The GameMaster's Blackjack School

This free course on blackjack and card counting was provided by the GameMaster, publisher of the GameMaster Online website. It is reproduced here in its entirety with permission of the author. The 24-lesson course is an excellent introduction to winning blackjack.

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Lesson 24 - Understanding the Surrender Option

by the GameMaster, reprinted with permission.
The Blackjack School is also available on DVD from the GameMaster's Store.

I can well remember the good ol' days in Atlantic City when casino gaming first began there. The one casino that was open at the time (Resorts International) had to offer a Blackjack game where the rules were established by the Casino Control Commission and that included a weird rule called 'surrender'. At least we thought it was weird until we figured out what a huge advantage it gave to the player who used it correctly!

Most players dubbed surrender as a sucker bet. One time at a table, some other player summed it all up when he declared: "Surrendering is nuts! Why give up half your bet when you could just as easily win the hand?" To a degree, he was right. What I mean by that is it's true that a player could win or lose any one given hand, but he didn't carry the thought far enough. If you play thousands of hands, giving up 50% of the bet on some of them is actually the cheaper alternative to playing it out.
For those of you who aren't familiar with surrender, it's a player option that some casinos offer. When allowed, you may elect to give up half the amount you've bet rather than play out the hand. For the mathematically inclined, you can see that for those hands where your expectation is to lose more than 50% of your bet, surrender is a good deal. (Ignoring pushes, an expected loss of over 50% means you are more than 75% likely to lose the hand.) There are two types of surrender: early and late. Those terms refer to whether or not a dealer checks to see if s/he has a blackjack (when an Ace or 10 is showing) before you may make the surrender decision. In A.C., the type of surrender was 'early' which meant that you could give up half your bet before the dealer knew if s/he had a 'natural'. That came about simply because state regulations didn't allow 'peeking', so a dealer didn't know what his hand was until all the players had made their playing decisions.
These days, the most common form of surrender is the 'late' version where the dealer checks for a natural and, if s/he doesn't have it, then you may surrender. This is worth a lot less, since if the dealer does have a natural, s/he takes your bet before you can surrender. But, in spite of that restriction, surrender can still be of some value to you, if you use it properly.
Let me show you an example; assume a 6-deck game with double after split allowed and the dealer must stand on A-6. If I have a hand of 9, 7 and the dealer is showing a 10, my 'expectation' is to lose 53.7% of all the money I bet in that situation. If I surrender, I'll lose 50% of all the money bet in that situation. A modest improvement, but better nonetheless.
So this makes figuring the basic strategy for surrender very simple. If the expectation is to lose more than 50%, surrender. For a multi-deck game, here are the rules for late surrender:
Player's hand of 9,7 or 10,6:Surrender against a dealer's 9, 10, Ace
Player's hand of 8, 8:Surrender against a dealer's 10
(Though it's virtually a toss-up; split if DAS is allowed.)
Player's hand of 15:Surrender against a dealer's 10
(Note If the dealer hits A-6, surrender against an Ace, also.)
Late surrender adds to the player's edge by a modest .1%, but I like it when I have a big bet out there and I get a 10 for my first card, as expected, and then get the last 6 in the deck as my next card. Who hasn't done that before?
If you count cards, the surrender option is an even better deal as the count goes up. If you've read and studied my lessons up to this point, you know that in a 'high' count situation, the proportion of 10s and faces (and Aces) in the remaining deck(s) versus 'little' cards is much greater, so the odds of getting such a card have increased considerably. This is where the value of surrender goes up.
Most surrender available these days is 'late' surrender, which means that the dealer checks the hole card if s/he is showing an Ace or 10. If s/he has a 'natural', your entire bet is lost and surrender isn't an option. Knowing that the dealer doesn't have a Blackjack makes surrender, to some people, a stupid play, but let's examine the situation a bit closer. Just what kind of hand can the dealer get with a face card showing? First of all, the dealer is going to bust only 23% of the time when s/he is showing a 10 or face as an up card. Secondly, s/he is going to end with a total of 20 or 21 41% of the time! And you think you're going to beat her with your 16? When the dealer is showing an Ace, and does NOT have a Blackjack, s/he still is going to end with a total of 19 or more 46% of the time and will bust only 17% of the time. That's why surrender is valid, even if the dealer doesn't have a Blackjack.
Now, as the count goes up, both you and the dealer have a better chance of getting 10s and Aces. Thus, it's more likely that you'll get a 10 card if you hit. So, if you have a hand of 15 and the dealer is showing a 9, s/he has a better chance of having a 10 in the hole and it's more likely that you'll hit with a 10. Time to bail! When the true count is 2 or more, surrender your 15s against a dealer's 9. Against an Ace, surrender 15 at a true of 2 or more, if the dealer stands on A-6. If the dealer is required to hit A-6, surrendering 15 is a basic strategy move. Another good one to remember is to surrender 14 against a 10 at a true of 3 or more.
The use of surrender is, from my experience, interesting from a 'camouflage' point of view. As you are hopefully aware, we card-counters prefer to keep our skills concealed since, for some sick reason, casino personnel don't like counters. Surrendering is actually a fairly sophisticated playing technique, so it's fair to say that the 'average' gambler doesn't use it. Yet, I want to look like an avaerage gambler in order to conceal my abilty to beat the game. But I use surrender when it's offered and it really helps when the count is high, I have a big bet out there and I surrender a 15 against a 9 (or a 13 against a 10 - true of 8), because it makes me look like a 'chicken.' Most casino personnel think surrender is a 'sucker' play anyway, so when they see you giving up half a $200 bet, they think you'll never make any $$$ at the game. That's just what I want them to think.
This is the final lesson of my Blackjack School, at least for the time being. However, I'm always coming up with new ways to beat the game and I usually write a new article on the topic once a month. So, to stay in touch, be sure to visit our original site, The GameMaster Online on a regular basis.

Questions? E-mail me at aceten1@mindspring.com and I'll reply personally.
School's out for now.

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