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A Heap of Small Advantages Has Its Value

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I don’t quite get the theory that if you are a card counter, why you would bet more on a positive count. Doesn’t the dealer have the same chances of getting a good hand as you do? Ric K. 

True, Ric, the likelihood of both you and the dealer getting high cards increases when the count is positive, but your advantage is greater because the rules of the game are not the same for dealer as they are for you. 

The last I heard, you get paid 1.5 to one on a blackjack, yet the casino only wins even money. (Side note: Readers of this column never play blackjack where the offering is 6 for 5 for blackjacks.) You also have the increased probability at winning twice your initial wager on both double down’s and splits when the count is high.

Or, how about a stiff hand like the dreaded 16. When the count is positive and you see a 16, you can stand with a pat hand, but the dealer’s got to whack it. Also, you can take insurance, which becomes a profitable play in high counts.

It’s these extra monetary gains, Ric, that shift the player's bankroll from red to black, and that’s why when you have a decent positive count, you chunk a little more out there.

Dear Mark: I have been counseled that a "surrender" bet is a bet that favors the house in blackjack.  I have played blackjack for a long time, and understand the basic strategy. Seems to me that in selected situations, a surrender move is an advantage. What is your opinion about surrendering? If surrendering is ok, could you please give an example under what circumstances? Dirk D.

You were wrongly counseled, Dirk. Surrender, both early and late, is a rules option allowed in certain casinos where a player may give up half the wager after seeing the dealer’s up-card. Between the two, early surrender is far more advantageous for blackjack players than is late surrender.

With early surrender, the casino allows the player to surrender his hand and relinquish half the bet before the dealer checks the hole card. This reduces the casino's edge by a whopping 0.6%, making it one of the most favorable blackjack playing rules allowed, and a definite loser for the casino when used correctly by a proficient player. Unfortunately, few casinos make it available.

The far more frequently offered late surrender allows a player to abandon a hand after the dealer has checked the hole card for a blackjack. If the dealer has a blackjack, lose you must. This rule reduces the casino's advantage by only 0.08%, but nonetheless, it’s still one of the more sophisticated moves in blackjack and an advantage to the player.

So when is the best time to wave the white flag? Surrendering is best utilized when the dealer is showing a 10 or an ace and you have a hard 16. You will lose on average 41% of all the 16s dealt to you. Your worst loss will occur when the dealer shows a ten. For every 100,000 hands dealt, you'll get a 16 against dealer's ten 1824 times and lose 1037 of them. Your best playing strategy here is to surrender the hand and cut your losses.

Anytime you are allowed to give up half your wager for the privilege of not playing out a crappy hand, consider it less an admission of defeat, than really smart gambling.

Gambling wisdom of the Week: "Wanting to win is actually a pretty superficial goal. It's like wanting to be's not enough." --Larry W. Phillips, The Tao of Poker