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The Value of Surrender in Blackjack

Introduction

Dan Pronovost is the owner and president of DeepNet Technologies, makers of a wide range of advantage gambling training products and software (blackjack, poker, craps). Their web site is: www.DeepnetTech.com, and all products are available for free trial download. Dan is also the creator of the easy-to-use card counting system Speed Count, which is taught by Henry Tamburin and Frank Scoblete in the Golden Touch Blackjack two day courses: www.GoldenTouchBlackjack.com.

Surrender… Your Tempting Friend at the Tables

Surrender is the somewhat rare blackjack rule where you can choose to give up half your bet prior to drawing cards, and simply not play the hand. The most common form is late surrender, where you have this option only after the dealer checks for a blackjack (and hence not letting you surrender if the dealer does have a blackjack after offering insurance). Early surrender is when you can surrender before the dealer checks for a blackjack (and before offering insurance). Late surrender (and more so early surrender) is a player-favorable option when you adjust your playing strategy properly (for example, surrendering a player hard 16 against a dealer 10 valued up card).

Rarely will you see two identical games, one with surrender and the other without. A more typical case is when you are faced with a trade off: surrender is offered in one game (a positive rule), and another game does not have it but has some other favorable rule. Which game should you play?

As much as I'd like to give you a simple answer, it's not that simple. It really depends on many other factors, such as which positive and negative rules you are trading off. Let's look at some concrete cases…

Surrender versus number of decks

Let's say you are faced with two blackjack game options at neighboring casinos:

    • Game 1: 8 decks with late surrender
    • Game 2: 6 decks without late surrender

And let's assume everything else about these two games is exactly the same: $5 unit bet size, DAS, S17, 75% penetration, 4 players per table, re-split up to three hands, and re-splitting of aces allowed. We know that less decks means better advantage for the player, given the same percentage penetration (the depth into the shoe the dealer deals). So which is better: game one with late surrender, or game two without surrender but less decks?

To answer this question, I turned to one of my company's blackjack training products, Blackjack Audit (www.HandheldBlackjack.com). Blackjack Audit is a simulator, allowing you to run millions of rounds of blackjack on your computer with different options. Blackjack Audit is an advanced program, designed to compliment our other training products that help you learn basic strategy and card counting (Blackjack Mentor, Counter and Expert for Windows, Palm OS/Pocket PC handheld devices).

I ran simulations of the above two games, with 100 million rounds each. I also assumed that the player is employing the full High-Low card counting system with all indices (including surrender indices) as published in Stanford Wong's excellent book, "Professional Blackjack". I used a 1 to 10 bet spread in the eight-deck game, and a 1 to 8 bet spread in the six deck game. The results are as follows:

    • Game 1: 8 decks with late surrender. Hourly win rate: $8.06
    • Game 2: 6 decks without late surrender. Hourly win rate: $6.58

The hourly win rate is computed from the average total win per round as reported by Blackjack Audit, times 100 (generally we assume 100 hands per hour).

So in this case, surrender is the better way to go, and you should play the eight-deck game with surrender.

I assumed above that you are employing the complete High-Low count system, including all indices. Very few card counters are this skilled, so let's see what happens if they are using no indices at all, and only using the High-Low count to vary your bets:

    • Game 1: 8 decks with late surrender. Hourly win rate: $6.72
    • Game 2: 6 decks without late surrender. Hourly win rate: $4.34

In the first game, we varied our normal basic strategy to surrender on player hard hands of 15 versus dealer 10, 16 versus 9, 16 versus 10, and 16 versus 11. And once again, we see that the surrender is the sweeter deal.

Surrender versus a classic two deck game

Some readers may say, "Well that example was pretty bogus! In my home town of Timbuktu we never see those two exact games!". Fine… let's look at a more common set of games you may come across with and without surrender:

    • Game 3: 6 decks with late surrender, 2/3 penetration (67%), DAS, S17
    • Game 4: 2 decks without late surrender, 2/3 penetration (67%), DAS, H17

These two games are definitely the kind you may find in Vegas these days. We chose a weak penetration in the six-deck game since the 'juicer' surrender option is allowed. And we 'stiffened' the two-deck game with the player-negative rule of dealer hits on soft 17 (H17). All the other rules noted previously were applied, and we used a traditional 1 to 4 bet spread for the two-deck game. Let's look at the results:

    • Game 3: 6 decks with late surrender. Hourly win rate: $5.16
    • Game 4: 2 decks without late surrender. Hourly win rate: $7.22

In this case, we should forgo the juicy surrender option, and stick to the two-deck game all the same. As icing on the cake, the two-deck also has a lower risk of ruin, since our bet spread is smaller, making it even more attractive.

But what if you manage to find a dealer in the six-deck game that deals 75% of the cards (a 'one and a half deck plug')? Maybe some sweet talk and a few strategic tips are getting her to place the cut card a bit more generously. When we re-run the game-three simulation at 75% penetration, the hourly win rate jumps to $8.13, slightly out performing the two-deck game. While the larger 1 to 8 bet spread means more variation and risk in your bankroll, it's also true that casinos generally look for card counters more at double deck games, so possibly the six-deck game is your ticket to profits in this casino.

Conclusions

The value of surrender in blackjack, for card counters, is often more complicated than it seems on the surface. A basic strategy player can simply use one of many published tables of edge adjustments to assess any set of rules, but card counters are left with much more difficult choices. Any serious card counter should have and regularly use a good blackjack simulator when they encounter blackjack games with new rule variations.

And for the novices out there… learning to count cards is not as hard as you might think. We have 'all-in-one' blackjack software bundles that include everything you need to master card counting with High-Low and other popular systems. Train with our software, and you'll know when you are ready to hit the casinos! All software is free to try out, and is available for Windows desktop computers, and Palm OS/Pocket PC handheld devices:

www.HandheldBlackjack.com/bjbundles.html

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