Is Insurance Ever Worth Taking in Blackjack?
Sometimes it pays to be a bit skeptical, and when a casino is encouraging you to take a particular bet it is usually one of those times! Taking insurance in blackjack at first seems like a good idea, all players are specifically asked if they wish to take it when they can and the terms are even printed on the layout to make sure you do not forget it. Yet if it is so good for the player why is the casino encouraging you to take it? The truth is taking the insurance side bets is, in most cases, one of the worst bets you can make in blackjack.
On this page you can find out why taking insurance is a mistake. To begin with there is a description of what insurance actually is and when it is offered. After this the reasons why the insurance bet is so bad is explained, along with the rare times when you can justify taking it.
What is Blackjack Insurance?
Insurance is offered to the players once all the hands have been dealt out and the dealer’s up-card is an Ace. Before the players act the dealer will ask them whether or not they wish to accept insurance. Then dealer then checks to see if the down-card makes a blackjack. If this is the case any player who does not also hold a blackjack will lose their initial bet and any insurance bets are paid out.
In order to take insurance the player has to place an extra bet, worth half the value of their initial wager, when prompted by the dealer. This bet will be paid out at 2:1 if the dealer shows blackjack. If the dealer does not have a blackjack the player will lose the insurance bet, although they will be able to play their hand for the initial bet.
Why Blackjack Insurance is a Bad Bet
Understanding how insurance works is key to realizing why it is a bad bet. Many players assume insurance, by the nature of its name, will protect their hand if the dealer has blackjack. As explained above the truth is insurance is basically just a side bet which is paid out when the dealer has a natural blackjack – you still lose your main bet.
To break down the numbers in a general way, in any isolated hand using 6-8 decks the odds of the dealer getting blackjack is roughly 9:4, for every four 10 value cards in the deck there are nine of other ranks. While this will vary slightly depending on what cards are shown, it is close enough for this example, although the more 10s showing the odds become even worse for the insurance bet.
So when you take insurance you will win an average of 4x out of 13 and lose 9x out of 1 meaning that if you were to take $5 insurance over 130 hands you would win $400 and lose $450, resulting in a net loss of $50.
People do argue that when the insurance bet is lost you can still win the main bet to make up for it. While this is technically true there is no guarantee of this happening and the two bets should not be looked at together. The outcome of the hand will be the same no matter if insurance is taken or not, so all you are doing is giving a greater edge to the house by taking an additional bet which is not in your favor. In an 8 deck game this extra house edge is a huge 7.47%, more than 15x higher than blackjacks true house edge you get by sticking to basic strategy and not taking insurance.
When Insurance is a Good Bet
By never taking insurance in blackjack you are not really making a mistake, instead you should be focusing on not making errors and breaking from basic strategy, like doubling down in those spots. There are however some spots where it can be worth taking insurance.
If you are card counting you should know when the shoe is rich in 10-value cards, which is a spot when insurance is at least a fair bet. Even non-card counters can justify taking it when, in multiplayer hands, they have noticed an unusually high proportion of 10 value cards showing. Of course this tactic is impossible to do with a continuous shuffler or online where the distribution of cards is always random.