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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Surrender Option Is One Gimmick That Works for the Player

21 July 2003

I just returned from a weeklong vacation in Vegas. While there, I played blackjack at nine casinos: Mandalay Bay, the Palms, Monte Carlo, Aladdin, Paris, Bally's, the Flamingo, Bellagio and Caesars Palace. One thing these casinos had in common was that they all offered the "surrender" option at their blackjack tables.

For those of you not familiar with surrender, it allows you to get out of your hand if you don't like it (rather than play it) and just give up half your bet. This you must do on your first two cards -- and only after the dealer has checked her hole card to make sure she doesn't have blackjack.

Now lots of hard core gamblers think of it as treason to ever give up a hand without a fight. But if you know when to run up the white flag, surrender will be a definite benefit to your game. That's because with some hands you have such a small chance to win that giving up half your bet works out cheaper in the long run.

With the surrender option now so widely available in Las Vegas (and practically standard equipment in Atlantic City and Foxwoods), it's surprising how few otherwise "solid" players take advantage of it. In fact, at one point the dealer, a friendly pit boss and I were making cordial small talk when I had one of my larger bets up and received 16 against a 9. I knew I had to surrender it, but also knew few players would and didn't want to appear too knowledgeable, so I asked the pit boss, "Geez, ya' think this one is even worth tryin' to salvage?" I was hoping he would give me the correct play and I could obligingly follow his advice.

I believe his reply was genuinely sincere when he said, "You mean surrender? You know the house isn't gonna' give you an option that's gonna' cost them money. You've got to hit the hand." Another fine mess I got myself into. So I reneged with, "I haven't won with a 16 since last Thursday -- take half my bet and let me out of this trap."

So then, with which hands should a good player surrender? Well, that depends upon the "soft 17" rule and exactly what you mean by a "good" player. If you're a plain basic strategy player and the dealer stands on soft 17, then you should surrender with 15 against a 10 and with 16 against a 9, 10 or Ace. That's because you have less than one chance in four to win any of these hands. And when that's true, losing a half bet every time actually saves you money overall.

Now, if the dealer hits on soft 17, then there are three more hands with which you become worse than a one in four shot to win. In that case, you should also surrender against a dealer's Ace if you have 15, 17 or a pair of 8s.

Proper surrendering will save a basic strategy player 0.07% in a "stand soft 17" game and 0.10% if the dealer hits soft 17. But your gain from surrendering doesn't have to end there. That's where "card awareness" comes into the picture.

You see, you should normally surrender when you have 16 against a 9. But "normally" is the key word. If lots of 10s happen to be on the board when you have that hand, then the dealer's a little less likely to have 19 -- and at the same time, you're a little less likely to bust if you hit. So whenever the board contains at least three more 10s than babies (2s thru 5s), just go ahead and hit your 16 against a 9 as well as 15 against a 10. But always surrender 16 against a 10 or an Ace.

Conversely, there's another hand that should normally be played out, but ought to be surrendered if the board is littered with babies. That's because it's going to be even tougher to hit and avoid busting. Consequently, if the board contains at least five more babies than 10s, you should surrender with 15 against an Ace, even when the dealer stands on soft 17.

Now ,if you want to keep track of high vs. low cards all the way through the shoe, then there could be as many as fourteen hands that you should sometimes surrender. If your play has reached that level of expertise, the surrender option can be worth more than 0.20% to you overall.

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey