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.
Not every casual blackjack player loses every time, but as we know the casinos are making a lot of money on the fact that the casual player is getting crushed on a regular basis. So why do the guys weekend dudes and the bachelorette party crew always seem to come up on the short end of the deal? Here is a quick rundown of simple things that can help on your next casino weekend without the need for a card-counting class.
- Play at a reasonable limit table – if you can only lose $100 play at a $5 or $10 table
- Avoid 6:5 blackjack tables if you can – they are harder to escape these days
- Drink a little less – have fun, but get sloppy at the club or pool instead
- Find a good dealer – it will be more fun and they’ll help you along the way
- Play by the book – it doesn’t account for all nuances, but you will avoid big errors
- Smart bet changes – increase a bit when you win a few, don’t randomly double your bet
- Walk away – hardest rule to follow, but time is always on the side of the casino
- No casino ATMs – bring with you only what you are willing to lose
- Have fun – if you aren’t having fun, take a walk, clear your mind and try again later
None of these are guaranteed to make you a profitable blackjack player, but if you have all of these elements in your next blackjack experience there is a much better chance you will have fun, keep your losses to a minimum and possibly even walk away a winner.
When you walk into a casino they have a plan to take as much of your money as possible so your best defense is to be prepared as possible. My first rule is to only walk into a casino with as much money as you are prepared to lose that day. If you start to hit the ATM it is easy to lose track of how much you’re in for the session and before you know it you’ve gone too far.
One piece of the budget puzzle is how many opportunities you have at the tables. In order to maximize your chances you want to make sure your buy-in amount is appropriate for the table minimum. If you buy in for $100 at a $25 table you likely won’t have enough chances to get rolling, but if you buy in $500 at a $5 table and the momentum goes the wrong way you could quickly lose more than necessary.
My general rule is to buy-in for 10-15x the table minimum. That gives you enough chances to get on a roll, but doesn’t put you in so far that if things go south you’ve buried your bankroll in one session.
For those following along at home:
- $10 table = $100 – 150 buy-in
- $15 table = $150 – 225 buy-in
- $25 table = $250 – 375 buy-in
- $100 table = $1000 – 1500 buy-in
Buy in for an amount that is comfortable for your budget and have a plan of attack going into the session and you’ll have a much better chance of having a great day at the blackjack tables.
I was playing by myself at a $25 table yesterday and a young guy sat down to join me. I almost picked up my chips and walked, but he seemed like a good kid and he only bought in with $100 so I figured he wouldn’t last long enough to impact my game. I should have gone with my gut and walked away from the table, but that is a post for another day.
The kid took all the good cards, he was on a strong run and I was not getting anything decent. My stack was dwindling and the kid was barely making money. At first I couldn’t figure it out, how was he winning most of the hands and not making any real money. After a few more hands I realized he had never switched his bet size from the minimum.
I don’t meddle in other people’s blackjack play at the table unless they ask for advice so I kept my mouth shut and watched. The kid’s luck started to turn and as he lost a few hands in a row including a double and he was back down to his original buy-in.
If my young playing partner had played using a Momentum Blackjack ™ bet sizing strategy he would have likely walked away with a nice win. By staying with his minimum bet size for the entire session he didn’t maximize his winning run and when things turned sour he was losing as much as he won on the way up so he walked away without the win he deserved.
I didn’t play this table very well either so maybe I can’t blame the kid for the way he played, but my guess is he wasn’t self-aware enough to even realize the error of his ways so hopefully he gets some direction before his next session so he has a better chance of winning.
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.
Even with the strong February trip I was in the hole for the year and needed to keep the good mojo rolling to get into the black for 2014. This was a short two night trip for another speaking session at a small conference. The timing worked well with a Tuesday arrival, event on Weds and late afternoon flight out on Thursday there was plenty of down time for the blackjack tables.
Since I had a solid run on my last trip I decided to stick with the same formula, stay at Elara, move between Ballys, Paris and Planet Hollywood. The evening I arrived PH was fairly crowded so I headed to Paris where they had several wide open $25 tables. I started off strong for once with the very first shoes netting a $500 head start. I decided to call it an early night since I had to speak the next day and +$500/day isn’t bad for a hobby.
Day 2 work was good, but the blackjack wasn’t so hot – never try to impress people by playing cards – I took a few guys down to the tables during lunch and sure enough they did great while I dropped $200 in the blink of an eye. After that depressing lunch and a few more hours of conference sessions I slipped out after the networking happy hour to hit my new favorite high-roller room at Ballys. Ballys is a funny place – friendly dealers and a fairly nice lower end Vegas strip atmosphere, but their DJ wanders off from time to time and the high-energy music stops for 30 minutes or so and it feels like you are playing cards in a morgue. I played for a long stretch at my high-limit table, had a nice solid run with ebbs and flows that generated a couple hundred on the plus side. I decided to play my way back towards my hotel for an early night in order to wake up early for some extra play time on my final day. My stop at Paris sucked $200 almost instantly from the bankroll which put me almost back to even for the trip and sent me to bed on a low note.
Day 3 was judgement day, I have a strategy, I had plenty of sleep and I’m playing in the morning which should give me plenty of alone time with the dealers. 8am on a weekday is an interesting time at a casino – at PH they actually keep the limits pretty high and tables were all busy since only the hard core are playing that early which forced me to walk to Paris – at Paris there were 2 $100 tables wide open, only 2 $25 tables which had players and when I aksed them to open another $25 they said no – they said it politely, but still a little frustrating so I headed to Ballys – best rejection of the week. At Ballys I sat at my choice of wide open $25 tables – plenty free there of course – and went on a super-heater. On the first shoe I turned $300 into $1000 – couldn’t lose, turned 16s into 20s, dealer turned K’s into 15s and splits and doubles all hit. It was a thing of beauty. I quit while I was ahead – took my win and headed back to Paris where I thanked the pit boss who turned me away – she was very apologetic and thrilled that I won so it was all good in the end.
Since I was on a roll I skipped Paris and headed to the PH high-limit room to try to parlay the win. I bought in for $700 figuring it was low enough to bail in case things went wrong. The first shoe was a wash, up a touch down a touch. Shoe 2 was a winner where I doubled my money and more – unfortunately I didn’t walk away with the more since I played out the entire shoe even after the heat died down and I gave back some of the winnings. Now I had a problem – I won too fast – everyone knows that time is the biggest enemy of winning gamblers – the longer you play the better the chance of losing. I had to kill several hours before my flight so I tried to fill some time playing craps – it was a fools errand, but it did at least cut some of the down time before my flight – I gave back a couple hundred of the winnings which may have been better than my results at blackjack over the same stretch, but we’ll never know for sure.