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Blackjack Side Bets

8 July 2003

Blackjack presents casino operators with something of a puzzle. It's the most popular casino table game, and has been since it overtook craps roughly 40 years ago. But it also has a low house edge, half a percent or so with a basic strategy that's not all that difficult to learn.

They don't design games with house edges that narrow anymore. The house edges at newer games mirror the 2 to 2.5 percent edge faced by a blackjack player who hasn't taken the time to learn basic strategy. Edges are 5.2 percent of the ante or 2.6 percent of total action at Caribbean Stud, 3.5 percent of one bet or 2.8 percent of total action at Let It Ride, 2.3 percent in the Pair Plus option and 3.3 percent of the ante or 2 percent of total action in Let It Ride. For the average player, those games aren't much worse than blackjack, but they don't give the informed player a chance to narrow the gap.

What the casinos would really like is a way to increase their edge at blackjack. One of they ways they try is to add side bets onto the game--bets on whether the player or dealer with have a blackjack, bets on whether the player's first two cards will be of the same suit, bets on how many 7s the player will draw. Such side bets almost invariably have a much higher house edge than the basic game. They also have a short shelf life as players discover they're losing their money faster than they do without the side bet.

When you find yourself at a table offering one of the wagers listed here, remember that the basic strategy for side bets at blackjack is almost always not to make them.

21 Madness: This probably is the most widely available side bet in blackjack for the time being. The player makes a $1 wager in addition to the regular blackjack bet. Then, if the player is dealt a two-card 21, he or she gets to push a button to start a lighted display, which stops to reveal a bonus payoff from $5 to $1,000. Blackjacks occur about once per 21 hands, so this would be a break-even bet if the average payoff was $21. We don't know for sure what the average is--the lighted display is governed by a slot machine-like random number generator. But observation by a team in Australia suggests the average is $16, which would leave a house edge of 23.8 percent. That's not necessarily the case here. The average payoff could be higher or lower. Still, this looks like a bet to leave alone.

21 + 3: Invented by Derek Webb, the Englishman who devised Three Card Poker, 21 + 3 has become popular in the South and has started to make inroads in Las Vegas. The "21" stand for blackjack, and the "+ 3" is for a three-card poker hand consisting of the player's first two cards and the dealer's face-up card. If those three cards yield a flush, straight, three of a kind or straight flush, the player is paid 9-1 on the side bet. The house edge is 3.2 percent, making 21 + 3 one of the better side bets, although still not as good as sticking to regular blackjack.

Progressive Blackjack: Mikohn Gaming, which distributes Caribbean Stud, Caribbean Draw and other table games with progressive jackpots, developed this side bet that pays off according to the number of Aces in the player's hand. It involves a $1 bet in addition to a regular blackjack wager. The player is paid $3 if the hand includes one Ace, $15 for two Aces of different suits, $50 for two suited Aces, $200 for three unsuited Aces, $1,000 for three suited Aces, $2,000 for four unsuited Aces and the progressive jackpot, which starts at $25,000 for four red or four black Aces. At the beginning jackpot of $25,000, the house edge is a lofty 53 percent. Ouch.

Royal Match: Here's one that has come and gone in the Chicago market. It still shows up in other jurisdictions. The side bet pays off if the player's first two cards are of the same suit, with a larger payoff for King-Queen of the same suit--a "Royal Match." The most common version pays 2.5-1 on most matches, and 25-1 on a royal match. Suited hands are more common with more decks in play, so the house edge at Royal Match actually decreases as the number of decks increase. The house edge in this version, when it was played with six decks at Harrah's Joliet, was 6.7 percent. In a single-deck game, the house edge would have been 10.9 percent.

There's a higher-paying version of Royal Match, which cuts the return on suited King-Queen to 10-1, but raises other matches to 3-1. On that one, the house edge is 3.8 percent on a single-deck game, but the player actually gets a 1.1 percent edge on a six-deck game. That doesn't accomplish the casino goal of padding the house edge, so that's one side bet you'll probably never see.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
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.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

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.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski