There was once a blackjack side bet so profitable that casinos had to eliminate it just two years after its introduction. It was the over/under 13 – a bet so good, card counters shifted their focus from the game to this simple side bet.

Would your first two cards equal over 13 or under 13? After determining the strategy, you could simply bet, collect, repeat.

All good things come to an end eventually, and the over/under 13 was no exception. Casinos lost a lot of money on that one, as players tried to rake in as much as they could while avoiding heat. While blackjack side bets like the over/under get squashed when their vulnerability is exploited, there are a couple of bets that have withstood the test of time.

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Blackjack Side Bets Explained

In blackjack, any bet beyond the one placed at the start of the round is considered a side bet. Side bets come with their own rules, payouts, and betting maximums, and provide an extra layer of interest in an otherwise traditional game.

Unless a side bet has a vulnerability a casino failed to detect, side bets are gaming’s best friend. The rules of blackjack can’t undergo much change without alienating the market, so side bets are one way the house can make extra profit. That’s why the majority of side bets have a higher house edge than the game itself, which generates very little profit.

While exploitable side bets do pop up from time to time, attracting attention in the advanced play community, the majority of them are tried and tested, and of little interest to professional blackjack players. The effort required to incorporate side bets into blackjack strategy is often not worth the card counter’s time. But there is an exception, and that’s with the Insurance side bet—a popular bet that’s widely available.

Popular Blackjack Side Bets Guide

While there are hundreds of side bets available at different casinos across the globe, we’re focusing on the ones you can use right here in our online casino: Insurance, Pairs, Rummy, and the side bets available in Perfect Pairs.

Insurance Side Bet

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Almost any blackjack, be it online or at a brick-and-mortar establishment, will offer the Insurance side bet. This bet pays 2:1 when the dealer receives a Blackjack. While playing any of our eight online blackjack games, anytime the dealer’s up-card is an Ace, a message will pop up giving you the option of taking the Insurance side bet. At Bovada, the bet is systematic and will be the same as half your original wager. If the dealer has a Blackjack, you win the side bet.

The odds for taking insurance favor the house enough that the bet is generally advised against. The only time you’ll see the pros taking Insurance is at land-based casinos when they’ve been counting cards and are confident that the shoe has a higher than average concentration of 10s. When non-card counters take insurance, it’s usually because of a gut feeling, or because they’re playing for entertainment purposes only. The house edge for Insurance ranges from 5.88% for Single Deck to 7.39% for Six Deck.

Pairs Side Bet

When playing Live Dealer Blackjack in our casino, you get access to the Pairs side bet. This is a fairly common side bet, also known as Pair Play, that pays 11:1 if your initial two-card hand is a pair, say for example, two Jacks. The suits don’t affect the outcome. You’ll see a more complex Pairs side bet available in our Perfect Pairs blackjack game.

So what are the odds of landing a pair right off the bat? With six decks, there are 312 cards. To account for the first card dealt to you, deduct 1 from 312 (311). Out of the 311 cards still in the deck, 23 are capable of completing your pair. That means the odds of your second card creating a pair is 23 in 312, or 7.37%. Combined with the payout, that makes for a meaty house edge of 11.25% when playing with six decks. With this side bet, the more decks in the shoe, the lower the house edge.

Rummy Side Bet

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Also available through our Live Dealer Blackjack game is the Rummy side bet. This bet is on your initial two-card hand and the Dealer’s upcard creating a three-card rummy set. A rummy set is:

  • 3 of a kind (9h,9s,9c)
  • A flush (7h,3h,8h)
  • A straight (6c,7d,8h)

This side bet pays 9:1, and the house edge is 4.14%.

Perfect Pairs Side Bet

We covered our basic Pairs side bet, which is available in Live Dealer Blackjack, but with Perfect Pairs, the side bet becomes more complex. You can put between $1 and $500 on the side bet, which pays different amounts depending on the strength of your pair.

Regular Pair: A regular pair pays 6:1

Colored Pair: A pair with matching colors pays 12:1

Perfect Pair: An exact pair pays 25:1

The house edge for the Pair side bet is about 6.1%.

Why Offer Side Bets?

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There are three main reasons why online casino games benefit from side bets.

  1. Shake Things Up

    Any traditional game can benefit from a new feature, and there’s no getting around how traditional blackjack is. Very few changes have been made to the game over the years, so creating side bets can make it feel fresh and new, while honoring the core gameplay.

  2. Opportunity to Win Big

    Players interested in high-paying online casino games aren’t interested in blackjack, which pays even-money for standard wins and 3:2 for Blackjack wins. Offering side bets that can pay up to 25:1 can engage people who prefer more volatile games.

  3. More House Edge for the Casino

If casino management is going to look into blackjack side bets, they’re going to be looking for bets that increase profits. This isn’t all bad. From a blackjack player’s perspective, adding side bets with a higher house edge is better than decreasing the payouts that come from the standard game. That’s because side bets are completely optional.