Blackjack is among the best games to play in a casino. Its rules are relatively easy to learn and follow and more importantly, players are up against a house edge of roughly 0.50% when they incorporate perfect basic strategy throughout their betting sessions.
But one of the most interesting aspects of the game has to do with the duality of the Aces. The soft hands we are about to explore would have been impossible to make had it not been for the Aces, which can be counted as 1 or 11 in blackjack. It is up to the player to decide which value the Ace in their hand has.
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Hands with an Ace that can be assigned value of 1 or 11 are called soft and are considered very valuable because the Ace’s duality makes it impossible for the player to bust by drawing a third card. This allows the player to change the value of their hand back and forth until they reach the desired sum total against the respective dealer upcard.
However, if you want to fully benefit from soft hands, you need to familiarize yourself with the optimal plays for them, i.e. you must know when to hit, when to stand and when to double down on your soft totals. This article introduces you to the correct basic strategy decisions for soft totals 13 through 17. We recommend you pay attention because some of these totals are among the most frequently misplayed hands in the game of 21.
Soft Totals 13 through 16
Now that we have already explained what soft hands are, let’s have a look at the correct way to approach the soft totals 13 through 16. There are two options players face when they start a round with these soft totals – they can either hit them or double down.
Doubling is a viable course of action only when the dealer is at a disadvantage and starts the round with small cards that can potentially cause them to break their hand. So let’s examine the instances where your dealer is not in a weak enough spot for you to double on your soft 13 through soft 16.
When you are dealt soft 13 (A-2), soft 14 (A-3), soft 15 (A-4) and soft 16 (A-5) and the dealer is not in a breaking position, you should assume your Ace has a value of 1 and hit your hand until you reach a total of hard 17 or higher. Let’s take a moment to consider a concrete example where you hold A-2 against a dealer with an upcard of 3.
You are in a very advantageous situation here because no third card you can possibly pull out of the deck/shoe can break your hand. The worst that could happen is for you to draw a ten-value card, in which case your Ace’s value will be converted into 1 for a hard total of 13. In the best-case scenario, you draw a 7 for a soft total of 20 (which you stand on because it already gets you in the safe zone) or an 8 for an unbeatable total of 21.
When the dealer exposes a particularly weak card that can cause them to bust on the next hit, players should always take advantage of this opportunity and increase their action by doubling on their soft totals 13 through 16. This gives them a small edge against the house.
Since upcards 4, 5, and 6 are the worst cards a dealer can start their hand with, basic strategy recommends us to always double on soft 13 through soft 16 against them. Assume you hold A-4 against a weak dealer with a 5. There are several possible outcomes for you in this instance.
- You pull small cards 4, 5, or 6 which give you nice totals of 19, 20, or 21.
- You draw a 7, an 8, a 9 or one of the ten-value cards (10, King, Queen, or Jack) and end up with hard totals of 12 through 15.
- You receive an Ace for a 16 (one of the worst totals a player might end up with).
- You draw a deuce for 17 (which, as we explained in the article on soft and hard hands, is still not good enough of a total).
- You receive a 3 for 18.
As you can see, you have only 3 cards that can get you in the coveted safe zone out of 13 possible denominations (Ace through King). So why pour more money onto the felt with a soft 15? The reason is simple – blackjack players should take every possible opportunity to win more money through doubling down when their dealer is in big trouble with small upcards like 4, 5, and 6. It is mathematically established doubling is the best possible play for these soft hands in the long term.
Soft 17 – One of the Most Frequently Displayed Hands in Blackjack
You probably think following a chart that shows you the correct decision for any possible round at the blackjack table is easy enough and indeed it is, but this does not prevent some people from misplaying certain hands. Such is the case with soft 17 which ranks among the most frequently misplayed hands in blackjack.
Many inexperienced players assume that they should stand on soft 17 when their dealer starts with a small card that is likely to cause them to bust. Others would stand on this soft total regardless of what the dealer’s upcard is because they are too afraid not to ruin their “good” hand.
The trouble is soft 17 is not really all that good of a hand to begin with. In actuality, always standing on it causes players to lose more money in the long term than they do when hitting or doubling on this soft total. Basic strategy players should never stand on soft totals of 17 no matter what upcard the dealer exposes.
You either hit or double with this hand. If you still doubt this is the right course of action, ask yourself this one question – “Why does the house edge increase under the H17 rule for dealers?”. This is so because hitting soft 17 is always better than standing, both for the dealer and the player.
So when should you hit this soft hand? The correct decision here is influenced by the number of decks the blackjack game utilizes. Thus, when you are playing double-deck and multiple-deck games, you hit your soft 17 when your dealer exposes a deuce or when they have cards 7, 8, 9, 10, King, Jack, Queen or Ace.
The optimal playing decisions for a single-deck game are pretty much the same save for one exception, the dealer’s deuce. The player is recommended to double on their soft 17 against a dealer showing a deuce in single-deck blackjack.
Soft 17 Additional TipsIt is important to remember that the primary purpose of doubling down is not to try and outdraw the dealer but to increase the money you have at the table when the dealer is the most susceptible to busting. This normally is the case when the dealer shows small upcards 3 through 6.
If you are facing one of those upcards in a multiple-deck S17 game and you have a soft 17, you should always double down. The same goes for double-deck blackjack. When playing with a single deck, the correct strategy requires you to double on your soft 17 against dealer upcards 2 through 6. What if your soft 17 consists of more than two cards, like 2-4-A and it is impossible to double? Again, the best course of action is to take a hit on your soft 17.
The average player misplays soft hands more frequently than any other card combination in the game of blackjack. The result is lots of missed opportunities to turn a profit on hands that allow for much more room for errors. It is impossible to bust on the next hit when you have a soft holding because of the flexibility the Ace gives you. The bottom line is if you have taken the time to master the correct strategy plays for soft hands 13 through 17, you are already on your way to becoming a more profitable blackjack player.