The first casino to offer the surrender option was the Continental Casino in Manila, in 1958. At the Continental, the house rules allowed players the opportunity to give up their cards — and a part of their wagers — when the dealer showed an ace. But players could only do so after the dealer checked for blackjack. If the dealer did not have blackjack, players could drop out of play and surrender their cards to the dealer, no questions asked. If the dealer had blackjack, players lost their hands (and their bets) as usual.
Enter Early Surrender
When casino gaming became legal in the state of New Jersey in the late 1970s, surrender was used as a marketing ploy to lure gamblers to the new casinos opening there. Like Manila's Continental Hotel, players at Atlantic City's Resorts International could toss in their cards if they so chose. But unlike the Continental, house rules at Resorts International let players surrender before the dealer checked for a blackjack.
This new option, called early surrender, was great for players who knew basic strategy. In fact, this option gave them the ability to play at even or better odds with the house. For players who coupled basic strategy with card counting, the odds were even better.
Early surrender gives players close to a .60 percent advantage over the house. When you consider that six-deck blackjack games give the house a .54 percent advantage over players, you can see why early surrender was so popular with players: it allowed them to take on casinos head-to-head, and play at even or better odds than the casinos had.
On paper, the early surrender option looks amazingly favorable to players. In reality, it wasn't as great as it seems, or as some old-timers will tell you it was. Since surrender was (and is) an uncommon rule, many players didn't know how to use it properly. Some players surrendered every time they felt they held a weak hand and the odds were against them being able to win with it. Others would surrender every time they didn't have a blackjack. Kind of makes you wonder why they even bothered playing, doesn't it?
The End of Early Surrender
As it turned out, early surrender wasn't around for long. In fact, it lasted for only about four years before the Atlantic City casinos did away with it. The reason has much more to do with a lawsuit that involved the infamous Ken Uston than it does with any amounts they lost to savvy players who knew how to use this player option correctly.
You remember Ken Uston from Chapter 1 as being the king of card counters. In 1981, Uston, who was perpetually being thrown out of casinos for his beat-the-house skills, sued the Atlantic City casinos. He challenged their right to ban “knowledgeable” players — specifically, players who counted cards.
Uston won the battle, but in many respects, he lost the fight. In a 1982 ruling, the New Jersey Supreme Court determined that neither the state nor the casinos located there could ban players based on their abilities or playing strategies. This decision technically assured fair treatment at the tables for Uston and other skilled players. But the casinos, concerned over the potential effect the ruling would have on their revenues, asked the New Jersey Casino Control Commission for some protection against players like Uston. The Commission put into effect a rule called “shuffle at will,” which let the casinos take decks out of play and reshuffle them at any time during a game. This is a big deterrent to card counters, as it renders useless the benefits of counting.
The casinos also put other measures in place that affected all players, not just the card counters. Two of the most significant were:
The dealer's ability to move the cut card. If you remember, when a player cuts the cards, he inserts the cut card into the decks. If the dealer doesn't like where the player places the card, he or she can move it.
No more early surrender. If card counters were going to be welcome at the tables, or at least not immediately forced to leave, the casinos weren't going to continue offering a player option that would put those who counted cards so far ahead of house odds.
One of the theories why casinos continue to offer surrender is that it makes it easier for them to spot card counters, as there are certain surrender strategies card counters employ that players who don't count cards aren't as likely to follow.
Late surrender, on the other hand, doesn't give players of any skill level that much of an advantage. In fact, it only improves player expectation by .06 percent, and that's when it's used perfectly. But most players agree that .06 is better than nothing.
Check the rules at various casinos, both land-based and online, and you'll find surrender offered at a good number of them. It's becoming an extremely popular option in Las Vegas, and in other areas that follow Las Vegas rules.
You'll also find it in Atlantic City and other casinos across the United States. You'll still see the early surrender option on occasion, primarily as a promotional tool to attract gamblers. But it remains a rarity. The difference in the odds — somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.62 for early surrender and 0.065 for late surrender — simply gives players too much of an advantage over the house.