When to Wave the White Flag
Use the surrender rule to reduce the house edge
By Henry Tamburin
It’s no secret that the casinos in Pennsylvania have some of the best blackjack games in the country. One of the reasons for this is the surrender rule, which must be offered (by regulation) at every blackjack game in every casino in the state. Unfortunately, many players don’t understand what the surrender rule is, or worse, they misuse the strategy when they play.
Unfortunately, the word “surrender” has a negative connotation amongst players. Players want to “win” their hands, not wimp out and surrender them. But it turns out, surrendering specific hands is actually a smart play and it’s important that you know the reasons why, and also for which hands it makes sense to wave the white flag and surrender.
For the uninitiated, surrender works like this: After comparing your initial two-card hand against the dealer’s upcard, if you think your chance of winning the hand is not good, you can forfeit playing your hand and surrender (or give up) half of the amount of your wager. In some casinos, you must verbally announce to the dealer that you want to surrender your hand by just saying, “surrender.” Other casinos have implemented a hand signal for surrender, which is to draw an imaginary line from left to right on the felt with your finger. Either way, if you decide to surrender your hand, the dealer will remove half of your bet then scoop up your initial two cards and place them in the discard tray. Essentially, when you surrender, you forfeit your hand and half of your bet before drawing any more cards.
Here’s another tidbit about surrender to store in your brain. There are two types of surrender: late surrender and early surrender. In the U.S. casinos, you can only surrender your hand after the dealer peeks at her hole card when she shows an ace or ten-valued card, to determine if she has a blackjack. If she has blackjack, the surrender option is no longer available, and you will lose your entire bet (unless you also have a blackjack). The other type of surrender, known as “early surrender,” is rarely offered in U.S. casinos and is more prevalent in European and Asian casinos where the dealer does not take a hole card until after all players have acted on their hand. With the early surrender option, a player can surrender his hand to a dealer’s ace and/or ten-value upcard before she checks to determine if she has blackjack. Early surrender is a much more favorable rule for players than late surrender; however, in this article, I will be dealing only with late surrender, which is more common in U.S. casinos.
Since you lose 50% of your wager when you surrender, it makes sense to surrender a hand only when your expected loss from playing the hand to a conclusion is greater than 50% (i.e., when your chance of winning is less than one out of four hands). This means that statistically, if playing a hand has less than a 25% chance of winning (and consequently greater than 75% chance of losing), you will save money in the long run by surrendering the hand instead.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Suppose you are dealt a 10-6 and the dealer shows a queen. You have three choices on how to play this hand: hit, stand, or surrender. The percentages of times that you will win or lose this hand when you stand or hit are as follows (assume a six-deck game):
|Strategy||Win||Lose||Loss per $100 Bet|
|Surrender||50% of bet||$50.00|
If you stand on your 16, you can expect to lose the hand 77.2% of the time and win only 22.8%. This means you can expect to lose $54.40 for every $100 bet on the hand. Hitting improves your outcome slightly: you lose slightly less (76.6%) and win slightly more (23.4%), giving you an expected loss of $53.20 per $100 bet. But think about this: If you surrender your 10-6 against a dealer 10, you will lose exactly 50% of your bet, so for every $100 wagered, your expectation is to lose $50. Now I ask you: is it better to lose $50, $53.20, or $54.40? I hope you said only $50, which is why surrender is your best option for this hand. (Remember, surrender is an option that will save you money in the long run compared to an alternate playing option.)
The basic playing strategy for late surrender in a six-deck game with s17 is:
- Surrender hard 16 (but not 8-8) against a dealer 9, 10, or ace upcard.
- Surrender hard 15 (but not 8-7, unless an eight-deck) against a dealer 10 upcard.
When you use late surrender correctly, it will reduce the house edge by about 0.07% in multiple-deck games. This may not seem like much but everything you can do to reduce the house edge is a step in the right direction, Surrender also has this added benefit: it will stabilize your bankroll compared to a game where surrender is not offered and you have to play all your hands to completion. Lastly, if you are a card counter, listen up. Surrender is a valuable playing option for you because it will moderate the swings in your bankroll (don’t underestimate this important benefit), and knowing when to surrender based on the count should definitely be an important part of your playing arsenal. Finally, if he employs a decent betting spread, surrender can be worth three to four times more to the counter than to the basic strategy player.
Tip of the Month
According to a blackjack pro who contributes to my Blackjack Insider e-newsletter (www.bjinsider.com), The Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA, has one of the best blackjack games in the country for basic strategy players who can afford a minimum bet of $50 a hand. It’s a two-deck game with late surrender (which is rare) with these additional rules: blackjack pays 3-2, dealer stands on soft 17, you can double down on any two cards, double down after pair splitting is allowed, split any pairs up to four hands, and aces can be resplit once (to form three hands). The house edge against a basic strategy player in this game is a measly -0.083%.
Henry Tamburin is the editor of Blackjack Insider Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com), the lead instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack Course (www.goldentouchblackjack.com), and host of smartgaming.com. For a free three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to www.bjinsider.com/freetrial. To receive his free Casino Gambling Catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit www.smartgaming.com.