15th Nov2021

Blackjack Side Bets: Worth It?

by James Smith

The game of Blackjack is one of the simplest – but most fun – in the casino. But what about when you’ve been playing the game for years? How can you make the game a little more exciting? Getting thrown out of the casino for card counting is probably exciting, but with that option not available at online casinos, I guess we’ll have to come up with something else! Enter: Side Bets.

As we mentioned, Blackjack is one of the simplest games on the casino floor – side bets add a great deal of complexity to the game, though, inevitably, your odds of winning a side bet are going to be much lower than that of winning a regular hand. This is how casinos make their money, after all – the greater the level of risk the casino is taking, the higher the odds they will place on the bet.

The Most Common Blackjack Side Bets

First of all, don’t concern yourself with side bets when you are first beginning to learn how to play blackjack. The most common side bet is the insurance bet, which is offered anytime the dealer is showing an Ace. Your odds are very poor in this scenario – regardless of what cards you have in your hand. This would suggest that the insurance bet is a sensible option… wouldn’t it? The problem is, the insurance bet only pays 2:1 if you win. Run the math, and the house edge is 7.4% – a huge increase over the normal house edge of most forms of Blackjack. Surely, there must be better options?

The 21+3 Side Bet

This is the most common Blackjack side bet other than insurance and is offered by almost every casino that offers Blackjack. It’s incredibly common in online versions as well, including live dealer games. The 21+3 bet is interesting because whilst lower numbers of decks normally favour the player, they work against you in this side bet, as the following table shows:

One Deck 13.30%
Two Decks 7.26%
Four Decks 4.24%
Six Decks 3.24%
Eight Decks 2.74%

The maximum you can win from a regular hand of Blackjack is just 2:1, and even this is a rare occurrence reserved only for those occasions when you hit a Blackjack – and are fortunate enough the dealer does not have one as well. The 21+3 bet merges elements of Three Card Poker with the regular game of Blackjack, allowing you to make a three-card poker hand from your two-hole cards and the dealers visible face-up card.

The payouts look attractive, at first glance – flushes pay out 5/1, straights double this to 10/1, and a suited three-of-a-kind pays out a whopping 100/1. This is your first clue as to why fewer decks is disadvantageous to you as the player – you can’t hit three suited Kings of Diamonds with less than three decks, after all, and your odds of hitting the combinations which are actually possible increase substantially the higher the number of decks in play.

Overall, if you do want to play Blackjack side bets, this is perhaps one of the best to choose. Unibet’s online casino offers variants from several providers which offer the 21+3 side bet, though we recommend you pay attention to the help section of each game and stick to variants which use a minimum of six decks.

The Perfect Pairs Side Bet

The second most popular Blackjack side bet is known as “Perfect Pairs”, and, like 21+3, is offered on almost every Blackjack table in land-based casinos as well as online. Unlike 21+3, however, fewer decks benefit the player when you choose to play the perfect pairs bet. If you can find a single deck game offering perfect pairs, the house edge is right around 2% – for eight decks, this rises to an extremely unpalatable 11%.

The typical payout table for Perfect Pairs is as follows:

  • Hole cards of identical value, but different colors AND suits: 5/1
  • Hole cards of identical value, of matching colors but differing suits: 10/1
  • A perfect pair: two-hole cards of identical colors and suits: 30/1

Of course, some casinos are tighter with their payouts than others – you may find tables offering 25/1 for a perfect pair, for example, or you may even find a more generous casino offering 35/1. Casinos closely monitor the number of people who participate in these side bets at different payout ratios – the house edge is always much higher than the regular game, so they have nothing to lose by experimenting with different payouts to try and maximize the number of bets placed.

Other Side Bets

There are so many Blackjack side bets that it is hard to keep track of the entire list. Games such as Spanish Blackjack have huge numbers of side bets effectively built into the core game too, meaning that their odds are included in the overall house edge. If you are eager for a bigger challenge, these games might well be for you – they demand much more skill to play profitably, whilst still offering the low house edge of a traditional Blackjack game.

Whilst some players advocate staying clear of all Blackjack side bets, this viewpoint is based solely on the view that these bets have a higher house edge than the base game itself. If you are playing to have fun – and that is the only good reason to gamble, after all – then participating in the occasional side bet is a great way to spice up your evening.

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