Not so Fast: Non-Surrender Shoe a Big Winner

In my last post I gloated about how much superior playing surrender strategy was in blackjack.  I ran a test shoe with the cards in the exact same order once with surrender rules and the 2nd round without surrender.  In that session the surrender round was $250 better in terms of final results.

As we all know, one shoe does not make for a definitive result.  So I ran the same test again last night – playing a shoe with surrender and non-surrender rules with the cards and wagering kept consistent for both.

The results this time around were firmly in the favor of the non-surrender strategy.  Using surrender the first run through the shoe resulted in 3 surrender hands and a final result of a net $75 loss from the starting $300 buy-in.

Keeping that 6-deck shoe of cards in the same order and betting values equal without using surrender the final result was a $205 win or +$280 above the non-surrender deck.

In two duplicate tests on separate shoes the results were almost exactly opposite.  I will continue to run this test whenever I have down time available to keep a running tally.  My hypothesis stands that surrender strategy is superior, but I will say that this shoe has allowed a little doubt to creep into my mind.


Same Blackjack Shoe: Surrender Adds $250 vs. No Surrender

I’ve preached the benefits of using surrender* as part of a successful blackjack strategy for the past few years.  I’m convinced that using surrender is one of the most important pieces to a profitable blackjack session since it gives the player a little more control over the flow of the game.  I tell anyone who will listen that they need to use it and I don’t get very excited to play at casinos that don’t offer it.

I wanted to find a way to ‘prove’ surrender is better to myself in tangible terms.  Obviously I’m a big fan, and the math nerds say that using surrender increases your odds of winning slightly, so I came up with the best way I could think of to test the difference between using surrender and not – an A/B test of the same shoe played both with and without surrender rules.

An A/B test is fairly simple – you test two alternatives by keeping all other variables constant.  In this case the other variables are the cards and betting strategy.

I’m no scientist and this was only one shoe so I don’t contend that this either a perfect test nor an exhaustive study, but here is how I constructed my test:  I took my 6-deck blackjack shoe and played it with a $300 buy-in and $25 minimum bet using surrender rules first and when I had the first surrender event (16 vs. dealer 10) I noted my chip count (405) and from that moment on kept the cards in the exact same order as they were dealt so that I could play them back again using non-surrender rules.

At the end of the surrender shoe – during which I surrendered twice – I ended with a total of $585.  A profit of $285.

At the end of the same shoe using non-surrender rules I ended with $335.  Still a profit at $35, but $250 LESS than the same shoe using surrender strategy.

One shoe does not equal a definitive study and I’m certain there are many shoes out there where playing non-surrender strategy will net out to a higher profit.  In this case the results played out in a way to support my theory and I truly believe that this same test would produce similar results, if not as dramatic, on a consistent basis.

I’m going to replay this test in future home sessions in order to have more data points for comparison.  I’ll continue to report the results here so I can keep track of the cumulative results.  Until I see differently for myself I’ll continue to sing the praises and play surrender strategy in my own game.

*Surrender in blackjack is when you ‘give up’ your hand after the initial deal for half of your bet amount – so if you have a $50 bet and your cards are a 16 and the dealer has a 10 showing you can surrender your hand at which point the dealer will take half your bet ($25) and give you half ($25) back.

Blackjack Surrender Love It, Live It

If you’ve read any of my previous posts you know that I’m a huge fan of blackjack surrender as part of a winning blackjack strategy.  From what I’ve seen at the tables most people don’t even know what surrender is and definitely don’t feel comfortable playing it.  In this post I’ll give a quick overview of what blackjack surrender is and why I like it as a way to win more consistently.

The basics of blackjack surrender are simple – after the cards are dealt you can surrender your hand and take a 50% loss of your wager.  So if you have a $50 bet on the table and you get a 16 while the dealer is showing a King you can surrender – you’ll get $25 of your original bet back and the dealer takes $25.

Why would you surrender?  If you have a 15 or 16 and the dealer is showing a 9 or 10 the odds are not in your favor.

Why not hit?  You will bust on the next card 54% of the time and even if you get a playable card the dealer still has good odds of turning a winning card.

Why not stay?  If you stay the dealer will beat you on the first card 54% of the time so you’re odds are under 50/50 right off the bat.

The caveat here is that if you are a card counter you can adjust these odds slightly – also if you are a card counter you likely aren’t reading this post.  I’d also add that I always split 8s so that is another situation where the surrender rules above can be adjusted.

In addition to the odds working against you when you are holding a 15 or 16 vs. a 9 or 10, surrender can also work as a great wager maximization strategy.  Your can slow down your losses on poor odds hands which will give you more opportunities to play for higher values when the odds are in your favor.

You might get some dirty looks from other players, condescending comments from dealers, and questions from various players about using blackjack surrender, but I’ve learned that this is usually from people who don’t have a lot of experience and simply don’t understand the odds.

Hopefully this gives you a little more confidence on when and how to use surrender the next time you play blackjack.

16 vs 10 a Blackjack Hand Not Even a Mother Could Love

Happy Mothers Day!  I went a long way to come up with a headline that had some Mother theme in it – for some reason Mothers Day and blackjack aren’t all that closely related.

Anyway, back on topic – when you have a 16 (or 15 for that matter), the dealer is showing a 9, 10 or Ace and the casino doesn’t offer surrender you’re in a Mother of a situation.  If surrender is offered take it – I’ll write a future post about the virtues of blackjack surrender.  In most cases outside of the bigger casinos on the Las Vegas Strip surrender isn’t an option, so what should you do?

You are sitting there staring at 16 knowing your choices are not great (and only slightly better on 15)  – if you hit you bust 62% of the time – if you stay your odds of getting a 3, 4, or 5 – the cards that give you a chance of getting to a ‘winning’ hand are about 23%.

On the flip side, the odds that the dealer already has you beat with a 7, 8, 9 or 10 to go with their solid up card is around 62% – even though I know it feels like the dealer gets a 20 90% of the time in this situation.

So what do you do?  I’m not a card counter so I can’t give you an in-depth explanation of what count would be favorable to hit and which is best to stay statistically.  My best analysis is based more on feel than on math.  In general I’m inclined to hit a 15 almost every time, the only real deviation is if table momentum is poor and my bet is large.  On the 16 I’m generally in a coin flip situation based on table momentum, my bet size and gut feel – I haven’t tracked this closely, but I’d estimate I play almost even 50/50 hit/stay in this situation.

I know this isn’t scientific and is by no means going to help you break the bank every time,  but I think ‘go with your gut’ is probably what Mom would say if she knew you were facing long odds and had a tough choice to make.

Picking the Right Blackjack Table

When I’m at a casino with friends they can get a little frustrated when I take my time to walk the entire game floor and spend some extra effort to select which blackjack table to play.  It may seem a little neurotic, but table selection can make or break your potential for a fun and profitable blackjack session.  There are many factors to consider when selecting which table you’re going to join especially if you are a new blackjack player.  In my younger days I’d often jump into the first open seat I saw at my desired minimum and it cost me on many occasions.

The first thing to consider when choosing your blackjack table is the minimum bet amount – the lower your entry amount typically the more people who will be playing at your tables and often times seats will be hard to come by.  In my opinion if you are looking for a low limit blackjack table the key is finding a table that is having fun and a dealer who is friendly.  You will rarely go wrong if you get in with a fun low limit table – especially if none of them are smoking – even if you end up losing a little money during your session at least you got a few drinks and a few laughs along the way.  As you move up in table limits you want to make sure you sit with people who play a similar style as you and aren’t going to get upset by your style of play – since my style has a few wrinkles I’ve found that purists aren’t good table mates for me since they get offended whenever I even slightly stray from the book.

More technical considerations are the table configurations – these factors include:

  • Blackjack payout – which can vary from 6:5 (bad) to 3:2 (good)
  • Auto-shuffle machine vs. manual shuffle vs. continuous shuffle machine – I’m okay with either of the first two, but I would stay away from the continuous shuffle machine since that  tends to ruin the flow of cards when you are playing Momentum Blackjack(tm)
  • Single deck vs. double-deck vs. multi-deck – I’m a multi deck player, single and double-deck tables are usually open at casinos and that is for a reason, in my opinion the short deck games don’t allow you to develop a rhythm when bet sizing and give much of the advantage to the casino
  • The dealer – some dealers are just plain boring and no fun to play with so win or lose you don’t enjoy the event and the opposite is also true a fun dealer can make losing a couple hundred bucks not feel so painful
  • Blackjack Surrender – This is my favorite casino option and it isn’t available everywhere, but when you have the option take a table that offer it
  • Mid-Shoe Entry – In Vegas I’ve found that mid-shoe entry is allowed almost everywhere, but in regional casinos you can find higher-limit tables that have no mid-shoe entry rules which are a nice touch to keep away those annoying one and done bettors who roam the floor looking to place one bet and move on
  • Dealer Stays on Soft 17 – This option usually changes with the bet limit and the higher the limit the more likely you’ll find the dealer staying on soft 17 which is a nice touch since you don’t give those extra cards to the dealer when they have a 7/17
  • There are some other minor elements like side wagers, a few places allow multiple Ace splits, and other variations which you’ll want to be aware of if you’re playing at an unfamiliar casino – the dealer will always be happy to assist you with the rules of any table if you ask

There are other considerations when you are selecting your seat at the blackjack table many of which are personal preferences like number of players already sitting, which seat to take from first to third base, speed of dealer, etc.  My last word of advice which I’ve struggled to follow myself from time to time is that if the table just doesn’t feel right for any reason pick up your chips and walk away – you aren’t going to offend anyone and it will make your session better all the way around.

Let me know if I’ve missed any big or small decision points you consider when you choose a blackjack table.


Review of Harrahs Cherokee Casino North Carolina

Harrahs Cherokee casino is the closest legit casino to me.  I hadn’t made a trip up to NC to gamble until they added live cards to their blackjack tables about a year ago.  I’ve mostly gambled in Vegas, but I’ve also visited casinos in Kansas City, Connecticut, Lake Tahoe, Atlantic City, Biloxi, San Diego, and Miami so I’ve seen about every level of gaming house whether their average player rides in a Bentley or a Rascal scooter.

It is a 2.5 hour drive for me to get to Harrahs Cherokee so I’ve got to have a full day available to make the trip worthwhile.  I’ve never stayed overnight, but the nice people at Harrahs Total Rewards  keep offering me rooms so one of these times I’ll have to take them up on it and stay overnight – I have booked a free room even though I knew I had to be back the same night just so I had a smoke free place to relax between blakcjack sessions.  The room was nice, about what you’d expect from a mid-level chain hotel along the lines of a Doubletree or Courtyard.

I’ve been to Cherokee a handful of times in the past year and overall I’m impressed with their operation.  It is bigger than I had anticipated with a very large gaming floor.  They have too many slot machines for my liking, but considering their location and the relatively high average age of  their clientele it is probably fitting.  I’m a fan of people watching and in general it isn’t that great here since you have a bunch of early retirement guys playing table games and an older tour bus crowd playing slots and not much entertainment to speak of so it doesn’t draw out the young locals or unemployed odd-balls that some other places draw in.

As far as gaming goes they have a decent selection of table games going at any time of the day or day of the week.  I’ve only been out here during the day and honestly I don’t think I’d enjoy a weekend night since the crowds can build pretty quickly even on a Sunday afternoon.  I’ve found that to play blackjack by myself as I prefer it usually has to be during a weekday at the $25 tables or I have to increase my limits and play in the high-limit room at $50 tables.  They do have a nice touch with the $25+ tables which don’t allow mid-shoe entry which helps to keep out the swoop and poop guys who just want to place one bet and take off.

All of the blackjack tables are auto-shuffle and there is no surrender available anywhere in the casino.   This isn’t my preferred set-up, but since my local options are limited I’ve adjusted my strategy to find a way to make money while not using surrender.

Overall rating for Harrahs Cherokee B

Gaming: B+

Atmosphere: B

Food: C

Dealer/staff friendliness: A-

People Watching: C+ – might be better on a weekend night

Nightlife: no thanks


Momentum Blackjack ™

My blackjack strategy is fairly straightforward and I’ve coined the term Momentum Blackjack ™.  The basic premise in Momentum Blackjack is that if you combine the use of surrender, smart play with some small variations to the ‘book’, and maximize wager sizing you will give yourself a better chance to walk away from your session ahead of the game.

Component one is using blackjack surrender – I’ll do an upcoming post more fully describing my complete endorsement of surrender, but for the purposes of this post on Momentum Blackjack ™ what you need to know is that surrender is a key piece of the puzzle to keep your losses to a minimum when you have low odds of winning the hand.

The second piece of the puzzle is applying blackjack strategy that doesn’t follow the book.  I’m a fan of the blackjack book in general, especially if you are a beginner and want to know the basics to give yourself a chance to win.  The challenge that almost every dealer will tell you is that this is basic blackjack strategy and anything basic is meant for people who are looking to have a good time and want a simple answer on the question of hit or stay.  I’m not counting cards and my variations to the book are slightly unorthodox at times, but I’ve seen solid results.

The last main part of Momentum Blackjack ™ is wager sizing.  If you bet the same on every hand you will lose money every trip to the casino.  If you raise your bets too high you will give away your winnings too fast on losing hands especially if you’re losing on doubles or splits.  I’ve spent a lot of time on Excel spreadsheets doing the math on bet sizing and how much and how often to raise or lower bet amounts to maximize your potential winnings.

These are the keys to my Momentum Blackjack ™ system that has consistently put me ahead at the casino when I’ve employed it correctly and consistently.  Happy to discuss the details directly with anyone who wants to learn more.