In a previous article, I explained the insurance bet and why it is a bad bet for basic strategy players. In this article, I will focus on the “even money” proposition, which is equivalent to making an insurance bet when you have a blackjack hand.
Even money comes into play when you have a blackjack hand and the dealer’s upcard is an ace. When this occurs, the dealer will ask you if you want “even money.”
- If you say “yes” she will immediately pay you even money on your wager, before she peeks at her hole card, and then place your cards in the discard tray. If you had wagered, say, $10, the payoff is even money or another $10.
Most players are perplexed when the dealer asks if they want even money, and they usually will ask the dealer or another player for advice on what to do. The response is usually “take the even money because you can’t lose.” That’s because no matter what the dealer’s hole card happens to be, you won’t lose any money, especially if the dealer has a 10 in the hole for a blackjack.
Years ago, there was no such thing as even money; if you wanted to “insure” your blackjack hand, you would make the insurance bet just like everyone else would sometimes do on non-blackjack hands.
However, some bright casino executive dreamed up the “even money” proposition, where a player with blackjack is paid even money right on the spot regardless of whether or not the dealer ends up with a blackjack. Therefore, players jump at the opportunity to take even money when it’s offered to them. Life is good … or is it?
Even Money Is the Same as Insurance
Let me pause for a moment to explain why taking even money is the same as making the insurance bet when you have a blackjack.
Suppose you wager $10, you are dealt a blackjack hand, and the dealer shows an ace upcard. There are four possible outcomes, which are listed below in the four rows. The first column indicates if the player does (Yes) or does not (No) take the even money. The second column shows the possible outcome for the dealer’s hand – either she has a 10 in the hole for a blackjack (Yes) or doesn’t have a 10 and blackjack (No).
The third column shows the amount won or lost for the initial $10 wager, and the fourth column, the same for the insurance bet. The last column shows the net amount of money won or lost on the combined outcome of the initial wager and the insurance bet.
|Insurance ($5)||Dealer BJ||Outcome of $10 Wager||Outcome of $5 Insurance Bet||NET|
|Yes||Yes||Push 0||Win $10||Win $10|
|Yes||No||Win $15||Lose $5||Win $10|
|No||Yes||Push 0||—||Push 0|
|No||No||Win $15||—||Win $15|
Notice that if you always insure your blackjack (possible outcomes 1 and 2 above), you always win even money regardless of the dealer’s outcome on her hand. This is why casinos have reverted to the “even money” proposition when a player has a blackjack hand and the dealer’s upcard is an ace.
Instead of letting a player go through all the motions of making an insurance bet, the casinos will gladly give the player ”even money,” even before the dealer checks for a blackjack. By immediately giving the player the “even money” payoff, it also speeds up the game, which is bad for the player but good for the casino.
Remember when I mentioned earlier that most players believe that you can’t lose when you take even money? This is because of the third outcome above, namely, if you don’t take even money when you have a blackjack then you risk the possibility that you will win nothing if the dealer has a blackjack. The masses of players will take the certain one-unit win rather than the possibility of winning nothing. Even the experts in the casino pit will say to take the sure even-money payoff. However, here is the rest of the story.
In a single-deck game, when you are dealt a blackjack and the dealer shows an ace, the dealer will end up with a 10 in the hole 15 times out of 49. This is because:
- There were three cards removed from the 52-card deck, namely, the dealer’s ace upcard, and your blackjack hand, consisting of an ace plus 10-value card. Removing three cards from a 52-card deck leaves 49 unplayed cards.
- In a deck of cards, 16 are valued at 10 (the four 10s, Jacks, Queens, and Kings). One 10-value card is in your blackjack hand; therefore, there are 15 ten-value cards in the 49 unplayed cards.
- The dealer will end up with a ten in the hole for blackjack 15 times out of 49 or about 30.6% of the time.
(Note: For a six-deck game, the math is 95 times out of 309 or 30.7%.)
Therefore, the bottom line on the even money is this – is it better to:
- Take the sure one-unit win by taking even money, or
- Risk nothing extra some of the time, to win 1.5 units some of the time by passing up the even-money proposition?
As mentioned above, 30.6% of the times that the dealer has a blackjack you will win nothing, but the other 69.4% of the times, you will win 1.5 times your bet. If you do the math, the latter will result in an average win equal to about 1.04 units every time you pass up the even-money proposition. So, which is better?
- Win 1 unit for certain by taking even money, or
- Win 1.04 units on average by declining to take even money.
The bottom line is this: the value of your blackjack hand is 1.04 units. If a casino were to offer you more than 1.04 units for your blackjack, you should take the offer. However, if they offer you less than 1.04 units, which is the case when they offer you even money or 1.0 unit, you should play smart and decline the offer.
(Note: Casino bosses are not stupid. They know the value of a player’s blackjack hand is worth more than even money, which is why they will gladly give a player even money right on the spot. Surprise them the next time you play blackjack and decline their “not-so-generous” offer.)
Even Money in 6-5 Blackjack Games
Nowadays, many land-based casinos have reduced the payoff for blackjack from the traditional 3-2 to 6-5. I’ve already written about the evils of 6-5 blackjack games; however, I’ve also received many inquiries as to why most casinos don’t offer even money on these games.
Without going into the math, I’ll give you the bottom line. If casinos offered even money on 6-5 games, players would have a slight advantage on this proposition, which is the reason that they don’t offer it on their 6-5 games.
(Note: The overall house edge in a 6-5 game is affected very little if they offered the even-money proposition; therefore, my recommendation toward 6-5 games remains the same: avoid playing them.)
Should You Ever Take the Even Money?
I’ll give you two scenarios when it makes sense to take even money.
- Suppose you are in a single-deck game with three other players. You are dealt a blackjack and the dealer shows an ace upcard. You can see your fellow players’ hands and none of them has any tens. Now the ratio of tens to non-tens in the unplayed cards is 15/43 or 34.9%. Anytime this ratio exceeds 33.33%, taking even money becomes profitable. The point is this: when you know ten-value cards are abundant in the unplayed cards, taking even money could be profitable. This leads me to the second point.
- By learning a card counting system, you will know when taking even money is a profitable bet. (See Chapter 10.7 in my Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide for details on this.)
Lastly, let me address one more “suggestion” that has been proposed as a reason for taking even money. Namely, a player with a limited bankroll who puts a large amount of it at risk by making a big bet and then is dealt a blackjack with the dealer showing an ace. This player has a “safety net” of a guaranteed win by taking the even money rather than possibly losing the bulk of his stake, or worse, tapping out.
My take on this scenario is this: any player who places the majority of his bankroll on one wager is grossly overbetting his bankroll. You will always lose less or win more in the long run when you stick with the math and never take the even-money proposition, regardless of how much you wagered on the hand.