Insurance is a type of side bet where the player can place another wager for a possible blackjack when the dealer has an Ace up-card. It usually pays 2:1 which is why many players gamble their betting units to this risk. But is blackjack insurance a worthy wager? Can you actually win money from this side bet? What does insurance mean in blackjack?
A lot of players (including me) had warned about the risk of insurance bets. For the most part, these are sucker bets with a very high house edge. Unless you’re not flying blind with the shoe, an insurance wager can possibly win you money or even protect a large original wager.
What is insurance in blackjack?
Whenever the dealer pops an Ace up-card, the players on the table will be given the chance to place an insurance bet. The additional wager would be half of your original bet. For example, if you’re betting $20 on your hand, the insurance bet would be $10.
When the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack, you lose the $20 bet but you still stand the chance of saving your hand. But in case the dealer has a blackjack, you’ll be paid $20 for the $10 (2:1) side bet but your $20 hand loses. Technically, you just break even in this case since the bets translate to a push.
With this, insurance bets don’t seem to be a bad thing after all. However, there’s only a small chance that the dealer will have a blackjack most of the time. You can increase your chances of winning an insurance bet if you count cards.
When does insurance become a sucker bet?
First, insurance bets have a very high house edge. If you’re playing in a two-deck table with a 0.45% house edge, taking the insurance will increase it to 6.79%. The more decks there are in play, the higher the house edge will be for this side bet. So what is insurance in blackjack? It’s a money grabber.s
If you take insurance bets haphazardly, expect to have substantial losses in the future. This is the reason why blackjack experts warn against taking insurance wagers. It’s a bet against the odds of probability. Although it’s a good thing that you’ll break even, it’s not good news for those who want to make profits out of the card game.
Pros and cons of insurance bets
As much as I personally loathe insurance bets, I still recognize that it has some advantages on the part of the player. I still think that you shouldn’t call insurance bets a sucker bet all the time, especially if you know what’s in the shoe. With this, I weighed some of the pros and cons of the side bet:
Practically and statistically, insurance in blackjack isn’t always a good call. Even if you have a pretty impressive experience with side betting, insurance isn’t a good way to make money all the time. Take the risk, but learn when to say no.
When to take an insurance bet
Don’t take an insurance bet out of gut-feel alone. Always consider the cards on the table. Are there many face or 10 cards already dealt? If so, you may want to think twice before putting your money on it. This is just a basic application of the Composition-Development strategy. It’s about what constitutes the hand of each player.
This becomes challenging if there are multiple decks in the shoe. But if you can afford to lose a bet unit then you can give insurance bets a chance. Still, don’t consider it as an income faucet for your gambling.
What if you have an ugly hand? Do you take insurance blackjack? Yes and no. Sometimes, surrendering is a better option than shelling out more money. You wouldn’t want to lose twice in one round, right?
Still, there’s a reasonable way to take insurance: card counting.Through this, you can keep track of how many 10 and face cards are left in the shoe. However, you should be aware of two scenarios: actual casinos hate card counters and that you can’t count cards in an online platform.
Just because the dealer has an Ace up-card doesn’t mean you’re obliged to wage on it. If you’re playing in an actual casino, don’t be carried away by the sweet talking of the dealer. Focus on your strategy and weigh if the insurance is a worthy investment.
Based on the actual experiences of experts and the advice of some gambling mathematicians, insurance bets are rarely beneficial for the players.
Alternatives to maximize your winnings
If you’re not sure if you can win an insurance bet, don’t put your money on it. Although blackjack is a gamble, you’d want to minimize the harm it can bring to your bankroll. With that, here are some of the alternatives you can take instead of betting on blackjack insurance:
Instead of placing your money on the dealer’s hand, you can do a side bet on your own cards. The Perfect Pairs is a pretty flexible side bet where you’ll win if there are “perfect pairs” in your hand. It could be a matching suit, face, color, or both. Payouts for these differ but it’s way better than going broke in insurance in blackjack.
Still, bet in moderation. Perfects Pairs is still a side bet you can’t always win on. The odds are better than insurance and far more interesting but it doesn’t guarantee consistent wins.
If you have a losing hand and the dealer has an Ace, there are instances where surrendering is better than risking more money just to save your wager. If the dealer happens to have no blackjack, you’ll possibly lose the hand and the additional bet.
When you surrender, you’ll lose half of your original bet. Although you’ll miss the chance of breaking even if the dealer yields a blackjack, it’s better than taking an uncalculated risk. Following the basic strategy, you’ll have a solid basis for this move.
Surrender can be an early or late one. Early surrender is done upon seeing the dealer’s up-card and your chances of winning are bleak. On the other hand, late surrender is done after the dealer peaks for a possible blackjack.
A blackjack switch is when you’re dealt with two hands instead of one. You can play more hands as you wish but the additional hands will be challenging to manage. The concept of this is that you can switch cards in between the separate hands.
For example, you have a 10-5 and 10-6 hand. To make these better playing hands, you can switch it up to 10-10 and 5-6. As you see, the cards became winning hands.
This may look like the best blackjack game; however, you should know that a dealer’s 22 isn’t considered a bust. Instead, this is a push with all the hands with the exception of natural blackjack hands.
As for the payouts, blackjack switch only pays 1:1 instead of the traditional 3:2. Still, the fact that you can switch cards offsets the mediocre payout.
How to win an insurance blackjack bet
If you really want to take the risk at some point, there are ways to increase your odds of winning insurance bets. I’m not saying that the following tips can actually win your wagers, but it can possibly minimize your losses.
Again, bet at your own risk. I may sound like a broken record, but I’ll always emphasize that blackjack insurance isn’t worth the risk.
Still, for your benefit, I’ll give some tips here:
>Reading the dealer
Let’s start with one of the most effective ways. Card counting is the manner of keeping track of the shoe in terms of the number of cards dealt and still on the deck. With this, you’ll have an educated guess if the dealer is likely to have a blackjack once he shows his hole card.
I suggest that you start with a balanced system like the Hi-Lo method.Card counting is a simple method but it takes a lot of practice to master. For every card dealt, you’ll add, subtract, or do nothing. You’ll keep a running count that you’ll update whenever new cards are dealt.
When the running count goes higher, the advantage is on your side. If it goes lower (negative value), the house edge increases. To know more about card counting, check our master class HERE.
Reading the dealer
If you don’t fancy counting cards and you’re afraid to get caught, the next best thing is to read the dealer’s body language. This is a subjective method, but it works for some players who have a special talent and a strong gut feel. However, take note that this will only work in American blackjack.
So how does insurance work in blackjack? It varies per type.
In European blackjack, the dealer won’t deal his hand with a hole card. The players would have to decide first whether or not they will place insurance blackjack bets or not. Only after the players settle their hands that the dealer will deal the hole card. This steals you the chance to read the dealer’s facial expression and gestures.
American blackjack, on the other hand, is played traditionally with a face-down hole card. The dealer will peak for blackjack and the players will decide if they will place a side bet. Reading the dealer’s body language doesn’t always work, but if you really want to place more money on the table, it doesn’t hurt to interpret that mild smirk. Also, watch out for the flashers!
As much as you have the freedom to place side bets, insurance in blackjack is something you can play without. It has a high house edge and it won’t offset any losses you’ve had in your previous hands. As much as the payouts are lavish, it’s only good when you win. And base on statistical analysis, it’s rare for most players.
Still, I don’t want to discount that fact that you know when to take it. Card counters do know when an insurance bet is worth the risk, but many of them still don’t take it. Why? Because they have a pre-calculated EV even before they sit on the table. EV or Expected Value is based on the betting units and the hands played per hour. Insurance and other side bets aren’t in the picture because it’s an uncontrollable variable.
Blackjack insurance surely adds thrill to the game. Still, bet at your own risk. Just bet what you can afford losing. You’ve been warned.