Why Taking Insurance In Blackjack Is Never A Good Bet
Ah, blackjack insurance. The bane of many a break-in dealer’s existence.
You know they shouldn’t be betting it; all the experienced blackjack players at the table know they shouldn’t be betting it.
Still, there’s always going to be that one guy at the table insisting to everyone that will listen that you have to insure your 20 against the dealer’s ace. Or that even money is a good bet.
While I suffered in silence all those years ago in Las Vegas, I’m going to do my best now to explain to you why insurance is never a good bet – no matter what your new friend throwing back mojitos at the other end of the table is telling you.
What Is Insurance In Blackjack?
First off, let’s talk about what insurance is.
Insurance in blackjack is a side bet you can make if the dealer has an ace up, which allows you to bet on the dealer actually having blackjack. If you’re right, you get paid 2 to 1.
But of course, you will lose your main bet. So by betting insurance, you are insuring your hand against the dealer having that dreaded blackjack.
It’s only offered when the dealer has an ace up, and importantly, you can only take insurance for up to half of your main bet.
This is because it’s a simple matter to keep track of the 10s in the deck, and any knowledgeable player would crush the insurance bet if they were allowed to bet more.
Insurance Math Explained
The math here is straightforward.
There are 13 types of cards. Four of them are 10-value cards that will give the dealer blackjack. So, the odds are 9/4 against you winning the bet. The casino will only pay you 2 to 1, so the house edge is almost 6 percent.
As mentioned, house advantage depends on how many 10s have come out of the deck.
Insurance is far and away the most significant deviation from basic strategy for a card counter.
In fact, if I notice nothing else other than that you always take insurance with a large bet and never with a small one, I’ll be on the phone with the eye in the sky before you’re dealt your next hand.
That being said, let’s talk about our tipsy new blackjack instructor attempting to get you to insure your 20 because it’s a “good hand”.
If you have been dealt two 10-value cards, you know that those are two fewer 10 cards that can make the dealer’s hand a blackjack. Taking insurance at this point is even less of a good idea.
Even Money Confusion
The other hand that will have someone at the table clamoring for you to take insurance is when you have a blackjack against a dealer’s ace.
This version of insurance is often called even money, as you will receive even money for your bet.
It’s important to realize that even money is not a separate bet.
It’s just a term used for the short cut that dealers use in paying insurance on a table that still pays a player’s blackjack 3 to 2.
In this case, if you bet $10 and received a blackjack, you could ask for even money. The dealer will happily give you $10, pick up your cards, and proceed on their merry way.
But what has happened here?
In this special instance of taking insurance, the dealer knows that there are two outcomes.
If the dealer has a blackjack as well and had you placed the $5 bet on the insurance line, you would have pushed on your blackjack but been paid $10 on your separate insurance bet.
If the dealer had not had blackjack, you would have lost your $5 insurance bet, but you would have received 3 to 2 on your blackjack.
That’s $15 minus the $5 for insurance, or a net of $10. Sadly, this neat little math trick only works on blackjack tables that still pay 3-2.
Casinos do not offer even money on tables where blackjack pays 6 to 5. In that case, you would put up your $5 insurance.
If the dealer has blackjack, you win $10 as in the original even money scenario. But if the dealer doesn’t have blackjack, you lose $5 in insurance and only pick up $12 for your blackjack.
That’s a net of only $7, not the $10 that made the even-money trick work before.
Other than that, insurance works exactly the same on tables that pay 3 to 2 or 6 to 5. Though obviously, the 3 to 2 game has much better odds.
But Is Even Money A Good Bet?
The argument here is that you’re going to be paid something. A win is a win.
But of course, you’re playing many hands of blackjack. Getting paid something isn’t the same as getting paid the most over time.
Let’s review our $10 bet scenario. There are 13 possible cards under the dealer’s hole card.
If you take even money on all 13 of those cases, you have $130. If you don’t, you push on the 4 occasions the dealer has a 10-value card but get paid $15 on the other 9 non-10-value cards. That’s $135.
This is a little simplified in that it ignores the cards dealt to you and the dealer, but in the long run, you will be over 3 percent better off if you don’t take even money.
Conclusion: Avoid The Insurance Side Bet
Despite the well-meant intentions of your slightly boisterous new friends on the blackjack table, or even in some cases an ill-informed dealer, insurance is never a good idea for a casual blackjack player.
The surge in tables paying 6 to 5 on blackjack has caused a lot of confusion about taking even money.
Casinos don’t offer this shortcut because the math doesn’t work the same as on a 3 to 2 table, but you can still take insurance on your blackjack.
Perhaps the only positive to come out of 6 to 5 blackjack is reigniting the debate about eliminating insurance altogether.
Casinos make money on hands per hour. Spending 10 or 15 seconds tracing the layout asking for insurance when almost no one ever takes it can seriously impact the bottom line over hundreds of thousands of hands.
The saving grace on the old 3 to 2 tables was the ingrained (but bad) advice to take even money and walk away with something. This provided at least some player participation on the insurance side bet.
But now, with 6 to 5 games forcing folks to actually insure a blackjack, participation has fallen to all-time lows.
Don’t be terribly surprised if in the not-too-distant future you walk into a casino and insurance is no longer on the layout in bold letters.
But not to worry, your garrulous friend down on spot 7 can probably opine for hours about 12s against a bust card.