Blackjack Rules: Arguments For and Against Insurance & Surrendering

As one of the world’s most popular casino games, blackjack needs very little introduction. But then again, saying that blackjack is a ‘game’ is actually misleading. It is, in fact, a genre of casino card games, meaning there are lots of different types of blackjack games. You’ll find different variations at both land-based casinos and online casinos. 

The latter, in particular, offers a broad choice of blackjack variants that are well worth checking out. 

Of course, some of the rules of the different types of blackjack games will only differ slightly from the ‘classic’ versions. For example, there are only slight differences between Atlantic City blackjack and Vegas Strip rules. But the differences are starker in others, and they offer players options that can be fundamental to a blackjack strategy’s success. 

Perhaps the two rules that cause the most contentiousness among players are insurance and surrender. Insurance is clearly the most well-known of the two, and it is available as a betting option in the majority of blackjack games. 

Insurance is Avoided by Many Players

If you weren’t aware, insurance is a type of bet that is offered when the dealer’s 1st card is an Ace. As there is a fair chance that the dealer can draw a 10 (or J, Q, K), then the dealer has a good shot of getting ‘blackjack’ and winning the game regardless of your hand. 

The insurance bet is a wager that the dealer has indeed got blackjack. It costs half your bet, and pays 2 to 1. So, if your original bet was £10, then the insurance bet would cost £5 (and pay £15 if the dealer has blackjack). The idea is that you would break even on the round, hence the name insurance. 

You can see there is a certain allure to taking insurance, particularly when you, the player, have a good starting hand, like 20. But guess what? Nearly all experienced blackjack players recommend not taking insurance when it is offered. 

And the mathematics back them up. Blackjack is a game of very low house edge. While it depends on employing the best strategy, it is normally around 1%. But the insurance bet pushes that house edge to somewhere around 6%, so experts tend to avoid it. 

Surrender Has Some Supporters

On the other end of the scale is the surrender option. It’s much less common than insurance, and it is certainly employed much less frequently. Surrender means you give up half your bet to end the game. Doesn’t sound too attractive, right? You can understand why people don’t use it so much. After all, why would you pay half your bet to simply end the game. 

But some (certainly not all) expert players believe that the surrender option gives them an advantage. We are back to the old nugget of house edge again, and expert players who think they’ve run the mathematical formula judge that it is better to lose half the bet. 

It’s up for debate, of course. That’s one of the attractive elements of blackjack: decades after the game became popularised, nobody agrees on the exact house edge and strategies. 

Some of the minutiae of these strategies might seem boring if you are out on a casino night somewhere swanky like the Ritz London or on holiday in Vegas. On those occasions, winning and losing can seem of secondary importance. But for experienced players, it’s all about finding ways to drive down the house edge. 

A Word on Blackjack Strategy (and Betting Strategies in General)

Insurance can seem attractive, but most players warn against it. By contrast, surrendering seems very unattractive, but some players swear by it.  This should tell you all you need to know about the potential risks involved, if too much emphasis is placed on one specific strategy.

Depending on who you ask, basing your decisions on some kind of prefabricated strategy is either the best or the worst thing you can do. In reality, the truth actually lies somewhere down the middle.

On one hand, you could argue that making things up as you go along is a bad idea. And indeed it is, as this is exactly the kind of random gameplay that paves the way for unfortunate outcomes.

At the same time, basing every move you make on any given strategy can be just as harmful. For all the logic and mathematics in the world, there never has been and never will be a fool-proof blackjack strategy.

Or for that matter, a strategy that guarantees success when playing any other casino game across the board.

A few key points to bear in mind where betting strategies are concerned:

  1. There is absolutely nothing anyone can do to accurately predict any outcome in the casino. You can make an educated guess based on what’s happening at the time, but that’s all.
  2. The only system that has the potential to generate near-guaranteed profits at the blackjack table is card counting. Sadly, it’s insanely difficult to master, it’s strictly prohibited and it’s generally only capable of producing very rudimentary profits.
  3. The greater the emphasis you place on a system or strategy, the less focused you become on the game itself. Rather than learning from your mistakes and becoming a better player, you stagnate in the same spot indefinitely.
  4. Worse still, sticking religiously to one strategy or another takes all of the fun and excitement out of the game. You’re effectively playing with all the passion and enthusiasm of a computer algorithm, so you may as well not bother.

Last but not least, don’t ever fool yourself into thinking there is anything you can do to beat the house. You can play as tactically and strategically as you like, but there will always be a house edge that stacks the odds against you. 

The quicker you accept this, the sooner you’ll start having fun – exactly what casino games like blackjack are all about. 

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