Blackjack Gaming

Beware the pair

Written by Andrew W Scott

This article first appeared in the Mar/Apr 2011 issue of World Gaming magazine.

Blackjack is not a simple game. The game’s complexity means the skill of those that play it ranges from absolute zero to genius savant. But there is one aspect of the game that is loved for its simplicity: the pair bet. We take a look at this common blackjack side bet.

There are many decisions to be made when playing blackjack. How much do I bet? Should I open another box (also known as a spot)? Should I stand on this total or take another card? Do I double my bet? Should I cash more money in? Should I split this pair? What about insurance? Do the other players’ decisions affect what I should do? Should I leave this table or stay? What about my staking plan? The answers to these questions are usually not simple and can involve multiple factors.

Many people playing the game or even strolling past a blackjack table yearn for a quick and simple bet where they can get some money on, and have an immediate result. This desire has led to many blackjack side-bets being invented. A side-bet is a bet that is determined by the cards that are dealt, but has nothing to do with the traditional blackjack goal of getting closer to 21 than the dealer (without going over 21). Usually the first two cards dealt to a hand determine these side bets.

There are dozens of such bets. Over the years we’ve seen side-bets such as ‘over/under 13’, ‘lucky lucky’ and ‘royal match’ come and go. Currently the industry standard blackjack side-bet in Macau is the ‘any pair’ bet.

With this bet, you place your chips on a specially marked area near a box that will be dealt cards (that is, a box that has a normal blackjack bet). It could be your box, or another player’s box (or even both). You don’t need to have a normal blackjack bet yourself to bet ‘any pair’, you can just bet on someone else’s box. In Macau the standard pair bet minimum is HK$50 and the standard pair bet maximum is 10 percent of the table maximum. Your ‘any pair’ bet is a bet that the first two cards the box receives will be a pair (like 9♣9♣, KK or 8♣8). The suits don’t matter. Hitting a pair pays 11 to 1 on your money! Simple as that. Your bet is decided as soon as that box is dealt its first two cards.

A fun aspect of the pair bet is that it is always live no matter what the first card received is. When that first card hits the table you know what you are cheering for and your bet will always be decided on the turn of a single card – the second card dealt to the box.

Is the pair bet a good bet? It turns out after all the numbers are crunched that the house edge on this bet on a standard six deck blackjack game is 11.3 percent, which makes it one of the worst bets in the casino! Having said that, depending on the type of player you are, house edge is not the only factor in the game and if you feel a pair is due and you want to place the bet for a bit of fun there is nothing wrong with that.

However, we would advise that you keep pair betting at the fun level and place your more serious bets on lower house edge propositions, like normal blackjack bets, or baccarat, or roulette – or just about anything!

Most casinos outside Macau have a different variation of the pair side bet, called ‘perfect pairs’. This version of the bet has different payouts depending on the type of pair you receive:

  • Uncoloured pair (different colours, like 7♠7) pays 5 to 1
  • Coloured pair (same colour but different suits, like JJ) pays 12 to 1
  • Perfect (or suited) pair (same suits, like 3♣3♣) pays 25 to 1

So which version is better? It turns out the house edge on the ‘perfect pairs’ bet for a standard six deck game is 10.0 percent. This is still a high house edge but not quite as bad as the ‘any pair’ bet.

The only place we know of that you can find ‘perfect pairs’ in Macau is the Hard Rock casino upstairs at City of Dreams, so if you like to regularly bet the ‘pairs’, we suggest you play your blackjack at the Hard Rock. Another advantage of ‘perfect pairs’ over ‘any pair’ is that sometimes you will hit that magical suited pair and get a whopping 25 to 1 payoff.

By all means have a bit of fun with this side bet, but remember to beware the pair!