Blackjack Hands: When to Do What



Eddy Cheung

Blackjack is one of the two skill-based games, the other being poker. In this classic card game, players aim to beat the dealer to the magic number of 21 or go bust. Note that all cards represent their face values, except for kings, queens, jacks, and aces. It’s imperative to remember that aces can count as one or eleven in blackjack, depending on the situation.

Blackjack Hands: When to Do What

Now with these hand values in mind, go ahead and create a winning hand in Blackjack. But wait, having a soft or hard hand can significantly determine your next move on the table. So, besides explaining to you in detail what these blackjack hands are, you’ll also learn how to play them and which hands to double down or split.

What is a blackjack soft hand?

As said before, the basic strategy doesn’t guarantee you a win, but it increases your chances of winning. If you want to master this game and lower the house edge you need to learn about the hands. The ace plays a central role in the type of blackjack hand you create. In fact, it’s the most powerful card in a blackjack deck. A blackjack hand with an ace is a soft hand. Most blackjack players value this hand because it gives them the freedom to hit without the possibility of going bust. Remember, players can count the ace as one if they go bust with 11.

For example, the dealer can give you an ace and a five, making a soft 16. Then, you request an additional card (to hit), which turns out to be an eight. Without a flexible ace, you’ll have a total hand value of 24, which means busting. But that won’t happen with a soft hand because the ace becomes a one, giving you a hand value of 14. This gives players some wiggle room on the table. 

The basic strategy moves for soft hands

It’s easy to say that soft hands are beneficial before playing one. That’s because soft hands can sometimes call for aggressive play, depending on the dealer’s face-up card. The basic strategy is to double down whenever you have a soft 17, and the croupier’s upcard is a 6. This strategy involves doubling the ante bet to get an additional card. Players must also stand after taking an extra card. 

Here is the thing; if you have a soft 17 and the dealer has a 6, they are standing on slippery ground. Experience proves that they would bust at least 40% of the time when playing a 6-deck blackjack game that needs them to stand on any 17. So, always double down if this happens. Hitting is also good, although the main idea is to take maximum advantage of the situation. 

Speaking of hitting, apply this blackjack move if your hand total is a soft 13. The same strategy also applies to soft 14/15/16. However, if the dealer’s up-card is a four, five, or six, the best move is to double down. Also, double down if the dealer’s up-card is a three, four, five, or six, and you have a soft 17. 

Meanwhile, the soft 18 hand is a little complex because players can apply three different strategies. For example, if you have a soft 18 and the dealer’s face-up card is a three through to 6, it’s advisable to double down. Alternatively, stand if they show a two, seven, or eight. Always hit if they show any other card and you have a soft 18.

Regarding soft 19 and soft 20, stand no matter the type of upcard the dealer shows. That’s because that total places you in a favorable position as the dealer is more likely to bust. Remember that the ‘average’ blackjack winning hand value is 18.5. So, the chances of winning the game with a soft 19 or soft 20 are high. 

What is a blackjack hard hand?

If you’re dealt cards without an ace, that’s a hard hand in blackjack. For example, a nine and eight is a hard 17. Hard hands are generally risky and disadvantageous because the chances of going bust after hitting are high. This is especially true when players are dealt high-value cards like seven, eight, nine, and 10. However, there’s no danger with low-value hand totals of four to eight, as you can quickly improve your hand. 

The basic strategy moves for hard hands

Before diving deeper into the basics of playing hard hands, it’s essential to consider playing conditions and rules of blackjack. Always consider the number of decks and if the dealer stands/hits on soft 17. And as mentioned initially, players can always draw another card without bothering with what the dealer has if they have low-value hard totals.

But things are usually tricky if you have a hard total of 12 to 17. That’s because these hands lose more often regardless of the dealer’s upcard. And what’s worse? Blackjack players end up with these hard totals almost 40% of the time. 

Most players often stand when they find themselves with these disadvantageous hard totals. But playing blackjack is not for the faint-hearted. It’s advisable to hit instead of standing against the dealer’s strong upcard. That is if the dealer’s up-card is an ace through to seven. You can also stand if they show anything between two and six. And yes, always stand if your hard total is 17 or more. 

Here’s the summary to add to your blackjack strategy list:

  • Always stand when you get a hard 17 or more, regardless of the dealer’s upcard.
  • Stand if you have a hard 12 to 16 and the dealer’s up card is two to six.
  • Hit with a hard total of 12 to 16, and the dealer’s up card is an ace to seven.
  • Hit if the dealer’s up card is an ace to seven and your hard total is nine. 
  • Always hit with a hard total of four to eight. 
  • Double down with a hard 10, 11, or 9, and the dealer’s up card is a four, five, or six.

Getting a blackjack hand with two aces

So, what happens if players are dealt a hand with two aces? In that case, consider splitting your hand to get an additional card on each hand. Splitting is 100% legal whether playing a blackjack game with eight or six decks of cards. Note that aces are the best cards to begin a blackjack hand with, meaning you’ll have two good starting hands on the table. So, avoid hitting with a soft total of 11. 

Note, however, that after splitting the aces and you get a 10-value card, the hand doesn’t become a blackjack, despite having a total of 21. That’s because most casinos treat this hand as a regular multi-card 21. As such, you’ll receive a measly 1:1 payout. In addition, some casinos don’t allow re-splitting of aces or hitting after splitting an ace pair. 

The Bottom Line

Learning how blackjack hands work and when to apply soft and hard hands is essential for playing blackjack at the top online casinos globally. As you can see, it’s all about calculations. Generally, hands like hard 17/18/19 will bust if you hit. On the other hand, you can double down if you have a soft 11, as your chances of hitting the magic number are high. But always remember that the average winning blackjack hand is 18.5. So, don’t kill yourself trying to hit 21 lest you go bust. Have fun!

Best gambling quote: “Gambling is not about how well you play the games, it’s really about how well you handle your money.”

Favorite Casino Game: Blackjack

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