Blackjack Insurance Bets
Any player that ever played blackjack or even just saw a blackjack game being played would have noticed the writing on the blackjack table that describes the main rules of the game, the payout and the insurance bet payout. It seems strange that the casino will promote a type of bet that is meant to protect the player or provide the player with a greater chance of winning. Casinos tend to promote games and bets that benefit them and not the player. This fact should already raise a red flag for anyone who thinks that the insurance bet is a beneficial bet for the player. If it was a bet that was beneficial to the player; you can rest assured that the casino would not promote it in such an obvious way.
What is the Insurance Bet?
The word Insurance is a bit misleading as it leads players to believe that the insurance bet they are making has anything to do with the hand of blackjack they are currently playing. In reality, insurance is a type of a side bet that is offered to you when the dealer’s up-card is an ace.
In such an event, the dealer will ask if any of the players wish to buy insurance against the dealer hitting a natural blackjack. As a player, you are not obliged to make an insurance bet.
However, if you decide to make an insurance bet, you will need to make a bet of up to half your original wager. It can be less than half your original wager but cannot be more than half your original wager.
The insurance pays 2 to 1, and when making an insurance bet that is half your original wager and the dealer hits a natural blackjack, you will get back double your insurance bet, which will be equal to your original bet, which you will lose due to the dealer having a natural blackjack.
What is wrong with the Insurance Bet?
Most professional blackjack players will tell you that the insurance bet is considered a “suckers’ bet” because the dealer has a chance of hitting a blackjack less than a third of the times which means that over two thirds of insurance bets are lost by the player.
Basically, the player is taking insurance against the dealer’s hole card, being a 10-value card. Now let us assume you were playing 6 decks or 8 decks blackjack. You will get, on average, 4 of 10-value cards for every 9 non-10-value cards.
This makes the odds 9 to 4 against the dealer’s hole card being a 10-value card. To demonstrate how taking the insurance bet will affect you in terms of your wins when playing blackjack, let us assume you are wagering $10 on a hand of blackjack and in the course of a long playing session, you took insurance 130 times at a cost of $5 each time.
The total of your insurance bets would cost you $650, and assuming the cards have a statistically even distribution, you will win 40 of the 130 insurance bets you made, making you 40 x $10 = $400, but you would end up losing 90 of your insurance bets at a cost of $450 which means you would have incurred a $50 loss on your insurance bets.
When to make the Insurance Bet?
Insurance is paid at 2 to 1, which makes it a tempting bet. However, it is not a bet worth making unless you are counting cards and know that the deck is rich in 10-value cards. Basically speaking, as long as the deck has 4 10-value cards for every 9 other cards, you are at a disadvantage.
Once the deck has 4 10-value cards for every 8 other cards, the casino does not have an advantage over the player, and the player does not have an advantage over the casino. Such a situation would make the insurance bet a fair bet.
Once the ratio falls even lower to 4 10-value cards for 7 or less other value cards, then the player has the advantage, and the insurance bet is worthwhile.
Therefore unless you are counting cards, it is best to avoid making an insurance bet. Notwithstanding this, there is one situation when a non-card counter can make a justified insurance bet, and that is when there are more than 5 hands of blackjack being dealt in one round and none of the players are showing a 10-value card. Then the chance of a 10-value card in the hole is higher than normal, and an insurance bet may be taken.
Some Words of Caution
Do not attempt to count cards when playing software-based blackjack games at an online casino. You will not be able to count cards as the software does an automatic shuffle after every hand that is played. This means that if you are playing an 8-decks blackjack, every hand played will use the full 8 decks, as no cards are ever discarded.
This means that every hand of blackjack you play on software-based blackjack will offer you the exact same odds as previous hands, which will make the insurance bet unfavorable. Remember to only attempt to count cards when playing in a land casino or enjoying an online live-dealer blackjack where played cards are discarded, which changes the odds as the game progresses until the reshuffle.
Do not confuse positive expectation, when the odds are in your favor, with thinking you have a guaranteed win.
It is rare to have ideal conditions for taking insurance. In most blackjack games, shoe penetration is never deep enough, and a reshuffle takes place when the shoe reaches 3 decks.
Take into account the fact that if you underestimate or overestimate the number of decks remaining in the shoe, you can easily miss assessing your odds.