Lesson 24 – Understanding the Surrender Option

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

To start at the beginning, visit the Welcome page.

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. This makes figuring the basic strategy for surrender very simple. If the expectation is to lose more than 50%, you should surrender instead.

The appropriate use of surrender varies depending on whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17. I provide both sets of strategies here:

For 6-deck games where the dealer STANDS on all 17s:
Player’s hand of 9,7 or 10,6: Surrender against a dealer 9, 10, Ace.
(Don’t surrender a pair of 8s. Split them instead.)
Player’s hand of hard 15: Surrender against a dealer 10.
For 6-deck games where the dealer HITS Soft 17:
Player’s hand of hard 15: Surrender against a dealer’s 10, Ace
Player’s hand of 9,7 or 10,6: Surrender against a dealer 9, 10, Ace.
Player’s hand of 8, 8: Surrender against a dealer Ace.
Player’s hand of hard 17: Surrender against a dealer Ace.

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.

← Previous: Lesson 23

6 comments on “Lesson 24 – Understanding the Surrender Option

  • Tim Brown said:

    Great site! I am new to bj under 200 hours of study. This site answered many questions and offered great advice. Can you recommend top 5 books that are a must read before I lay my money down?

  • Anonymous said:

    Hello. I am a big fan of surrendering but lately I’ve been thinking… if I have 16 against a dealer 10 and my expectation to lose is 53.7% then. .. if I’m being 100 a hand and I do this 3 times I essentially list $150. Now if I hit and win 1 out of 3 hands (33.3%) I will have $200… so I am up $50 compared to surrendering ($150). Where is my thought process flawed? Please help.
    Thank you

    • There is nothing wrong with your logic. If you can win 1 out of 3 hands, you should not surrender. The breakeven point is 1 in 4 hands. At that point, you would lose the same amount whether you surrendered all 4 hands or played them all out going 1 and 3. For more, see my article on Blackjack Surrender.

  • so I was wondering about a few things, I cant find a free deviation chart for my game rules… everywhere asks for money any idea where I can get a free one? im looking for 6-8 deck dealer hits soft 17 resplit double after split

    also I had one other thing I was over thinking lately when I have a soft 18 vs Dealers 3 4 5 6 I double dealers 7 I stay and vs a 9 10 A I hit I resently just found out im suppose to double vs a 2 aswell, however soft 18 vs a dealers 8 it sez stand, I was thinking I want to be hitting this for a free hit? and isn’t 18 a losing hand? soft 17 vs 7 I hit as a free hit don’t I treat it the same 18 vs 8 ? also uhm… when I have an unnatural soft 18 vs the dealers 2-6 are their different plays for each of these? like uhm.. if I have a A-2 Vs Dealers 4 basic strat sez hit, if I get a 5 and have 8 or 18, do I want to stop there or improve my hand ? I was thinking for some reason I wanted to keep improving it but im guessing im suppose to stay… but is this changed by the count being rich with high or low cards?

    • With a soft 18 made up of 3 or more cards, obviously you can no longer double, so just use the appropriate fallback strategy according to chart. With (A,3,4) vs a dealer 4 for example, you should stand. The charts from this site show that “DS”, meaning Double if you can, else Stand.
      You also asked why you should stand with Soft 18 vs 8. Well, the potential push is a big part of that, but in general try not to worry too much about the “why” of basic strategy. It just works that way. Technically, here are the results with A7v8: Standing returns 0.108 on average, hitting returns only 0.041.

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