Arnold Snyder analyzes the value of the blackjack surrender rule with card counting, and provides the best strategy for the blackjack surrender rule.
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Blackjack Surrender Rule

 
the value of the blackjack surrender rule with card counting
 
ANALYSIS & THEORY OF BLACKJACK
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Blackjack Strategy The "Best" Card Counting System
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Blackjack Strategy Insure a Good Hand? Part I
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Card Counting Reality Insure a Good Hand? Part II
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Blackjack Strategy Shoehenge…Probing the Multi-Deck
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Blackjack Strategy So You Think You're A Blackjack
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Card Counting Reality Late Surrender & Blackjack Statistics
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Card Counting Reality The Blackjack Insurance Bet
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Blackjack Surrender: When it Pays to Say "Uncle!"

By Arnold Snyder
(From Blackjack Forum Volume X #2, June 1990)
© Blackjack Forum 1990

You’ve got a double-digit true count, a huge expectation, and a bet to match. While you're hoping the pit boss doesn't notice the size of your bet, the dealer deals you another lousy sixteen -- a ten and a six -- vs. his ten up. He looks bored waiting for your decision. You could throttle him.

Hitting your hand is suicide. To stand is to witness your own execution.

No cause for alarm. This is no ordinary blackjack game. You're at a casino that offers surrender!

You don't have to play this hand! You can wave the white flag, give up half your bet, and see what the next hand brings.

This is why card counters like surrender.

Sitting to your left, however, is a player who's been getting clobbered all morning. He's not a card counter, but he plays a fairly decent game -- as most high rollers do -- sticking close to basic strategy for most of his decisions. A good player having a bad day. After you surrender your God-forsaken sixteen, he surrenders his own lousy stiff -- a ten and a deuce -- commenting to you as he does so, "At least they've got surrender here. On days like this, you really need it."

This is why casinos like surrender.

You'd like to tell this guy he's throwing his money away, that you just don't surrender twelves vs. anything but it's a lost cause. All morning he's been giving up on his stiffs, not only vs. dealer tens and aces, but vs. nines, eights, and even sevens! This guy is the reason why the Claridge offers surrender. A few card counters may save a few bucks with the option, but most players are abysmally ignorant of when to throw in the towel, and when to put up their dukes and fight.

In a nutshell, in a multiple-deck game, you'd surrender your hard sixteens vs. nines, tens, or aces. You'd also surrender your fifteens vs. tens and aces. But that's it. The rest of your rotten stiffs you've got to play to the bitter end. You may lose most of them, but you won't lose twice as many as you'd win, so surrendering is foolish.

Following a 90-day trial period last year, the Claridge petitioned the New Jersey Casino Control Commission to allow players the surrender option in Atlantic City. The CCC granted the petition, effective January 16, 1990, amending the rules of the game so that any Atlantic City casino may allow players to surrender, provided the casino allows surrender on all of its blackjack tables.

Surrender is one of those options, like insurance, that card counters can exploit profitably, while the casino makes money from everyone else. Most card counters, in fact, will lose money on the surrender option because there is so much misinformation available to players.

Many East coast players -- who have faint memories of the "early" surrender game in A. C., which was repealed by the CCC in 1981 -- can be expected to throw money away even more frequently because it used to be correct to surrender more frequently when early surrender was available. They won't understand the difference between the early surrender option that used to be available and the late surrender that's available now.

Bear in mind, also, that the casinos have many system sellers on their side. John Patrick, currently one of the biggest and most successful promoters of gambling systems through his nationwide "So You Wanna Be a Gambler" cable TV shows and home videos, has far more effect on the way players play their hands than Peter Griffin, Stanford Wong, or yours truly.

In one of his recent "So You Wanna Be a Gambler" bimonthly newsletters -- which has more than 10 times the circulation of Blackjack Forum -- Patrick provides his readers with a quiz on surrender. In his answers to the quiz, he provides the wrong surrender decision on five out of six of his recommendations!

For the non-card counter, even the perfect basic strategy player, surrender has very little to offer, less than one tenth of 1% for perfect surrender decisions. Interpolating from Peter Griffin's Theory of Blackjack, the basic strategy value of surrender goes up as more decks are added. Rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent, these are the basic strategy values of surrender according to # of decks, assuming the dealer stands on soft 17:

1-DECK 2-DECK 4-DECK 6-DECK 8-DECK

+.02%

+.05%

+.07%

+.08%

+.08%

This is nothing to write home about. The single-deck value of +.02% translates to a 2 cent gain per $100.00 bet.

These basic strategy gains are also based on making perfect two-card decisions. Surrender decisions, more than any other player option, are dependent on the make-up of your hand.

For example, although it is proper to surrender a 15 vs. a dealer ten, this actually applies to hands composed of X, 5 and 9, 6 only, in most games. You would only be correct in surrendering your 8, 7 if more than six decks were being used, or -- if the dealer hits soft 17 -- if four or more decks are in play. The following chart, drawn from Peter Griffin's Theory of Blackjack (p. 178), indicates proper basic strategy surrender decisions according to the number of decks in play.

Blackjack Surrender Strategy

1 DECK 2 DECK 4 or 6 DECK 8 DECK
  X A X A 9 10 A 9 10 A
                     
X,7  

*h

 

*h

   

*h

   

*h

9,8  

*h

 

*h

   

*h

   

*h

                     
X,6

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

9,7

*

 

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

8,8      

*h

   

*h

   

*h

                     
X,5

*

*

*

*

 

*

*

 

*

*

9,6

*

*

*

*

 

*

*

 

*

*

8,7            

*h

   

*h

                     
7,7

*

*h

               

* = surrender
*h = surrender if dealer hits soft 17
(one exception to chart: If double after splits are allowed, don't surrender your 8, 8 vs. A in the 2-deck game.)

Here's a simplified version of surrender basic strategy, not based on 2-card hands:

  1,2-Deck 4,6,8-Deck
  X A 9 X A
17  

*h

   

*h

16

*

*

*

*

*

15

*

*

 

*

*

When I published Blackjack for Profit in 1981, I advised players to disregard whether or not a casino offered the surrender option in seeking a good game. My reasoning was that the basic strategy value of surrender was so small that the rule was relatively worthless.

Julian Braun, author of How to Play Winning Blackjack, disagreed. He wrote to me that although surrender is worth little to the average player, he would estimate that it could be worth up to .25% to a card counter who is using a moderate betting spread. His reasoning was that most of the surrender opportunities occur when the dealer has a ten up, which is more likely to occur when the count is high.

The counter is also more likely to have a high bet on the table at this time, and will be more likely to save his biggest potential losses. Also, when the count is low, the counter can deviate from his basic strategy surrender decision, since the dealer will be less likely to have a high card in the hole.

Since the Claridge in Atlantic City is now offering the surrender option on all of its tables, with 4-,6-, and 8-decks, let's look at the value of this option to both the basic strategy player, and the card counter. Half a dozen Las Vegas casinos also offer surrender with 4- and 6-decks. Although there are a few other rule differences between the Vegas and A.C. games, the surrender value will be about the same. I tested all games with Atlantic City rules, simulating 50 million hands on each run, always with 75% deck penetration.

First, let's look at the value of surrender to the flat-betting basic strategy player. Surrender decisions are not two-card dependent in these runs. Players who took the surrender option surrendered all the 15s and 16s vs. dealer 10s and aces. These are the player expectations in %:

  No Surrender Surrender
4-Deck -.39% -.35%
6-Deck -.44% -.39%
8-Deck -.47% -.41%

As expected, the value of surrender is minuscule for the basic strategy player who is not counting cards. But what if this player is counting cards, using a 1-8 spread, but still playing all of his hands according to basic strategy? Here's what we come up with:

  No Surrender Surrender
4-Deck +.57% +.73%
6-Deck +.34% +.49%
8-Deck +.22% +.41%

As Julian Braun pointed out in 1981, the value of this rule option goes up considerably for the card counter. Now let's look at the value of surrender for the card counter who is not only spreading his bets from 1-8 units, but also varying the play of his hands according to his count.

For these runs, I used the single-digit Zen Count Strategy indices from Blackbelt in Blackjack. I did not publish Zen surrender indices in Blackbelt, but I did publish a set in Blackjack Forum (Vol. VII #1). In case you missed that issue, these are your Zen Surrender Numbers:

  9 10 A
16 +1 -4 -1
15 +5 -1 +3
14   +5  

These are the results of the computer simulations, using the Zen indices along with a 1-8 spread:

  No Surrender Surrender
4-Deck +.76% +.96%
6-Deck +.54% +.68%
8-Deck +.39% +.53%

Thus, it appears that the value of surrender to the card counter, who is using a 1-8 spread in a multipledeck game, is between .15% and .20%, if the counter sits through all negative counts. (A counter who abandons negative decks will find surrender worth more than this).

In Nevada, three Las Vegas casinos offer the surrender option on 2-Deck games. One Reno casino offers surrender in a 1-Decker. Let's look at the value. First, for the flat-betting basic strategy player (using strip rules for all comparisons):

  No Surrender Surrender
1-Deck -.10% -.10%
2-Deck -.36% -.33%

Here we see that although Griffin predicts a .02% surrender value in the single-deck game, our 50-million hand run showed no value whatsoever. There are two explanations for this. Foremost, with 50 million hands, one standard deviation is about .015%, so these results could easily be a normal fluctuation.

Also, Griffin's estimated value is based on perfect 2-card decisions. Rather than surrendering all 15s and 16s vs. tens and aces, we shouldn't be surrendering 9, 7 vs. ace, or 8,8 vs. anything. And technically, we should be surrendering 7, 7 vs. ten in single-deck games.

Regardless, the value of surrender is so minute to the flat-betting basic strategy player in single-and double-deck games, there's no practical reason to run a zillion hands with perfect 2-card decisions just to discover that Peter Griffin's estimates are correct. (Also, John Imming's Real World Casino programs don't allow 2-card surrender decisions. If you surrender a 16 with the RWC program, the 8,8 is included. In multiple-deck games, the two-card make-up of your hand becomes less important, though all of the RWC win rates are technically slightly low).

Let's look at the value of surrender in 1- and 2-deck games to the card counter who is spreading from 1-4 units, but playing his hands according to basic strategy:

  No Surrender Surrender
1-Deck +1.03 +1.19
2-Deck +.48 +.66

And, for the counter who is not only spreading from 1-4 units, but using his indices to make strategy decisions:

  No Surrender Surrender
1-Deck +1.73% +1.95
2-Deck +.96% +1.13

Again, the value of the blackjack surrender rule to the card counter proves to be somewhere in the neighborhood of a +.20%. This is worth going out of your way for, all other blackjack game factors being equal (penetration, etc.).

When the chips are down, throw in the towel, wave the white flag, cry uncle, and laugh all the way to the bank. ♠


For more information on blackjack rules and all aspects of the game, see Arnold Snyder's Big Book of Blackjack.

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