Online blackjack is one of the most popular online casino games at many of the best virtual casinos. It is also one of the best casino table games to play if you’re looking for great odds, but while it offers players great gameplay and excitement, sometimes we need more action than the base game can provide.
That’s where side bets come in. Blackjack is one of the few casino games that has a true and tested element of skill involved in playing, which gives players the chance to improve their gameplay through study and practice at the tables. Side bets take this a step further and give seasoned veterans of online blackjack the chance to increase the variance in the card game. This creates more opportunities to beat the odds and land some new and unique winning combinations.
Before we get too excited about side bets, let’s find out a bit more about what they actually are.
What are side bets in blackjack
The answer is quite straightforward, and it’s also in the name. Side bets are optional bets that you can make during a game of blackjack in addition to your main bet. They cover a rule set that the standard rules don’t include, but are still based on play with your main hand, although they can sometimes involve hands other than your own. Side bets in blackjack are based on the assumption and prediction of which cards the player, and at times the dealer, will receive.
Why choose to play side bets?
Casinos and players both love a good side bet, as they can provide additional winnings in both directions. They basically give opportunities for more bets across fewer hands of play, so while you have a chance to snag bigger wins, the casino has more chance of taking your extra bets. This point is worth keeping in mind in terms of managing your bankroll because while the payouts are typically quite enticing and far more generous than the usual main hand bets, the house edge is also greater. But we’re gambling here, and you’ve got to risk it to get the biscuit, so to speak.
Side bets are also a way to increase or intensify the excitement, the fun, and the action in your blackjack games far beyond that of the standard game, which can become quite repetitive after a couple of dozen hands. As we mentioned already, part of that excitement is the potential for a bigger payout, at a slightly higher risk.
Players trying to minimize their losses, and chase the best odds, typically stay away from side bets. But what’s gambling if not the willingness to take a risk now and then on a potentially big win?
Ways to judge a side bet in blackjack
When you’re playing blackjack at an online casino, you may feel more comfortable and perhaps more willing to go for that potentially big win. However, when you decide on whether to place a side bet, you should consider the probability or the chance of your ability to win. If the chance factor is low, the side bet should not be made. Of course, this comes with some practice. The house edge is another factor in determining whether a side bet is good. The thinner the house edge, the better it will be for you. Of course, a higher house edge will be risky, but it can lead to a higher payout.
Ultimately, a blackjack player will base their decision on whether a side bet is worth it by using their own strategies and expectations for the game. Different players will have different risk-reward preferences.
The most common and best side bets in blackjack
There are three common side bets that are typically played in blackjack, but besides these, there are many others that, despite not being as popular, can be extremely fun and add a whole new element of challenge and excitement to the game. For now, though, let’s focus on the five side bets: Perfect pairs, insurance bets, the 21+3 bet (also referred to as poker hands or rummy), Royal Match, and Over/Under 13.
Let’s do a brief rundown of each of these side bets, how they work, and how they affect the game’s outcome.
The name “perfect pairs” describes this side bet quite brilliantly. To make this bet, you’d simply place a wager on your first two cards being a pair (two cards of the same rank or value,) and your payout will be determined by the rank and suit of the pair. Since casino blackjack is typically played with more than one deck of cards (sometimes more than six decks in total), there’s always a chance of getting two of the same card.
A perfect pair, for example, would be two cards of identical rank and suit, such as two Aces of spades or two Jacks of clubs. A colored pair, as the name suggests, is a pair of cards that are the same color – for example, an Ace of hearts and a Queen of diamonds. Note that with a color pair, the suit doesn’t matter, only the color. Lastly, there is the black/red or “mixed” pair, which can be any two cards of any color, as long as the rank or value matches (such as a King of clubs and a King of hearts).
A perfect pair will typically have a payout value of around 25:1, a colored pair would pay out around 12:1, and a mixed pair about 6:1, though these may differ, depending on the digital casino you decide to play your side bets at.
Insurance bets are played in many casino table games and are very common in high-stakes and online poker, but quite a few blackjack players are not a fan of this type of bet, as popular as it is. A blackjack insurance bet is only played when the dealer’s upcard (the card you can see face up in the dealer’s hand) is an Ace. An insurance bet is typically half your initial wager, and if the dealer’s hand turns out to be a blackjack (equal to 21), then you’ll win with a 2:1 payout (depending on the rules at your virtual casino of choice). If the dealer misses on their blackjack, then you’ll lose on the insurance bet, but hopefully, your main bet holds up against their hand since they didn’t hit blackjack in the end – otherwise, you’re out of pocket on two bets instead of one.
While this sounds like a pretty solid side bet and one that’s easy enough to understand, the general consensus among skilled blackjack players is that it’s not a good bet to put down – this is where the math comes in. There’s a 31.4% to 32.7% chance (depending on whether either of your cards has a value of 10) that the dealer’s hole card (the card that’s face down in the dealer’s hand) has a value of 10. This means the insurance bet is actually a losing proposition in that it’s banking on the less likely outcomes.
The house edge with six decks of cards (which is typical when you play blackjack at an online casino) is roughly 7.40% – unless you’re extremely skilled at counting cards – or you’re a computer!
Do you know anything about poker? Now, we know this is meant to be about blackjack side bets, but imagine you could combine the rules for poker hands and blackjack into one wacky game of chance? The 21+3 side bet, otherwise known as poker hands or rummy, is exactly that.
This side bet takes the concept of perfect pairs a step further by using not only your hand but also the dealer’s first upcard. These three cards can be combined to create five potential three-card poker hands, with the payouts determined by the value of each hand created.
The payouts for these types of bets are typically better than the perfect pairs side bets, and the hands are ranked as follows:
- Three-of-a-kind in the same suit – 100:1
- Straight flush – 40:1
- Three-of-a-kind – 30:1
- Straight – 10:1
- Flush – 5:1
Now, it’s important to note that these payouts are estimates and may change depending on where you decide to play online blackjack and the rules that the digital casino applies to its blackjack side bets.
The royal match is another exciting side bet that pays out if one of two conditions are met when the first two cards are dealt. The first of these conditions is that these cards belong to the same suit. The second condition is that these cards are a King and Queen of the same suit. The former condition offers a payout of 5:2, while the latter offers a payout of 25:1. If the player wins this side bet, they receive their payout immediately, while a loss means the amount they bet on a royal match is also immediately forfeit. If both the dealer and the player receive a royal match, a fixed amount is usually paid out.
This side bet is technically a pair of side bets, as the player can wager that the total value of the first two cards they are dealt will be either over or under 13. While one might think these two side bets are exactly the same, the over 13 bet actually offers slightly better odds than the under 13 bet. The house edge for the over 13 wager is approximately 6.55% (depending on the number of decks being used in the game), while the house edge for the under 13 wager is approximately 10.06% (again, depending on the number of decks involved). Players’ wagers can match but not exceed the amount they bet in the main game, with wins paying out even money.
Get your blackjack side betting action at BetMGM
Now that you’re better versed in the most popular types of blackjack side bets, you can go and check out some of the more obscure – but potentially more fun – blackjack side bets. Or why not take your newfound knowledge to a real online casino and put it to the test?
Register at BetMGM, or download our casino games app, to gain access to some of the best online casino games, including blackjack, as well as our extremely popular and exciting live dealer blackjack tables, where your side bets can increase the fun and excitement even further. And when you’re done at the card tables, you can always explore our extensive range of online slots or even play a casino dice game – whatever floats your boat!