One of the playing decisions available to land-based and online blackjack players in some (but not all) casinos is to surrender their hand. For the uninitiated, surrender works like this.
After comparing your initial two-card hand against the dealer’s upcard, if you think your chances of winning the hand are not very good, you can forfeit playing your hand and surrender (or give up) half of the amount of your wager. If you decide to surrender, the dealer will remove half of your bet and then scoop up your initial two cards and place them in the discard tray.
Most players disdain the surrender option because they much prefer to try to “win their hands,” rather than wimp out and surrender them. But as you will see shortly, surrender can be a smart play if you know which hands to surrender.
Before I show you the surrender playing strategy, it’s important that you understand the math behind surrender. You know that when you surrender a hand you will lose 50% (or half) of your wager; therefore, it makes sense to surrender only those hands when your expected loss from playing the hand to a conclusion is greater than 50% (i.e., when your chances of winning are less than one out of four hands). The latter means that statistically if playing a hand has less than a 25% chance of winning (and consequently greater than 75% of losing), you will save money in the long run by surrendering the hand instead.
Here’s a real-world example. Suppose you are dealt a 10 and 6 and the dealer’s upcard is a ten. This is the worst blackjack hand that you can get when you are playing. You have three choices on how to play the hand: hit, stand, or surrender. The percentages of the time that you will win or lose for each playing option are (assumes a six-deck game):
|Strategy||Win||Lose||Loss per $100 Bet|
|Surrender||50% of bet||50% of bet||$50|
The above percentages mean if you stand on your 16, you can expect to lose the hand 77.2% of the time and win only 22.8%; therefore, you can expect to lose $54.40 for every $100 bet on the hand. Hitting improves your outcome slightly; your expected loss is $53.20 per $100 bet. Think about this: When you surrender your 10-6 against a dealer 10 upcard, you will lose exactly 50% of your bet, meaning for every $100 wagered, your expectation is to lose $50. Now let me ask you this: 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.)
BASIC PLAYING STRATEGY FOR SURRENDER
- Surrender hard 16 (but not 8-8) against a dealer 9, 10, or Ace upcard
- Surrender hard 15 against a dealer 10 upcard
Note: The above strategy differs slightly depending on the number of decks of cards being used and the mix of playing rules. See Chapter 2.2 in my Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide for tables that contain the complete surrender playing strategy for any number of decks and different playing rules.
MORE TIPS FOR SURRENDER
Here are some additional tips to keep in mind regarding the surrender option:
- If you are not sure if a casino offers surrender, contact the casino beforehand (or just ask the dealer if you happen to be in a casino). (Usually, if a casino offers surrender, it will state it on the placard that summarizes the rules that is located on each table.)
- In the US 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). This is known as “late surrender,” and it is the strategy I presented in this article.
- Another 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, and it has a much different playing strategy than later surrender. (In this article, I only covered the playing strategy for late surrender; see Chapter 2.2 in the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide for the complete playing strategy for early surrender.)
- In some casinos you must verbally announce to the dealer that you want to surrender your hand by 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 index finger.
- Implementing the late surrender playing strategy will reduce the house edge by about 0.07% in multiple-deck games. Surrender also will stabilize your bankroll compared to a game where surrender is not offered and you have to play your hands to completion.
- Surrender is also a valuable playing option for card counters because it will moderate the swings in their bankroll. Also, knowing when to surrender a hand based on the count should definitely be employed by a card counter. (For details on this, see Chapter 10.7 in Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide for the surrender “Fab Four” indices.)
- Some (but not all) online casinos offer the surrender option in their blackjack games. Check the summary of the blackjack rules on the site to determine if surrender is available.