Don’t Surrender a Hard 15

Sometimes blackjack tables allow a late surrender in the game, which slightly decreases the house edge. When they do, that brings an extra decision to basic strategy and gives players more to remember. If you remember your blackjack basic strategy charts, there are a few times where it says to surrender if allowed, otherwise hit. You should only surrender in those situations.

The problem is some people like to deviate from basic strategy and they think they know of other times where they should surrender. When they do, it’s usually the result of bad math. One classic example is the hard 15.

There are only four situations where basic strategy says to surrender, which is a hard 16 versus a dealer nine, 10 or ace and a hard 15 versus a dealer ten. With any other hand combination, even if the odds are with you losing, you have better odds playing out the hand than giving up half of your bet.

Many players, though, think that it’s a good idea to surrender if you have a hard 15 or 16 and are facing a dealer 7, 8, 9, 10 or ace. Here’s where that bad math comes into play. In those situations, you will lose more than half of the time. With your hard 15, for example, 53% of the remaining cards in the deck would bust your hand. Since more than 53% of the time you will lose with that hand (there are also times when you will not bust but will be outdrawn), people think that it’s better to surrender 50% of your bet all the time. That sounds reasonable, right?

Wrong. This way of thinking doesn’t take into account the money that you win 47% of the time. Instead of simply subtracting the amount of money you lose on your bad hands and comparing that to surrendering half of your bet, you have to combine your winnings to the equation.

To simplify things, let’s forget about pushes for the moment, when you neither win nor lose and get your bet back. Let’s say that there are only two options: You will win or you will lose. Now let’s say that there are 100 cards and 53 will cause you to lose and 47 will cause you to win. You are betting \$1 per hand. Would it be better to play the hands or to surrender half of your bet on all 100 hands?

If you surrender on the 100 hands then you lose \$50. If you play each hand, you will lose \$53 and win \$47 dollars. That means you only had a net loss of \$6. Sounds better, right?

Even if the odds are tilted farther and 70 cards will cause you to lose and only 30 will cause you to win, you still want to play. Even though you will lose 70% of the time, again you have to do the math. In this case, you would lose \$70 and win \$30, for a net loss of \$40. That is still better than the \$50 you would lose by surrendering.

So when would you surrender? The break-even point would be if you lose 75% of the time. If 75 cards will cause you to lose and 25 will cause you to win, drawing 100 cards would cause you to lose \$75 and win \$25, for a net loss of \$50. That is the same as surrendering. Therefore, you would only want to surrender when your chance of losing is more than 75%. If you won’t lose three times more often than you win, you don’t want to surrender.

Now that’s not taking into consideration that sometimes you will push. Honestly, I’m not a mathematician, so I can’t calculate your odds with a third possibility in there (win, loss, tie). Given all of the card combinations, there are thousands of player versus dealer combinations when you have a fifteen versus a dealer 7, 8, 9, 10 and ace. That’s why I trust the mathematicians who came up with basic strategy. It has been tested and found to be the wise strategy. Instead of inventing your own strategy where you surrender at the wrong times, it’s best to stick to the basics.

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