack. If you bet $10 per hand 100 times in this situation and took even money every time, you would win $1,000.
However, if you never took insurance, you would only need the dealer to miss 34% of the time in order to come out ahead. Since the odds of a 10 or face card coming up is about 31% you’re at just a 3% advantage if you pass on the insurance.
Another spot is when you have A-9. The reason you would take it in this instance (as opposed to two 10-point cards) is based on probability. If you have two of the 10-point cards in a single-deck game, then at best there are just 14 of 49 (28.6%) remaining cards that have a value of 10. If you have A-9, you still have a high value hand to protect with a 20, but there could be a 16/49 (32.7%) chance of the dealer turning a 10.
Our inclination is to say don’t make a blackjack insurance bet as it is a bad bet. We also know many players are “feel” players and not analytical players. Meaning, if a player feels a face card is coming, they’d rather attempt winning something rather than nothing, not playing the long game as more seasoned players do.
You would never take insurance when you have a hand between 12-16. The odds of busting on these hands with one card are anywhere from 31% on a 12 to 62% on a 16. These are the hands that end in victory the least frequently. So it doesn’t make any sense to protect a hand that doesn’t have good odds in the first place.
The bottom line is don’t take insurance. Just play out your hand opposite the dealer's ace the best you can knowing it is the right decision.
Insurance wasn’t offered in the early adaptations of blackjack, but casinos later implemented it to increase their chances of victory. It feels like the smart play, which makes it so tempting. Don’t do it. In order to give yourself the best odds, it’s best to take calculated risks and insurance simply isn’t one that pays off.
Now you know all the facts around buying blackjack insurance. You know that protecting your hand may feel better but that in the long run you will net more money if you don’t take insurance. However, that long run doesn’t help the hand in front of you, when you feel the dealer is on a heater and you have a hand with a big bet out there that could change your whole game.
While the book will suggest not taking blackjack insurance, it’s truly up to each individual. As we mentioned before, it doesn’t affect anybody else’s game, so it is a personal choice.
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