In Blackjack, to “Surrender” means to give up playing and fold a hand that has not busted in order to reclaim 50% of the initial wager. It is an action of “negative expectation,” meaning the player anticipates losing the hand and is opting to recover a portion of the bet rather than risk it all.
Not all casinos offer Surrender as an option and, when they do, it is typically allowed only before the draw. Tables that offer this choice usually indicate so on a table placard stating the House Rules or else printed on the table surface. When in doubt, the dealer should be consulted.
How to Surrender
To indicate Surrender with a hand gesture, the player uses the index finger of one hand to draw an imaginary line behind the betting circle from right to left. This should be accompanied by the verbal command, “Surrender.” Immediately thereafter, the dealer will remove the player’s cards from the table and half of the corresponding bet will go directly into the dealer’s chip tray as a loss. The remaining half of the original stake remains in the betting area for the player to reclaim.
With the exception of European Blackjack, which has no hole card, Surrender is never an initial option when the dealer shows an Ace as the up card. In that case, Insurance is offered instead. If Surrender is possible when the dealer shows a ten and prior to peeking at the hole card, it is known as “Early Surrender,” and the same 50% penalty for folding applies no matter what card is in the hole. When Surrender is allowed only after the peek, it is called “Late Surrender,” with the same result.
Occasionally, casinos will offer the option to surrender on any number of cards that have not busted, at any time during a hand, even after a split or a double down. One might wonder why such a rule would exist, but the answer is simple: Surrender benefits the house, not the players. The house never loses when a player voluntarily gives up half the bet; at best, the player can only limit his/her losses.
When to Surrender
Forfeiting half of a wager may seem like cowardly decision, but it is not always the wrong one. In fact, there are many situations when surrendering is the best choice. For example, when the House Rules state that, “The Dealer Stands on Soft 17,” the odds tilt strongly toward the house if the player holds a hard total (no Ace included) of 15 or 16 facing the dealer’s 10 or face card. Surrender is a viable option.
This strategy works equally well when the player holds 15 against a 10 and the dealer hits on soft 17. But under these rules, when holding 16 Surrender is recommended not only against the 10 and picture cards but also facing the 8, 9, or Ace. An exception is a pair of 8s, which should be split.
The mathematics behind such decisions is really much simpler than it might seem. Whenever the player’s probability of winning is less than 50%, Surrender becomes a viable option. In the case of a hard 16 facing the dealer’s 10, the player will lose about 77% of the time when hitting and with about the same frequency when choosing to stand—what’s technically referred to as “conundrum” or informally as DIYD2 (“Damned if you do; damned if you don’t”). In other words, for ever 100 such incidences, 77 hands will lose and 23 will win (there can be no push), for a net expected loss of 54 wagers per 100. Losing 50% of the time is slightly better than losing 54%, so Surrender is the preferred play.