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Deal Me In: Ah, sweet surrender

26 February 2010

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I have been counseled that a "surrender" bet is a bet that favors the house in blackjack. I have played blackjack for a long time, and understand the basic strategy. It seems to me that in selected situations, a surrender move is an advantage. What is your opinion about surrendering? Dirk

Blackjack players should always play in casinos that offer favorable rules. To avoid hostile playing conditions in blackjack, like for instance a 6/5 payout for a blackjack, look, Dirk, for the following combination of rules that are advantageous to the player:

A single deck game (if you can find them)
Surrender, both early and late
Double down allowed after splitting pairs
Double down allowed on any two cards
Multiple pair splitting allowed, plus re-splitting aces
Dealer stands on a soft 17

So that second rule, surrender, both early and late, exactly what is it, and how valuable is it to the player?

Surrender is an option in which the casinos allow players to "surrender" half their original bet total after they have examined their first two cards and have viewed the dealer's up card.

Early surrender permits a player to relinquish half his or her wager even if the dealer has a blackjack. Early surrender reduces the casino's edge by a whopping 0.6%, making early surrender one of the most favorable blackjack playing rules allowed, and – when used correctly by a proficient player – a definite loser for the casino. Unfortunately, Dirk, the only place you'll come across it today is with a short-term casino promotion or on a video blackjack machine.

Most players instead encounter late surrender, which allows a player to abandon a hand after the dealer has checked his hole card for a blackjack. If the dealer has a blackjack, they lose. But this rule reduces the casino's edge by only 0.08%, yet still, an advantage to the player.

My opinion, Dirk, is that if the casino where you play permits surrender, you should take advantage of their offer. We all get our fair share of 16's against a dealer's 10, so if you get a chance to relinquish half your bet by surrendering, do it. Don't think of surrender as giving up half your wager, Dirk, just recouping half of your probable loss.

Dear Mark: I thought I would write and let you know that I won my first poker tournament by making an inside straight flush with a nine of diamonds on the river. Yes, I was lucky, or possibly a foolish move considering I kept calling with a weak hand, but the win was enough to take my wife on a cruise. Fred G.

Ah, the tormentor of your opponent was the Scourge of Scotland, the nine of diamonds, called that because every ninth Scottish king was a tyrant, and diamonds the symbol of Scotland. Congratulations, Fred, and bon voyage.

Dear Mark: The lottery game Powerball has just been added to our state lottery. Is it worth playing, and is it easier to hit "the big one" than Mega Millions, which our state also offers? Sue Ellen D.

With jackpots in the kazillions, it's easy to inhale lottery helium. But are the spoils, Sue Ellen, worth the cost of the hunt?

As long as you realize that hitting "the big one" is odds-on a never-in-your-lifetime probability, I'm not opposed to dabbling a few dollars worth of Quick Picks for a once-in-a-lifetime possibility. However, limit those few-and-far-between dollars to when the jackpot exceeds the true odds of hitting it. So, Sue Ellen, with Powerball, that number is a tidy 195,249,054, which is a tougher catch than the Mega Millions game at 175,711,536 to one.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Once the cards begin to fly and the betting, raising, and folding begin, best pals become the gambling equivalent of Serbs and Muslims." --Michael Konik, Telling Lies and Getting Paid

Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.