INTERMEDIATE BLACKJACK RULES

So far we’ve discussed the basic rules of blackjack along with ‘procedural information’ that a novice needs to know the first time he sits down at a table. Now we’ll continue with the rules of blackjack and focus on concepts that you’ll want to know as you become familiar with the game. In this guide we’ll talk about the ‘intermediate rules’ of blackjack including insurance and surrender.

LAND BASED CASINOS VS. ONLINE CASINOS

Many of the procedural guidelines we talked about earlier were of minimal interest to those who primarily play online. The rules are a different matter—no matter where you play blackjack it is essential to understand the rules of the game. Once you do, you can ‘shop around’ to find the most ‘player friendly’ blackjack game in a land based casino or online. Every rule variation might seem minuscule but they all impact the ‘house edge’ in the longterm. You’ll have a hard time finding any casino that gives you the best of it but it’s essential to avoid those that offer rules that are all but guaranteed to make you a long term loser.

INSURANCE

In most cases, insurance is a ‘sucker bet’. Insurance is actually something of a misnomer—it’s more of a proposition bet offered when the dealer shows an ‘Ace’ as his upcard. Since the deck has more ten value cards than any other denomination there’s a good chance that he’ll flip over a ten to complete a blackjack.

When the dealer has an upcard ‘Ace’ he’ll go around the table offering ‘insurance’. If there are no takers, he’ll continue playing the hand. Players that want ‘insurance’ bet one half of their original stake. If the dealer does show a ten as his hole card he collects your original bet but pays off your ‘insurance’ bet at 2-1 odds. In other words, you break even on the hand. The term ‘insurance’ suggests that the bet is a way to ‘insure’ your hand against a dealer blackjack but it doesn’t really work that way in reality. If the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack you’ve lost your ‘insurance’ bet and have no guarantee that your original hand will be a winner.

What the casino is really doing with the insurance bet is offering 2-1 odds that the dealer has a ten as his hole card. Doing a little math helps illustrate why this is such a lousy bet in most circumstances—to break even the dealer would have to draw a 10 1 out of every 3 times (33.3%). But even with one card removed from the deck (the ace) the ‘true odds’ are just under 1 in 3.2. That might not seem significant but it gives the casino a nearly 6% edge (5.88%) in single deck games. The more decks, the more the house edge.

The only circumstance in which an insurance bet can have a positive expected value is if you are more or less certain that the rest of the deck has a higher than average concentration of ten value cards. The only way you can do this is by being a skilled card counter. Until you reach that level, the best idea is to just ignore the insurance bet since you’ll inevitably be getting the worst of it.

SURRENDER

Surrender is a rule that can be very beneficial to the player. At one point, it was marketed by casinos to differentiate their property as being more ‘player friendly’ than others. That was back when Nevada and Atlantic City casinos had in interest in competing for the gambling dollar. Today, you may find a mention of it on some tables or rule cards but there are plenty of casinos that offer it but don’t advertise it anywhere. You might have an easier time finding it online. In any case, it’s worth searching out since it’s a variation that works in the players’ favor when it is properly applied.

There are two types of surrender offered by casinos: early surrender and late surrender. These terms refer to the point in the hand where players are allowed to surrender their hand. Early surrender is exceedingly rare—it allows a player to ‘muck’ his hand before the dealer checks his hole card to see if he has blackjack. This is more advantageous to the player than ‘late surrender’, which simply means that the dealer checks to see if he has a blackjack before players can surrender their hand.

In each case, a player surrenders his hand at the appropriate time and the dealer returns half of his bet. Early surrender reduces the house edge by approximately 0.24% while late surrender reduces it by approximately 0.08%. These might not seem like significant numbers but in any form of gambling success is derived from an aggregation of small edges. You’re not going to find a rule or strategy that offers you a ‘big edge’–it wouldn’t make it to the casino floor and if it did it would be gone within a week. Keep in mind that these small, incremental advantages add up and are extremely important in the long run.

Players do have a tendency to make a couple of mistakes when surrender is offered. Some players don’t take advantage of it when they can. In some cases, this is because they’re not aware of it (since casinos like to keep it on the hush hush as we noted above). More often, however, they’re of the mindset that throwing away a hand makes them less ‘macho’ and instead they hold on to a hand that is a big underdog against a specific dealer upcard. Always remember that there are no ‘style points’ in gambling and that if you want to stay in the game long term you’ve got to take the edges when you have the opportunity.

The other mistake can be found at the other extreme—players ‘surrender’ too many hands. It’s essential to understand which hands you need to be throwing away and why. You’ll find an in-depth discussion of surrender strategy—as well as general blackjack strategy at all levels–elsewhere in the website.