Blackjack Insurance

Blackjack Insurance: Should It Be Used?

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Updated on: 3 May 2024
Dean McHugh

Nowadays, virtually anything can be insured. You can insure your car, your house, your life, your boat…heck, you can even insure your individual body parts if they’re that valuable.

So, it should be no surprise that you can get insurance at a land-based or online casino, particularly when you hit the blackjack tables.

And why not? Blackjack insurance is a no-lose proposition, right? Getting insured should be the kryptonite of every dealer’s existence.

Or is it?

See, there will always be that one smart aleck at the table telling anyone who’d listen that you should insure your 19 or 20 against a dealer showing an ace—or that insurance is always worth betting on.

But every blackjack pro within earshot will probably snicker at the fool at the table—because they know for a fact that they shouldn’t take that bet at all. Unless you’re an eagle-eyed card counter, the maths is against you; buying blackjack insurance will likely generate more losses over the long run. Here’s why.

Blackjack Insurance: The Mechanics

Blackjack insurance may seem like an attractive option for the player when the dealer is showing an ace because of the odds that their hole card—the one that’s face down—is a 10-value card.

In essence, blackjack insurance is a side bet, insuring your hand against the dealer actually having the dreaded natural blackjack. Blackjack insurance gives the player a chance to break even should the dealer have blackjack, even if the player would lose their main bet either way.

Here’s how it works: once the players at the table who bought insurance have placed their side bets, the dealer will check or reveal their hole card. If it is a 10-value card, the dealer takes everyone’s main bets. Everyone else who insured their hands will get a 2:1 payout on their insurance side bet. It must be noted that players can only insure their hands for half of their original stake, allowing them to break even in case the dealer has blackjack.

If the dealer’s hole card isn’t a 10-value card, they will rake in any insurance bets made, and the game will continue on as per its normal course. If you have 21 while the dealer shows an ace, you may be offered “even money,” but don’t take the bet under any circumstances. It’s just another modus operandi to get you to bet on what is virtually the same thing as insurance.

If you take the even money bet, you won’t get paid at a 3:2 clip like you should. Your blackjack will only get paid 1:1, or the same amount as your original wager, whether or not the dealer has 21. If you stand at blackjack without taking an even money bet and the dealer holds a 21, the game ends in a push, and your main bet is returned. Otherwise, if the dealer doesn’t have 21, your blackjack will be paid 3:2 as it usually would.

Ultimately, insurance and even money are bad side bets. They have nothing to do with the strength of your hand—and their odds are tilted heavily in favour of the house. With the house edge on insurance bets sitting at 7.4%, there’s a good reason why basic blackjack strategy dictates that players should never take them.

Blackjack Insurance: Pros and Cons

blackjack insurance pros and cons

Surely blackjack insurance CAN’T always be a bad idea, can it? Otherwise, why would casinos offer it? How can players protect themselves from an incoming blackjack from a dealer when their hands stand at a “strong” 20?

Insurance may seem like the right play if the dealer is showing an ace, considering the one-in-three chance that they have a 10-value card in the hole. But the decision requires more nuance than blindly insuring your hand at every possible opportunity. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of blackjack insurance as follows:

Blackjack Insurance: The Pros

In principle, there are two main advantages to getting blackjack insurance:

  • Protection against the dealer getting blackjack. The main draw of insurance is that it may protect the player’s main bet if the dealer does indeed have a natural blackjack.
  • Bonus payout. In the chance that the dealer isn’t holding blackjack and a player is insured, they can receive twice the amount of their insurance to offset the loss of their main bet.

The only way you can win a blackjack insurance bet is for the dealer to have a 10-value card in the hole. However, the odds and probability aren’t in your favour due to the fact that you will lose more by betting on insurance over the long term—unless you are a god-tier card counter.

Blackjack insurance: The Cons

When it comes to blackjack insurance bets, the disadvantages far outweigh the pros. Here are the three main cons to getting blackjack insurance:

  • Negative EV (expected value). Getting insured on every hand, equates to a net loss or negative expected value over the long run. That’s because the probability of the dealer having a natural blackjack is less than the odds of the dealer NOT having one.
  • Greater house edge. The casino boosts its overall house edge by offering blackjack insurance, putting it at a greater advantage than the player insuring their hand.
  • Deviation from basic blackjack strategy. Blackjack pros consider blackjack insurance as a deviation from the basic winning blackjack strategy. Any distraction from the basic strategy will reduce the likelihood of them winning more hands over time.

Should you get Insurance at all?

Players should only get blackjack insurance if they expect the dealer to have a 10-value card in the hole. For players who play blackjack for fun or rely on their gut feeling when making decisions, this means getting insurance only when the dealer is on a hot run. For highly skilled players—we’re talking about expert card counters and statistical geeks—it means getting insured when they expect an incoming 10.

Although getting insurance at a blackjack table may seem like a good idea at first, it’s a decision against the player’s own interests. Why? You’re giving the casino a greater house edge by doing so—making blackjack insurance a bad decision for most players.

The Lowdown on Blackjack Insurance and House Edge

Blackjack requires a combination of skill, maths, and a lot of luck to give you the best chance of winning. Basic blackjack strategy—the optimal method of play that dictates the “correct” decision to take in any given situation is mathematically and irrefutably proven to minimise the house edge. Basic strategy is unequivocal about getting blackjack insurance—do NOT, under any circumstances, take it. Politely decline the offer and carry on.

See, the overall house edge in blackjack is approximately 0.7%, with the exact figure changing depending on house rules and game variants. Blackjack offers one of the lowest house edges as far as card games are concerned, giving players a greater chance to beat the game. In mathematical terms, a blackjack player betting a total of €10,000 over 1,000 blackjack hands could expect to lose a paltry €70.

Insurance throws this house edge out of whack when it is introduced into the equation as a standalone bet. From 0.7%, the house edge skyrockets to an eye-watering 7.4%—representing over a 10x multiplier vis-a-vis the standard house edge. Granted, the precise number may vary depending on the house rules and the number of decks, among other factors–but a general house edge of 7% can be safely assumed for most multi-deck games.

This plays into the narrative that for most players, getting blackjack insurance is a terrible decision due to the house edge it gives to the casino rather than just saying “no” to the offer. This comes with one caveat, though: highly skilled card counters with oodles and oodles of experience may actually be able to maximise blackjack insurance by accurately determining the number of 10s left in a particular shoe.

When Should You Take Blackjack Insurance?

As we have discussed earlier, the probability of winning a blackjack insurance side bet is determined by the house rules, game variant, and number of decks used. Whenever a dealer shows an ace, their odds of having a 10 in the hole or a “natural” blackjack are approximately 31%. In other words, in every 4 out of every 13 hands where the dealer’s up-card is an ace, they will have a natural blackjack.

Meanwhile, the payout for blackjack insurance is 2:1. This means that every player betting €20 on insurance will receive a €40 reward if the dealer gets blackjack. The expected value of insurance can be determined by multiplying the odds of the dealer getting blackjack by the payout of the insurance bet. In this particular case, the expected value or EV of the insurance bet would turn out negative—indicating that players will lose more money on this bet over time.

The only reason you would take blackjack insurance is if you are a grizzled veteran blackjack player with exceptional card-counting skills. Another (bad) reason why you might want to bet on insurance is if you’re a “gut” player who plays blackjack for fun and if it doesn’t kill your bankroll. Most experienced blackjack players would recommend that players never bet on insurance. Period, end of.

If You Must Take Blackjack Insurance…Consider This

One of the most common justifications for players to take blackjack insurance is because they have a hand value worth 20. However, unless you have an ace and 9 (which equates to a value of 10 or 20), this is a prime example of flawed reasoning. The basic underlying premise of insurance wagers is that the dealer has a 10 in the hole—making blackjack insurance on a player hand of 20 actively puts you at an instant disadvantage.

The greater the ratio of 10-value cards in the shoe, the greater the likelihood that your insurance bet might win. The key phrase in this statement is “in the shoe.” If you have two 10 cards in your hand, the last thing you want to bet on in that situation is that another 10 card is hiding behind the dealer’s ace.

The Final Word on Blackjack Insurance

Insurance is almost always a good idea—the operative word being “almost.” Except when it comes to blackjack.

See, even if you were Tommy Hyland, Peter Griffin, Al Francesco, and Stanford Wong—that is, one of the greatest card counters of all time—it’s still best to avoid getting blackjack insurance. It’s all a matter of probability. The odds of the dealer holding a natural blackjack is less than 33% of the time. While you might hit an insurance side bet every now and then, the maths stands: you WILL almost always lose money over the long run. Moreover, blackjack insurance goes against every tenet of tried-and-tested basic strategy.

The only thing blackjack insurance increases is the house’s advantage over you. It might sound counterintuitive, but the blackjack table is the last place you’ll want to have an “insurance policy.”

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