side-bets-040414Side Bets

Side bets a fun way to add some zest to your blackjack experience. But we warned, most of them are tilted heavily in the casinos favor.

Side bets are an intriguing side-note to basic blackjack rules, increasing in popularity in recent decades and available at more and more casinos. This is because #1: players enjoy the entertainment factor of these unconventional betting options, and more importantly #2: casinos tend to increase their house edge over time by accepting them. When one makes a side bet the casino is going to win most of the time, but some games are more player-friendly than others.

What is a side bet?

A side bet or “bonus bet” is an extra wager placed alongside the normal bet (the two are completely independent). It must be placed before any cards are dealt. Some common examples are Straight 8, Sweet 16, Royal Match, Perfect Charlie, Super 7s and Over/Under 13. Each includes a specific outcome which the player is betting on. For example, Over/Under 13 involves betting on whether the first two cards dealt will be over or under 13.

Different bets have different house edges. For example, Straight 8 and Sweet 16 have edges of about 2.7 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, Magic Jack has an edge around 20 percent and Perfect Charlie has an edge of upwards of 35 percent, giving you worse odds than what you’ll see at even the most rigged slot machines. Most of the sharper edged games are for inexperienced players who don’t know any better. Savvy blackjack players know to steer clear of these options.

Over/Under 13

This betting option first appeared in Caesar’s Tahoe in Northern Nevada in 1988. Vegas casinos began to pick it up shortly after, and by the early 1990s it was standard fare at most blackjack tables. It carries a house edge of 6 percent to 10 percent, with the player having a better chance if choosing the Over 13 option. Either way, things don’t look great for the player. But there’s one thing casinos didn’t bank on.

Over/Under 13 is highly susceptible to card counting systems. Once you have a fairly sizable positive or negative count it’s extremely easy to predict which category the next hand will fall into. A positive count means more face cards, so choose Over 13. A negative count means more low cards, so choose the Under 13 option. In the early years few dealers or pit bosses were trained to pick up counting on side bets, so many skilled players were able to make a pretty penny.

The catch is that those who made Over/Under their bread and butter inevitably caught notice of the casino staff. Eventually casinos dropped the option altogether. John Navin or Forbes recalls his experience counting on Over/Under:

“Basically, I had played too often and for too long. I’d tried to keep it to 20 minutes or less per visit, but the winning was so easy and so big that I had stretched it to 40 minutes and then to an hour. Someone had finally noticed… You gotta be careful with the golden goose. The over/under 13 side bet is hard to find these days.”

Straight 8s

Straight 8s has a house edge of only 2.6 percent. That is because there are numerous ways in which the player can receive a bonus payout. Being dealt any pair nets the player a 2-1 payout. A pair of 8s pays out 3-1. The highest potential payout is 200-1, given on a suited three 8s. There several other options as well. Your chances of pulling in the max payout are almost nonexistent, but there is a decent chance of getting one of the smaller ones. That’s what makes this a side bet worth making once in a while.

Perfect Charlie

This is one no expert player would touch with a ten foot pole. It’s something for that newbie or high roller who wants the thrill of a potentially massive payout. The problem is that the chances of winning are almost zilch. It is all about being dealt runs of 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7. Suited runs carry the higher payouts. The lowest payout is 40-1, given on an unsuited run of 2-4. The highest payout is the ridiculous 300,000-1, which the player receives on a hand of suited 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 in correct order. Good luck getting that one.

It looks not terribly difficult, but there is one catch: the first card dealt must always be a two. Casinos also have betting limits to prevent the jackpot from getting out of hand. If you have a thing for losing blackjack strategies, bet on Perfect Charlie. Otherwise, you’d do well to steer clear of this one.

Royal Match

This is another popular side bet that doesn’t offer good bang for your buck. The house edge is about 20 percent. Perhaps the sexy name explains some of its popularity, but the player’s chances of winning are very small. The name says it all: you win if you land a suited King and Queen together in the first two cards, receiving a nice 25-1 payout. That is the “Royal Match.” There is another way to win as well, a “Suited Match,” which is any two cards of the same suit. It brings a payout of 5-2. Given the uninspiring payouts and low chances of winning, this is one side bet that the experts never make.