Last weekend, I was at a casino playing blackjack. This casino happened to have surrender in their six-deck game. For those who aren’t aware of surrender, it’s a powerful play that adds a .07% to the player’s expected value. While .07% may not sound like much, on a good blackjack game, the house edge can be as low as low as .19%, so .07% cuts significantly into the house edge.
The bottom line is that surrender is a valuable player friendly rule that can save you a significant amount of money in the long run.
In my use of surrender, I incurred the wrath and ridicule of several players. Many players hate surrender, and they try to discourage other players from using surrender. One lady became rather nasty about my use of surrender.
Let’s discuss surrender.
WHAT IS SURRENDER?
Surrender is a rule in blackjack where the player gives up half of his or her bet, in exchange for extricating themselves from the hand.
There are two versions of surrender: early surrender where the player may surrender before the dealer checks their ace for a blackjack; and late surrender, where the player may only surrender after the dealer has checked their ace for a blackjack. For all practical purposes, every discussion about surrender is about late surrender. I have not seen an early surrender game in 20 years. So any reference to surrender is ‘late surrender’.
The rule is very simple. If the player doesn’t like their hand, the player announces ‘surrender’ to the dealer, and the dealer takes the players bet and returns half the bet. So if the player bets $25 before the cards are dealt, and then announces surrender after the cards are dealt, the dealer will return $12.50 to the player.
With the exception of some exotic blackjack games, such as Spanish 21, the player may only surrender on the first two cards. The player may not surrender after a split or after hitting.
Surrender is just that simple.
PROPER USE OF SURRENDER
I’ve outlined the proper use of surrender below.
The following are the proper surrender rules, assuming that the dealer must hit on soft 17 (which is the most prevalent rule nowadays).
- Player has hard 15
- Surrender if dealer has 10 or Ace
- For a better variant, surrender if dealer has 10 and player 15 is comprised of 9+6 or 10+5. If this confuses you, just surrender all 15 versus 10. Also surrender if dealer has an Ace up, regardless of player composition of hard 15.
- Player has hard 16
- Surrender if dealer has 9, 10, or Ace.
- Player has 8+8
- Surrender if dealer has Ace
- Player has hard 17
- Surrender if dealer has Ace
- If player has hard 15
- Surrender if dealer has 10, and the players hard 15 is comprised of 9+6 or 10+5. If this confuses you, just surrender on all hard 15s versus Ace.
- Surrender if dealer has Ace, and the players hard 15 is comprised of 9+6 or 10+5. If this confuses you, just surrender on all hard 15s versus Ace.
- If player has hard 16
- Surrender on all dealer 10s.
- Surrender if dealer has Ace, and the players hard 16 is comprised of 9+7 or 10+6.
- According to Wizard of Odds, on players 8+8 versus dealer Ace, only surrender if double after split is not allowed. If double after split is allowed, then split 8+8 as usual.
- If player has hard 17
- Surrender if dealer has Ace
The above decisions are the only times that surrender is appropriate and correct. To boil it down even further, and make the surrender rule even simpler, if you cannot or do not want to memorize the above, then just surrender player’s hard 15 and 16 versus dealer 10 or Ace. While that universal rule is not as powerful as the full surrender chart, it’s still much better than not using surrender at all, or using surrender at incorrect moments.
PLAYER CRITICISMS OF SURRENDER
Most players who criticize surrender often state the premise that if the casino offered it, then it must be bad for the player. At some point in the future, I am going to write about this often stated premise. Sometimes, it’s true, but sometimes, it’s not true. To be honest, it’s probably true more often than not; however, there is a contradiction between the statement and player’s actions at the casino. Anyways, that discussion is for another day.
In the case of blackjack surrender, proper use of surrender is absolutely good for the player. As stated before, it adds .07% to the player’s overall return.
To frame the surrender differently, in the long run, the player will lose more than half their bet if they chose to play out the hand, rather than surrender.
Players also criticize surrender by stating that surrendering ‘messes up the flow of the cards’. This is a topic I’ve discussed in the past: https://roadgambler.com/blackjack/thoughts-bad-blackjack-players/
I’m sympathetic to players who believe in this fallacy. Gambling is a form of entertainment and comfort, and if it entertains and comforts players to believe in lucky horseshoes and rabbits feet, then I’m all for horseshoes and rabbits feet; but in cases where the fallacy has a severe detrimental effect on my chances of winning, I am less inclined to give deference to the player’s beliefs.
The final criticism, which I often hear, is that ‘surrendering is not gambling’. I often reply to this criticism by stating, ‘maybe I don’t want to gamble’.
ROADGAMBLER’S NIGHT AT THE CASINO
I’ll disclose that I’m a rather stout fella. I carry myself well, but not in a menacing way. I’m often very serious, but I also smile a lot, and I’m quite approachable. I’m 6’0′ and can bench about 275 pounds and do 100 push ups. I can hold my own in a fight.
But yet, when it comes to surrender, I receive all sorts of push back. I was recently playing blackjack, when I asked about surrender, and one fella said to me, ‘that’s weak’.
I argue with the table and tell them that I’m going to surrender when I feel like it, to which I get audible sighs and feelings of contempt from the other players.
About an hour later, a sweet old lady comes by. She sits on third base, before the dealer, and I’m before her (to her right). I’d say she was in her 80’s, with a sweet smile, and she reminded me of my grandmother before my grandmother passed away. Then on one hand, I surrender a hard 16. Lady draws a 9 on her 16, thereby busting. Then the dealer draws a 5 to the dealer’s 16. Lady expresses annoyance and tells me that she would have had a 21 if I had drawn the 10, and the dealer would have busted.
A few hands later, I surrender a 17 to a dealers Ace, and the lady (to be fair, the entire table) goes ballistic. Sweet grandma goes 180 degrees satanic and tells me she had never seen anything so stupid in her days of playing blackjack and starts berating me.
I’m conflicted because I don’t want to appear to be a bully because it’s an 80-year-old lady, after all. So I politely tell her that surrender the soft 17 is a proper play, which drives her completely batty.
Exactly three hands later, I surrender on a 16 versus a dealer 10, which is a very straightforward play. In a stroke of bad luck for the table, she doubles her hand and gets a 9 (which would have busted my hand). Dealer then turns over a 6 for hard 16. Dealer then draws… a 5 for 21.
I swear, if this lady had an ice pick in her hand, she would have stabbed me in the neck.
Unfortunately, the lady was beyond disgusted and left the table.
Be forewarned that if you invoke the surrender rule, it’s not unusual to meet some sort of resistance.
Surrender is a valuable blackjack rule. It will save you significant money over the long run. There might be times when it appears that you would have won 100% of your bet, had you not surrendered, but in the long run, you will save lots of money by surrendering.
Just don’t let your fellow table mates discourage you from doing what is right. Stick to your guns, unless they bring an ice pick.