Perhaps the best thing about blackjack is its simplicity. Sure, crunching numbers and developing strategies can be fun, but it’s also daunting for beginners. In some cases then, it’s best to have a straightforward goal without too many deviations. That way, you can learn the ins and outs of the game and develop your skills. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Traditionally, the game of blackjack is played by facing off against the dealer and trying to beat their hand (or see them go bust), but the introduction of side bets added another layer. With side bets, the focus is only on the cards which are dealt and how they relate to each other – combinations, pairs, suits, sums, etc.
This brings a whole new dimension to the game by essentially making it 2 games at once, without either one impacting the other. Maybe this sounds fun, but these bets don’t have the traditional blackjack house edge of ~0.5%.
This short guide will answer the question – “Why do blackjack side bets have a high house edge?” You’ll also learn which side bets we consider to be the best.
Should You Use Blackjack Side Bets?
To be clear, side bets are not actually part of the blackjack game, they are independent of it, and most are over and done with after the initial deal.
With this in mind then, whether or not you ‘should’ use them is really up to you and how much extra risk you want to take on, how much you enjoy them as additions to the base game, and how much of your bank roll you have available to spend on them.
Side bets provide an excellent way for players to diversify and add intrigue to the game, and usually offer much bigger payouts than you would get in the base game too – but obviously this is only because your chances of winning the side bet are much slimmer.
They are much easier to deal with mentally though, since they are completely down to luck. So a player might use a side bet for some easy effort free fun, before getting down to brass tacks and switching on their brain for the blackjack hand.
Even though blackjack side bets can have a high house edge, they add enjoyment, so there is no definitive answer to whether you should or shouldn’t use them, because it is a personal choice. You absolutely do need to understand them though, and the added risk that comes with them.
They have a higher house edge because you are a lot less likely to win them at the end of the day, which of course is why the casinos love them and advertise them.
Popular Blackjack Side Bets
Most of the bets we’ll be talking about have been staples of online blackjack at one time or another. They come from different variants but can work well both independently or as a part of a combo of side bets.
Here are some of the most common blackjack side bets and their respective house edge, as well as a few more obscure options that you won’t see so often.
Probably the best-known blackjack side bet, although perhaps not always considered to be one at all, insurance is always the subject of debate nonetheless.
When the dealer’s upcard is an Ace and their hole card is still face-down, you can stake half of your original wager to purchase insurance against the dealer getting blackjack. If the dealer does get Blackjack, you will get paid out at 2:1. This bet can only placed after the initial deal, and the window of opportunity closes as soon as you make a decision on your hand.
The chances of the dealer making Blackjack in this situation are around 9:4 or 31%, and players tend to lose over half of their insurance bets. So it’s a crapshoot in most cases. You might win the main bet and lose the insurance bet, or vice versa, or in a worst case scenario you lose both.
It’s generally accepted that insurance is rarely a good bet to make from a statistical point of view. Over the long term, you are likely to end up losing this bet more often than winning it.
A unique bet, 21+3 draws inspiration from 3-card poker, another widely popular casino classic. The goal is to assemble one of the following poker hands, formed by your own two cards and the dealer’s upcard:
- Flush: Three cards with the same suit (5:1)
- Straight: Three cards that go in succession; ace can be high or low (10:1)
- Three of a kind: Same number or value, different suit (30:1)
- Straight Flush: Successive cards with the same suit (40:1)
- Suited three of a kind: Same suit, same number (100:1)
The house edge for the 21+3 blackjack side bet is 13.39% for single-deck versions. Of course, this number will vary if more decks are added. It’s a whopping house edge and no mistake, but you’re getting five bets in one.
Your wager on 21+3 is separate to your blackjack wager, so the bet will pay out immediately if you get one of the possible combinations, before continuing with the blackjack hand. Remember, there is no way to strategise this bet. It’s down to random chance, so it should not be thought of as a tool in the blackjack arsenal.
Perfect Pairs is another poker-inspired feature, but unlike 21+3, it only focuses on your own two cards and disregards the dealer entirely.
Once the cards are dealt, the game will pay out if you get one of the following hands:
- Mixed Pair: Same number, different colour (5:1)
- Colour Pair: Same number and colour, different suit (10:1)
- Perfect Pair: Everything’s the same (30:1)
Depending on how many decks the game uses, Perfect Pairs has a house edge of 2-11%. However, even mixed pairs have a 3.86% chance of being dealt, and they’re the worst possible hand in this side bet.
Personally, we wouldn’t recommend using Perfect Pairs. 21+3 is arguably more fun and has more ways to be successful.
This is a rule rather than a bet, which is included in many blackjack variations, and which best of all costs no extra wager.
Blackjack is a fast-paced game, and if you are dealt a low starting hand then hit and receive further low value cards you can trip yourself up and end up busting by hitting once too often.
For cases when that doesn’t happen, there’s the 5-Card Charlie rule, in its three variations:
- 5-Card: If you are dealt five cards without busting (or the dealer making Blackjack), you automatically win
- 6-Card: Automatic victory after six dealt cards
- 7- Card: Automatic victory after seven dealt cards
Compared to blackjack side bets, 5-Card Charlie is only beneficial to the player. It lowers the house edge by ~1.46%, which is why some online and land-based casinos don’t offer it. 6-Card and 7-Card Charlie increase your chances by 0.16% and 0.01%, respectively.
Statistically, a 5-Card Charlie could happen once every 30 minutes if you’re engaged in constant play, but of course the real world doesn’t always run the way statistics says it should. There’s no way to tell exactly when it might happen, but it’s a bonus when it does.
20 is the strongest non-Blackjack hand in the game, and this bet lets you capitalise on it. It relates to your first two cards.
The goal is to have one of the following combinations:
- Any 20 (3:1 – 4:1)
- Suited 20 (9:1 – 10:1)
- Matched 20 (19:1 – 25:1)
- Lucky Ladies (Queen of Hearts Pair) (125:1 – 200:1)
- Lucky Ladies + Dealer’s Blackjack (1,000:1)
Lucky Ladies has a huge 25% house edge, and the equally sizeable payouts offset this. Even though it’s a huge long shot, odds like this can make things more interesting, especially if the dealer shows an Ace.
The payout rates in the brackets are in ranges since casinos treat this side bet in different ways. Check the game info on your specific game.
Surprise, surprise – another blackjack side bet focused on matching cards you were dealt.
This time, you need to get a pair of suited cards in one of the following combos:
- Royal Match (King and Queen of the same suit) – 25:1
- Easy Match (Any two cards of the same suit) – 2.5:1
The house edge on Royal Match is 5.64% – 10.86%. It’s average, as far as blackjack side bets go. Don’t expect to see it often though, it’s rare to find, and only treat it as a fun challenge during casual play.
One of the first side bets to be introduced, Over/Under 13 is rare nowadays but if you can find it the bet lets you pick whether your first two cards will be less, equal, or more than 13. Aces are worth only one point.
Over 13 and Under 13 both pay even money, whilst some casinos offer a 10:1 payout on 13s dead on the button.
Over 13 has a house edge of ~6.5%, but Under is much more likely at 10%. Exact 13s vary from 7% to 8.5%.
Even though this is the win frequency probability is higher with over and under bets, it’s also the worst in terms of payouts.
Our opinion is that is doesn’t offer enough of a payout to make it exciting, and therefore isn’t really worth the risk over one of the other side bets, but it depends on your appetite.