Although blackjack is one of the simpler card games to learn as a gambler, there are some high-level techniques that can make you money. One of the not-so-high-level techniques is one that we can all easily apply to our game: just stop taking insurance bets.
Insurance is a sucker’s side bet that is offered when the dealer upcards an ace. You can only take this bet up until the dealer checks the hole card. If insurance is taken and the player is not holding blackjack, they must wager half of their original wager. If blackjack is then drawn by the dealer, with a card valued at 10, insurance is paid out as double (2:1) the insurance wager.
Insurance bets go even deeper, though, extending to players who hold a natural blackjack in hand. These players can take what is called “maximum insurance” to forfeit the winning 3:2 payout for an even-money (1:1) payout.
To understand why the insurance bet is an attractive option for some gamblers, you need some basic card knowledge. When a dealer upcards an ace, the chance for them to draw a card valued at 10 is less than one in three. Placing an insurance bet is protection against this common outcome.
Side bets and bet hedging are tactics that make inexperienced gamblers feel safer, but biting on an insurance bet is almost always going to cost you. Let’s talk about why.
The Math Behind Insurance Bets
The “insurance” side bet in blackjack is given this name so that players feel like their hand is being protected. We often attribute insurance to being a positive and reassuring thing. However, that’s not the case in blackjack. Rather than a true form of insurance, you’re just committing to an additional bet that the dealer holds a natural blackjack.
The odds against the dealer having a natural blackjack when their upcard is an ace is 9:4. This alone should be enough to tell any savvy player that the bet simply isn’t worth it. Theoretically, the 2:1 payout odds on an insurance bet puts this at 8:9—still disadvantageous for the player. So, if you were to make 100 insurance bets of $10, you’d win around 31 of them for $620. This means you would lose 69 of those bets for $690.
This same logic applies when you’re holding blackjack. If you take the insurance bet, you’re either going to win the $10 on your bet and push or lose the $5 insurance bet while winning your $15 blackjack hand. What’s the point? You’re winning $10 one way or another. However, without taking the insurance bet, you’re going to average roughly $10.38 per blackjack.
Insurance bets are a ruse that sounds great until you break it down into numbers. This holds true with betting systems like Martingale, too. These are parts of blackjack that prey on the uninformed.
Should You Ever Take Insurance in Blackjack?
Yes and no. There are rare instances where the odds are so in favor of the dealer drawing a card valued at 10 after upcarding an ace that you technically should take the insurance bet. However, it requires an expert grasp of card counting. Some gamblers even form a card-counting team to do this.
Amateur and hobby gamblers aren’t going to be well-versed in card counting until they get down the basics, but after you have learned this valuable skill, finding opportunities to take insurance could be the last squeeze of optimization you can get out of your blackjack game.
Because of this, it’s not fair to say that you should absolutely never place a bet on insurance—though it’s a safe rule to play by. For those of you who are skilled in card counting, let’s talk more about this option.
The Exception: When to Bet on Insurance
Like most rules of gambling, there is an exception. If you are a high-level player that is talented at card counting, you can place an insurance bet where the odds favor you—when the deck is over one in three cards valued at 10.
Card counting to make an inference on if the remainder of the deck is heavy on 10s requires intense concentration and sharp thinking. Many of the experts who practice this specific blackjack skill have the percentages memorized and mapped out in their heads.
Card counting is a completely separate animal from insurance, though, so I suggest you only take up this option when you find time to master that skill. Also worth considering is that many casinos will flat-out give you the boot if you’re caught counting cards. Surprising that they aren’t interested in playing with educated gamblers who take their money, right? Luckily, that’s not an issue you have to worry about at the best online blackjack sites.
That being said, a strict diet of insurance avoidance is a healthy way to play. If you follow this rule and manage your bankroll properly, you’re already doing better than many blackjack players out there. Learning to count cards and play into side bets is just the cherry on top.
Insurance is a trap that many blackjack players who think they’re being smart and savvy fall into. You have to think, “Why would the house even give me this option if it didn’t favor them?” Casinos are set up to beat you through schemes like this, and the only way you make it out on top it to fully understand and develop strategies to beat them.
Learn to discipline yourself against placing bets on insurance. The next step is to eventually learn card counting. After, you can optionally adjust your insurance strategy to take this bet whenever the remaining 10-value cards are in your favor.
As an amateur player, it’s important not to overcomplicate the game when you’re at the blackjack table. Luckily, eliminating the thought of ever taking insurance is a completely viable strategy that everyone can adopt today. It’s not hard to learn blackjack, and insurance just overcomplicates it.