Playing blackjack for real money online or at landbased casinos is no picnic. Every decision you make at the table affects your long-term expected value, not to mention that even if your basic strategy play is immaculate, you are still in a losing situation because the rules are tweaked in such a way so as to give the house’s representative, the dealer, better chances of winning most of the time.
Yet, there are also the instances in which the advantage swings back to the player. A good blackjack player should be able to recognize these advantageous situations and approach them more aggressively for the purpose of maximizing their long-term expected value. Some of the instances that call for a more aggressive approach happen when you are dealt a two-card holding that totals 10 or 11. In most cases, you should play those hands more aggressively by increasing your action on the felt through doubling.
Many inexperienced players recognize there is value in doubling on these hand totals. What they fail to understand is that the correct basic strategy for doubling down on 11 and 10 depends on several other variables in addition to their hand total. These include the rank of the dealer’s upcard, the house rules pertaining to a particular blackjack table, and the number of decks incorporated into the game. The following article discusses the accurate plays for hand totals of 10 and 11 in pitch games and multiple-deck blackjack variations.
Hitting and Doubling on Hard 10
A hard hand total of 10 can result from any of the following two-card combinations: 3-7, 4-6, 2-8, and 5-5. One of the mistakes rookie blackjack players frequently commit is splitting their paired 5s. Making this move is always a bad decision unless one counts cards and knows the composition of the remaining deck or shoe.
Splitting paired 5s when you are a basic strategy player is a nonsensical move because a total of 10 makes for one of the most powerful hands you can start a round with. If you split, you risk pulling two ten-value cards on each of your 5s and end up with a hard 15, which is one of the worst totals you can receive in blackjack. A 15 is too low of a total to stand on but at the same time, it is too high to hit because there is a significant chance of you busting by drawing one more card. There are way too many cards that can get you in trouble when you make this move.
A hard total of 10 is always hit or doubled on in both pitch games and multiple-deck blackjack. The correct decision here depends on what upcard the dealer is showing. Deck number and the house rules are irrelevant in this instance. With a holding of paired 5s, the basic strategy players should double against dealer upcards deuce through 9 and hit when the dealer shows a ten-value card or an Ace.
Hitting and Doubling on Hard 10 Additional TipsWhat do you do when your hard ten consists of the other three possible combinations, 2-8, 4-6, and 3-7? Your decision is again based on the card your dealer exposes. In this instance, doubling is recommended when the dealer is in a weaker position with upcards 2 through 9.
Hitting your hard 10 is the correct strategy move against a dealer with a ten-value card or an Ace. This is so regardless of how many decks you are playing or whether you have taken a seat on an H17 or an S17 table.
Note that in certain situations you will end up with a total of 10 that consists of more than two cards. This happens, for example, when you are dealt 3-4, hit, and draw another trey. Obviously, it would be impossible to double down on a three-card total of 10 this time, so the correct strategy would be to take another hit.
Why You Should Never Double on Hard 10 against a Dealer’s 10 or Ace
Doubling with this total against a dealer who exposes a 10 or an Ace is not recommended because these two cards put the house in a very favorable position. This statement is backed by the following example. You have a 10 and are facing a dealer with a powerful 10 card or an Ace. Let’s examine what happens for each card value you can possibly draw in this instance.
You draw cards deuce through 6 and end up with the terrible hard totals 12 through 16.
You pull a 7 for a hard 17 which is not good enough as the average winning hand in blackjack totals 18.5. There is a good chance you will either push with the dealer or lose if they get a better total. Basically, your only hope in this case would be for the dealer to bust.
You draw an 8 for a hard 18, which, as we said, is seemingly a good hand but it is still below the average winning total in the game.
You draw a 9, a 10, or an Ace and end up with very good totals 19, 20 or 21.
Only 23 of the remaining 49 cards can get you in the safe zone while 26 cards leave you with hard totals 12 through 18 that bear no improvement but are weak enough for the dealer to beat you with their 10. This means your chances of improving your hand beyond the average winning total of 18.5 are less than 50% which does not justify doubling against a dealer 10 or Ace. Now, let’s examine what the dealer’s possibilities are when they start their hand with say the Queen of Spades.
The dealer flips over one of the small cards 2 through 6 and ends up with hard totals 12 through 16. These are bad but unlike you, the dealer cannot double down and is bound by the house rules to draw until they reach 17 or above. The chances of the dealer improving their total to at least 17 are around 20% in this case.
The dealer’s down card is a 7 for a hard total of 17. Thus, he or she pushes with your 17 or beats the weak hands 12 through 16.
The dealer flips an 8 next to her Queen and although her hard 18 is still under the average winning total, it beats all totals of 12 through 17 and pushes with your 18 (if you are lucky enough to get an 18 after you double that is).
Your dealer pulls a 9, 10 or an Ace next to her Queen of Spades for the excellent totals of 19, 20, or 21 and beats you unless you two push on your potential hands of 19 through 21.
As it turns out, the dealer stands better chances of beating you in this situation so exposing more money to risk through doubling on a 10 against a dealer’s 10 or Ace makes no sense here. The differences in the odds for the player and the dealer in this case are not that impressive but every percentage counts in the long run.
You will inevitably end up losing money when doubling on a 10 against the dealer’s powerful cards over time, which is why basic strategy suggests you hit instead. This also allows you to draw another card which prevents you from getting stuck with the terrible hard totals 12 through 16.
Optimal Plays for a Hand Total of 11 in Pitch Games
A starting hand that totals 11 puts the player in the best possible position, especially against a dealer who is in trouble with small upcards. You can obtain a hand with this total through any of the following combinations of cards: 6-5, 7-4, 8-3, and 9-2.
We have divided the optimal plays into two separate sections because here your decisions are affected by variables like deck number and the fixed house rules for the dealer. But, of course, the dealer’s upcard also plays a crucial role in choosing the optimal move.
In single-deck and double-deck blackjack variations, the player with a holding of 11 has only one option, which certainly makes it easier for them to memorize the correct plays for this hand. You should always double down on your 11 in pitch games no matter the rank of your dealer’s upcard. It is irrelevant whether your dealer plays under the H17 or the S17 rules – you double as long as your 11 consists of two cards and hit if it consists of three or more small cards.
Optimal Plays for a Hand Total of 11 in Pitch Games Additional TipsThat being said, some long-term blackjack players and experts recommend a small deviation based on the composition of your 11 in double-deck games. They suggest doubling is justified when the hand consists of either 4-7 or 6-5 against any possible dealer upcard.
However, if the player has a holding of 2-9 or 3-8, they should always double on their 11 under the H17 rule but hit in S17 games when the dealer exposes an Ace. The logic behind this piece of advice is that hitting is the optimal decision for the double-deck S17 game because some of the cards that can make for a successful double down, like the 8 and the 9, are already in your hand, which naturally decreases your chances of pulling this card value after doubling. Our advice is for you to master total-dependent strategy before you upgrade to composition-dependent strategy, though.
Some novice players are reluctant to double on their 11 against a dealer with an Ace. In pitch games, especially those with the H17 rule, the player wins fewer hands through doubling but the profit is twice as big when compared to hitting.
Yet, people should not forget that the purpose of an experienced blackjack player is not to win more hands than the dealer but to generate more profits over the long run. You will win $160 by hitting your 11 against a dealer with an Ace as opposed to doubling which earns you $240 every hundred hands on average (if you flat bet in increments of $10).
Optimal Plays for a Hand Total of 11 in Multiple-Deck Games
Things are a little trickier for a player with a holding of 11 in multiple-deck games since the optimal plays are influenced by the dealer’s standing rules. The correct basic strategy for 11 under the S17 rule is to hit when the dealer has an Ace and double down against all other possible upcards (i.e. deuces through 10s). However, if you are playing against a dealer that adheres to the H17 rule, you are supposed to double on your 11 against all possible upcards, including the Aces.
You cannot go wrong by memorizing the plays we have suggested above. They are based on math and computer simulations and are guaranteed to do two things for you in the long term – help you win more money and reduce your losses when playing hand totals 10 and 11.