Late surrender reduces house edge in blackjack

John Grochowski

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. I’ve been playing BJ for nearly 20 years. I have a casino in my area, Valley Forge Casino Resort, that offers splitting twice for a total of three hands, including re-splitting Aces. I’ve never seen this offered before and I wonder if this offers an advantage over splitting three times for a total of four hands as in Atlantic City.

They also offer late surrender. What percentage does this lower the house edge? I hope to find out that re-splitting aces option is better than splitting to four hands.

A. If all other rules are equal, the game you’ve found in your area has a reduced house edge. Late surrender is a terrific rule for players, one that is rare these days. It’s an option to surrender half your bet instead of playing out the hand. You can’t surrender until after the dealer checks for blackjack — that’s the “late” part. A dealer blackjack stops the hand, and no surrender is allowed.

Properly used, late surrender reduces the house edge by 0.07 percent. In a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17, your best play is to surrender with hard 15 if the dealer shows a 10 or Ace, surrender with hard 16 if the dealer shows 9, 10 or Ace, and surrender with hard 17 or a pair of 8s against a dealer’s Ace. If the dealer stands on all 17s, use the option less often, surrendering hard 16 against a 9, 10 or Ace or hard 15 against a 10.

Permitting players to resplit Aces decreases the house edge by 0.08 percent. That outweighs the restriction on splitting to a total of three hands, which increases the house edge by 0.01 percent.

Either late surrender or being allowed to resplit Aces would be a bigger gain than the restriction on number of splits. That you get both options is a nice gain.

Q. I have a roulette story for you. It was a $5 table, and this dude was betting $5 on red or black, and spreading $5 on the inside so he had $1 on 29 and $1 on each of the four corners surrounding it. Maybe something was going on between him and the dealer before I got there. I don’t know, but they were snarking at each other a little bit.

He didn’t really seem to be winning anything, but then the 29 came up, and he got paid all the way around, a pretty good amount with 35-1 on the single number plus 8-1 on those corners. The dealer said, “Uh-oh, here we go,” and got out stacks of chips to pay him.

He raised his bet so he had $2 on 29 and $2 on each corner, and the dealer called out, “29 again. 29’s a winner.” He raised his bet again, to $3 on his number and the corners. And that 29 came up AGAIN.

He said, “Let’s try one more time,” and raised to $5 on 29 and on each corner. By this time, everybody at the table was betting with him. I had $2 there myself. Up it came, for the fourth time in a row.

After his payoff, he told the dealer it was time to cash out. Then as he was leaving, he pushed back a $25 chip as a tip and said, “Are we square?” The dealer said, “A pleasure serving you, sir.”

A. That’s a sweet run, and one you won’t see often. The odds of the same number coming up for times in a row are 1 in 2,085,136.

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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