Sometimes Surrender’s Best In Blackjack

This past week, I received an e-mail from a reader who wanted to know how come I never write about the Surrender rule and strategy in Blackjack.

I responded that I had a couple of times in the past and thanked him for a wonderful suggestion for this week’’s column. But I should first explain why I don’t write all that often about the Surrender rule.

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Basically, I can’t remember the last time I saw someone actually Surrender at a Blackjack table. For those who don’t know, a player may surrender half of his wager after his first two cards and generally after the dealer checks for Blackjack. This is called Late Surrender.

An alternative version is called Early Surrender and allows the player to surrender half of his wager before the dealer checks for Blackjack. This is far more beneficial to the player and thus very rarely offered by casinos.

Another reason I don’t spend a lot of time on the Surrender strategy is that given the limited amount of time I write about Blackjack, it simply isn’t the most important component of the strategy to learn.

That isn’t to say that it isn’t important. I’m sure there are a variety of video poker strategy aspects that I don’t cover too often, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn them.

In the most common form of Blackjack here in Las Vegas, utilizing the proper Surrender strategy will add just under 0.1 percent to the payback. If a player chooses to not Double after splitting because maybe he’s too timid to put up that much money, that is a 0.15 percent impact.

Like with all casino games, it is important to learn all of the strategy and not just the snippets I present in my weekly column. There are countless books out there on Blackjack which can go through all of the details the way I do for video poker and other table games in my books.

That said, I can cover the basics of Surrender strategy here in my column for the most common Blackjack versions.

Here in Las Vegas, the most common game is probably a 6-deck shoe where the Dealer hits on Soft 17. In this case there are seven situations where the player would want to Surrender. I think they won’t surprise anyone.

If the dealer has an Ace, the player should surrender with a Hard 15, 16 or 17 including a pair of 8’s. If the dealer has a 10/Face up, the player should surrender with a Hard 15 or 16, but still split a Pair of 8’s. Lastly, if the dealer has a 9 up, the player should surrender with a Hard 16, but still split a Pair of 8’s.

Some of you may be wondering why a player would ever just give up half of his wager. It shouldn’t be a surprise when I say it is all about the math.

For the non Pair of 8’s situations, the player would have to win 25 percent of his hands or more to lose less money by staying in the game.

Let’s take a closer look at the situation when a player has a Hard 16 and the dealer has a 10/Face. Players will frequently think long and hard over hitting or sticking. The irony is that the expected value of this situation is about 0.46 in both cases, with the decision to hit a mere 0.001 better than sticking.

But the expected value for Surrendering is 0.5. So, while that player is beating himself up over whether to hit or stick, the proper answer is he should throw in the towel. Of course, this decision only applies when the player has two cards. If he hit a 12 and drew a 4, he’s back to that 0.001 difference between hitting and sticking.

Surrendering seems to be a tough decision for many Blackjack players. It is my belief that in most table games, players under-fold, not over-fold. Players don’t like to give up.

But the math is very clear and there is no shame in surrendering in Blackjack any more than there is folding on a J-10-7 in Three Card Poker. A folded hand is not one that would have lost every time, but rather one that will not win often enough to be worth playing. 

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About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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