Blackjack Side Bets: 21+3

In recent articles, we’ve talked quite a bit about baccarat side bets from the fundamental ‘tie’ bet to more exotic wagers. Blackjack side bets have a lot of similarities to baccarat so we’ll begin our discussion of this game’s ‘out of the box’ wagers here.

Casinos like the concept of adding side bets to blackjack for several reasons. First of all, it makes the game more attractive to an ‘action oriented’ player. With primarily even money pays, blackjack often feels like you’re trading money back and forth with the dealer. Side bets offer more ‘action’ and higher payouts. The primary reason casinos like side bets is that it is a boost for their bottom line. Blackjack is a very low margin game. Even with the addition of rules that work against the player–such as 2 to 1 payouts on ‘naturals’–casinos still look for ways to increase their edge. In Nevada, as long as you’re playing a game with an actual 3 to 2 payout it’s difficult to find one with a house edge of more than 1% assuming that you’re playing basic strategy. Keep in mind that every player friendly rule variation cuts into the house edge while every rule that is disadvantageous to the player increases the house edge.

For the purposes of this discussion, we won’t talk about the bets that are an intrinsic part of the game. Double down, split and early surrender (where available) are legitimate strategic plays. Insurance is best avoided but it is a standard part of the game. We took a different approach with baccarat and covered the ‘tie’ bet as a ‘side bet’ due primarily to the high payout (8 or 9 to 1) relative to the house edge that it offers.

BLACKJACK SIDE BETS: 21 + 3

This is arguably the most popular blackjack side bet and can be found at land based and online casinos. The bet is so popular that the original, most basic version has mutated into a variety of paytables all with different edges for the house. The precise house edge is also dependent on the number of decks in play. In this article, we’ll cover the basic version of the bet and address the variations down the road.

The 21 + 3 side bet is based on the player’s first two cards along with the dealer’s first deal ‘up’ card. If these three cards form a flush, straight, straight flush or three of a kind the player is a winner. In the original version of the game if the three cards formed any of the eligible hands the payout was 9 to 1 for a winning bet. Under these original rules (and assuming a six deck shoe) the house edge was a not too bad 3.24%.

As the 21 +3 bet became more popular, casinos came up with more complex pay tables that offered in most cases higher payouts with the trade off of greater volatility and a higher house edge. One of the original variations actually offered lower payouts and a lower house edge–this variation extended the paytable to include any pair in the first three cards. The payout for a winning wager was reduced to 5 to 2 (or 2.5 to 1) but the house edge was just 2.78%.

We’ll turn our attention next to the numerous variations of this wager. Stay tuned.