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Best of John Grochowski
Don't Give Up On Surrender24 January 2001
My friend Jim never gambled in a casino before riverboat gaming came to the Midwest. He took a couple of bus excursions to Iowa, then started staying closer to home when Empress Joliet opened in 1992.
In the years since, he's made the transition from slot dabbler to blackjack player, learning basic strategy by dealing hands and comparing his decisions to strategy charts I gave him.
Last month, Jim took the plunge. He made his first trip to Las Vegas and stayed at Caesars Palace. When he came home, his first thoughts weren't of Roman forums or nearby pyramids or volcanoes. He had one request:
"Tell me about surrender."
Surrender is a blackjack option that's rare in the Midwest, but not at all uncommon in Las Vegas. Any blackjack player who's going to Nevada ought to learn how to take advantage of the play. It's been several years since Empress Joliet, the only casino in the Chicago area that has ever offered surrender, removed the option, but on recent trips to Las Vegas I've seen it at the Tropicana, Caesars Palace, Mandalay Bay, New Frontier, Harrah's, Rio, Bellagio and other casinos.
It gives the player a way out when stuck with a horrendous hand. It's not something to be used on the merely bad hands such as the 12s or 13s with the dealer showing a 7 or higher. Surrender is a play to be trotted out when all is despair, when winning is such a long shot you'd be just as well off with a lottery ticket.
The mechanics are simple. The version that's usually offered is "late surrender," meaning the surrender option is offered only after the dealer checks to see if he has a blackjack. If he does, players who don't also have blackjack lose, and their chips are swept away just as in any other losing hand. Surrender never comes into play.
However, if the dealer does not have blackjack, the player may surrender half his bet in exchange for not playing out the hand beyond the first two cards. Bet $10, surrender and the dealer takes away $5.
Say you're dealt a 9 and a 7, and the dealer shows an Ace. Bad news. If you hit, there's better than a 60 percent chance that you bust, and even if you make 17 or better, you could lose to the dealer's better total. In fact, you'll lose more than 80 percent of the time. If you stand, there's about an 88 percent chance that the dealer will make 17 or better and beat you.
When you're under the gun like that, it's to your advantage to surrender and conserve your resources for another battle.
There are only a few situations when it's to your advantage to surrender. Surrender hard 15 if the dealer has a 10, or hard 16 when the dealer has a 9, 10 or Ace. Exception: do not surrender a pair of 8s. Split instead.
Late surrender gives a basic-strategy player a modest 0.06 percent gain. The gain is far bigger with an option called "early surrender."
That rule allows players to surrender before the dealer checks for blackjack. That's a much larger gain for the player -- about 0.4 percent. That's huge. The entire house edge against a basic-strategy player is usually less than 0.5 percent.
We surrender more often when given the option before the dealer checks for blackjack.
Think about it. With late surrender, we know by the time we're given the option that the dealer doesn't have a 10 under an Ace, or an Ace under a 10. That eliminates many of the hands that could beat us, swinging the percentages enough that we don't surrender on 14 or less. With early surrender, all those potential blackjacks are still out there, meaning we decrease our likely losses by surrendering in more situations.
Early surrender is rarer than rare. I haven't seen it offered on a table since the Holiday Inn Boardwalk in Las Vegas ended its early surrender option nearly three years ago. More recently, I've seen it offered on video blackjack games manufactured by Williams, but those also are becoming scarce.
In the event you encounter a game with early surrender, use the following strategy: If the dealer shows an Ace, surrender if your two-card total is 5, 6, 7 or 12 through 17. If the dealer shows a 10, surrender 14, 15 or 16. And if the dealer shows a 9, surrender on 16. We'll even surrender a pair of 8s against a 10 or Ace, although we'll split the pair instead against a 9.
You may never encounter an early surrender game, but Las Vegas travelers should learn strategy for late surrender as a matter of course.
"It seems to me," said friend Jim, "that sometimes surrender is the best attack."
That it is.
For more information about blackjack, we recommend:The Casino Answer Book by John Grochowski
Best Blackjack by Frank Scoblete
The Morons of Blackjack and Other Monsters! by Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Blackjack! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at email@example.com.
Best of John Grochowski