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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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Side Bets Are a Side Show That Won't Go Away

17 June 2009

The one table game that has the most side bets associated with it is blackjack. It seems as if inventors and gaming companies are always coming up with new, gimmicky ideas about how to relieve players of their money.

The reason for this is simple. Blackjack just happens to be the most popular of all table games, and it also has the lowest house edge among all games when you play correctly using basic strategy. Throw in some card tracking technique and you can reduce the house advantage even more.

Casino owners know this, which is why they are constantly looking for blackjack side bets to entice casual players, and sometimes even serious ones, into throwing extra money on the table in pursuit of a bonus win.

The casino "hold", or the money the house wins at blackjack, is something gaming executives are always looking to beef up. The base game sometimes does not generate the revenue they want, so the carnival games come into play, often with obscene house advantages.

Here's a letter from reader Jack T. who inquired about one blackjack side bet in particular that has a big following:

"Casinos in northwest Indiana have a side three-card poker wager that pays 9 to 1. It seems to pay off much and is very popular. It is my feeling these side wagers are a waste. Yet, many players use them to the extent of a wager ever more than their blackjack wager. What is your opinion of this side wager?"

The side bet to which Jack is referring is called "21 + 3". It has been around for a good number of years, which attests to its popularity and revenue-generating might.

Whereas some bets of this type have only fleeting fame in casinos before they disappear, 21 + 3 has staying power mainly because players are attracted to it and the wager successfully inflates the hold on the blackjack tables it appears.

The pay off is based upon the player's first two dealt cards and the dealer's up card. If the three cards combined make a flush, straight, straight flush or 3-of-a-kind, the return is 9 to 1.

That's an enticing lure on the surface of things, but the house edge has been calculated at 3.24 percent, more than three times greater than the edge on the blackjack game alone when playing basic strategy.

Making a side bet on 21 + 3 occasionally can add a degree of fun and intrigue to the game, but a consistent diet of these bets on every hand takes away whatever advantage you are deriving from playing blackjack alone.

If you want to play blackjack and you play it well, always stick to the base game. Side bets are not only a distraction; they will eat into your profits even though on the surface of things they look like a fun way to rake in a little extra cash.

There are so many other table game varieties other than blackjack to get you in the "carnival" mood: Caribbean Stud Poker, Let it Ride, Three Card Poker, Texas Hold'em Bonus Poker, and Mississippi Stud just to name a few.

All of those games pack a house edge much higher than blackjack, but they are what they are. Blackjack is really in a class all by itself because of the fluctuating mathematical probabilities and the player's ability to use skill.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp