When “Giving Up” Makes Sense

If I tell you that there is a playing option in blackjack where you can give up half your bet and surrender the right to play out your hand what would be your first reaction? Most likely you thought, “who in their right mind would ‘give up’ half of their bet without playing out their hand? Seems like a cowardly thing to do at the blackjack tables. How are you suppose to win when you gave the casino half of your bet? Seems like this is just another sucker bet for the tourists”. If thoughts like this raced through your mind read on and you will be surprised to learn that both the casino and player profit from this playing option.
From the players perspective when it is the best time to surrender a hand? It seems logical that you should only surrender a hand when your chances of winning that hand are not very good. After all it’s better to save half of your bet than to lose it all.
Lets take a look at what the odds are of winning one of the worst player hands in blackjack – a 16 – when the dealer’s upcard is a 10. If you analyze this hand over and over using a blackjack computer software program, you’ll find that you will lose over the long run about 77% of the hands when you hit and win about 23% of the hands. If I wager a buck a hand and lose 77 hands and win 23 hands I would be down $54. But what about standing on that 16 rather than hitting? You’ll actually do tad bit worse but if we round the numbers you end up losing about the same – $54.
Now lets take a look at what happens if we surrender the hand. If you bet a buck a hand and surrender you get back 50 cents. If you do it over 100 hands you’ll end up losing $50. Compare this with the $54 you can expect to lose by either hitting or standing on that 16. Get the point? By surrendering you cut your loss by $4 in a losing situation.
The bottom line is that you should only surrender blackjack hands when your chances of winning are less than 25% (this means the casino has a greater than 50% of beating you). If the casinos edge is greater than 50% than you are better off to surrender half (or 50%) of your bet.
When you are playing in multiple deck blackjack games you should only surrender these hands.
16 when the dealer shows a 9, 10, or ace
15 when the dealer shows a 10
Do not surrender a pair of eights and never surrender a soft 15 or 16 (that’s a hand which contains an ace counted as 11 like ace,5).
For a two deck blackjack game you need to modify the above and surrender only these hands.
15,16, and pair of 7’s when the dealer shows a 10.
The casinos make a lot of money with the surrender rule from players who surrender hands when they shouldn’t. I observed a player making a $25 bet and surrendering a 12 against a dealer 10. This was literally throwing money at the casinos (the proper strategy was to hit).
Surrender is a unique blackjack option. It’s the only option that you must verbally communicate to the dealer (certainly not the case with hitting or standing). Also remember that if you were to ask for a third card draw the surrender option is no longer available. And finally if the dealer has a blackjack you can not surrender (if the dealer turns over a blackjack all player hands lose). Because of the latter rule, the above surrender playing rules are known as late surrender. If you find a casino that allows you to surrender your hand before the dealer checks if he has a blackjack hand, then surrender is known as early surrender. This is a much more favorable situation for the player and the rules for early surrender are more complex then the rules for late surrender (for the details consult my book, Blackjack: Take The Money & Run).
So what does late surrender get me, you ask? Mathematically if you use the late surrender rules correctly, you will cut the casinos edge by about 0.05%. It doesn’t seem like much, but your objective if you are serious about winning is to play as smart as possible to cut the casino’s edge to as low as possible. Surrendering will help you achieve this goal.