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# Side bets at blackjack: Are they worth it?

25 July 2013

Side bets at blackjack are offered for two basic reasons: to add a little excitement for players who want more out of the game than trying to grind out a profit one bet at a time, and to increase action to generate more profit for the house.

The house edge on side bets tends to be higher than on blackjack itself, provided the player knows basic strategy. I’ve mentioned that before, but always by writing in percentages. In six-deck blackjack games, the house edge against a basic strategy player is about half a percent, a few tenths of a percent more or less depending on house rules. Edges on some of the most common side bets are 3.24 percent on the “+3” portion of 21 + 3, 6.67 percent on a common version of Royal Match and a whopping 24.7 percent on the version of Lucky Ladies I’ve seen most often.

What if instead of percentages, we talk in plain dollars and cents? If you’re betting \$10 a hand in blackjack, how much do your expected results change if you add a mere \$1 as a side bet? Mind you, these wagers are not limited to \$1. I’ve seen players risk as much on their side bets as on blackjack.

If you’re playing at a mostly full table sauntering along at about 60 hands an hour, you’re putting \$600 per hour at risk on your main blackjack bet. If you play basic strategy and are narrowing the house edge to about half a percent, your average loss per hour is roughly \$3. If you’re an average player who doesn’t know all the ins and outs of a strategy player, you’ll be bucking a house edge closer to 2 percent, with average losses of about \$12 per hour.

21 + 3: At mostly full tables, the \$1 side bets mean a risk of \$60 per hour. The 3.24 percent house edge means a few pennies shy of \$2 extra in the house coffers. For basic strategy players, that’s just \$1 less than the losses from betting 10 times as much on the main game.

Average players who are losing \$12 an hour might find that extra two bucks palatable for the chance at 9-1 payoffs if their two cards plus the dealer’s up card form a flush, straight or three of a kind. It’s a much smaller leap from their regular loss rate of \$1.20 per \$60 wagered.

Royal Match: In the last couple of decades, I’ve seen this side bet have three or four different runs of popularity before fading into the background once more. Of late, I’ve seen it offered on multiplayer electronic blackjack tables. On the most common six-deck version, the attractions are a 25-1 payoff on a suited king and queen and 2.5-1 on any cards of the same suit dealt as the player’s first two cards.

If you’re betting \$1 a hand for 60 hands per hour, your average expected loss is about \$4 an hour, larger than the average loss on blackjack for a basic strategy player betting \$10 a hand, and a third of the average blackjack loss for an average player despite the disparity in wagers.

Lucky Ladies: There’s the possibility of huge wins here, with a 1,000-1 bonanza if the player is dealt two queens of hearts while the dealer has a blackjack, or 125-1 on a pair of heart ladies regardless of the dealer hand. In the version I’ve seen, there’s also a 19-1 payoff on a 20 if both cards are the same rank and suit, 9-1 on a suited 20 on cards of different ranks, such as jack-king, or 4-1 on an unsuited 20.

That’s an attraction, to be sure, but at a 24.71 percent house edge, the cost is high. Average loss per hour is a whopping \$14.83 of the \$60 at risk. That dwarfs the average blackjack loss for a \$10-a-hand basic strategy player, and is even higher than the loss for an average player.

Think about it: That extra \$1 per hand more than doubles the average loss for a \$10 blackjack bettor who is just an average player.

For those who don’t limit the side bets to a buck, just multiply by your bets. Make the side bets equal to your \$10 blackjack bets, and average losses shoot up to about \$20 an hour in 21 + 3, \$40 in Royal Match, and \$148 in Lucky Ladies.

It’s your choice. Me … I stick to blackjack.
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John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

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John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.