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  • Understanding blackjack side games

    Blackjack is a perennial casino favourite (I would say our most popular game) and part of that appeal is both its popularity and simplicity.

    But most real life casinos also offer side games on their blackjack tables. These allow you to make additional bets using your blackjack hand, giving you more chances to win, and win bigger!

    Should I play blackjack side games at the casino?

    That’s something only you can answer. All casino games have a house edge (a mathematical advantage in favour of the casino) and side games are no different.

    One of the reasons that blackjack is so popular with players is that there is a high element of skill involved. By following a system known as standard blackjack strategy (which describes the best mathematical decision based upon your two cards and the dealer’s up card) the game has a house edge of just over 0.5% and the casino makes the bulk of its profit from players who make bad decisions. Side games have a higher house edge, usually between 3-10%, so from a purely mathematical point of view, no you shouldn’t play blackjack side games. Mind you, from a mathematical point of view, you should never step foot in a casino!

    The main reason to play side games is that they are a chance to win big. One of the main appeals of roulette is that a good run can win lots of money quickly, 35-1 on a straight up number. Regular blackjack offers nothing like that. Solid play is a grind of sound mathematical decisions, with the best odds of 3-2 offered for a blackjack, but side games allow for a lucky punter to get roulette style payouts on the blackjack table.

    What are the blackjack side games?

    The two main side games are Perfect Pairs and 21+3, which are detailed below. Other casinos may offer variations and additional side games. House Money is a rare game that pays out if you get premium starting hands, like Ace-King, and Top 3 is more common, and pays out big odds for the top three hands: three of a kind, straight flush and three of a kind suited – which can earn the player 270-1 in some casinos.

    Perfect Pairs

    Perfect Pairs is probably the simplest and easiest to understand of the side games.

    All players are dealt their starting hands as usual and anyone dealt two cards of the same value (from two twos, to two aces) wins if they are playing the Perfect Pairs side game. The actual pay out depends on the suits of the cards dealt. A ‘Mixed Pair’ is one red card and one black card, and usually gives a 5-1 payout (a £1 stake wins £5, plus the player keeps their stake). A coloured pair (a spade and a club, or a heart and a diamond) is typically good for 12-1 (although it may be more or less, depending on the casino), while a perfect pair usually pays 30-1. A perfect pair is two cards that are exactly the same (such as A♣ A♣ or 66) and this is possible because blackjack is played using multiple decks.

    At Red we use six decks shuffled together for black jack, but many casinos now use auto shufflers, which shuffle the cards between each deal, and just four decks. These auto shufflers make for a faster game and stop the act of card counting, but by only using four decks the house advantage rises quite dramatically in side games. There’s virtually no difference in their edge in the regular game (it’s actually slightly less with four decks) but with perfect pairs the advantage rises from over 5% with six decks, to over 10% with four, making it one of the worst value bets in the casino.

    21+3

    21+3 is a poker style game, that lets the player win on a three card hand based on their two blackjack cards, plus the croupier’s exposed card. 

    There are usually four winning combinations in 21+3:

    • Flush, any three cards of the same suit (such as 668)
    • Straight, three consecutively numbered cards of differing suits (such as 3♣45♠)
    • Three of a kind (three cards of the same value, such as 666♣)
    • Straight flush (consecutive cards of the same suit, like J♣Q♣K♣)

    All winning 21+3 generally pay out at 9-1 and offer a house edge of less than 2%, making it one of the best value bets in the casino). Many tables offering 21+3 also offer the Top 3 game. This is basically an additional bet, which pays out big on three of a kind (usually at 90-1), a straight flush (180-1) and a suited three of a kind (270-1). Although these are massive odds, the rarity of hitting these top three hands means that the house usually has an advantage in excess of 11%. 

    How do I play blackjack side games?

    Side games can only be played in addition to the regular blackjack hand. Once you have placed your stake in your blackjack box, you may optionally put a stake in the corresponding place for your side bet.

    The croupier will deal all the cards as usual. Once they are dealt, they will pay out any winning side bets before going on to play the regular blackjack hand. Although the side bets and blackjack hand share the same cards, they are independent of each other. You can win the blackjack hand but lose the side bet (and vice versa). You can also win both, or lose both. 

    Usually the stake for the side game will be much lower than the blackjack table limit. There will be a notice telling you the minimum bets on the table and while the limit for blackjack may be, for example, £5 per hand, the side bets may be £1, or multiples of.

    Do I have to play the side games?

    No, they are totally optional.

    Can I have blackjack side games at my fun casino night?

    Yes, if requested. Typically we keep things simple and play straightforward blackjack, but for more a more authentic experience, advanced players or add a greater degree of luck to your casino night we are happy to offer blackjack layouts with side bets. If you would like a blackjack table with sidebars at your casino party, please contact us for more information. Remember, as the name suggests, fun casinos are for fun only and gambling with real money is not permitted by law.

    The information on this post is meant for general reference only. Variations may occur from casino to casino and Red Event Casinos accept no responsibilities for any loses occurred as a result of playing these games in real life casinos. We do not offer gambling services, only casino-style party entertainment.

    Play for fun and within your limits. If you think you may have a gambling addition, we recommend visiting www.begambleaware.org

Author

Paul is the founder and MD of Red. He's an experienced events professional who's passionate about creating great customer service and is fanatical about attention to detail. When he is not running Red, he is equally fanatical about motorcycling and earns a few quid writing about all things with two wheels and an engine.

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