Some blackjack hands are easier to handle than others but this hardly prevents less skilled and knowledgeable gamblers from misplaying them. And while it is in human nature to err, this should, by no means, serve as an excuse to make mistakes, especially when said mistakes are made at the blackjack table where each basic strategy error ends up costing you extra in the long run.
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Such is the case with hands like the hard 8 and the hard 9. When you end up with those hard totals at the start of a round, the first piece of advice intuition whispers in your ear is to hit them. And indeed, this is the correct move most of the time but certain dealer upcards call for a different optimal move with hard holdings of 8 and 9. Continue reading for further explanations of the optimal plays for these two blackjack hands.
When to Hit Your Hard 8
Hard 8 is an Aceless hand that can result in any of the following card combinations at the start of a round of play – 3-5, 2-6, and 4-4. So how do you approach this total then? Well, it all depends on a couple of variables, namely how many decks are used at the table and whether or not the dealer’s upcard justifies a double down. The dealer’s fixed rules for drawing and standing do not affect the correct playing decisions for a hard total of 8.
A brief glance at the basic strategy chart for blackjack games that utilize four to eight decks of cards tells us players should hit their hard 8 against all possible dealer upcards. And indeed, it would be nonsensical for a basic strategy player to stand on an 8 because their primary purpose is to reach a total which is closer to 21 than that of the dealer.
That and winning, of course, but the two often go hand in hand in blackjack. Another thing to keep in mind here is that the cards with a value of ten outnumber any other card denomination, which means your chances of pulling a ten-value card next to your 8 are quite decent.
When to Double Down on Your Hard 8
Doubling with a hard 8 is never justified in multiple-deck games no matter what card the dealer is revealing. But what about when one is playing a pitched game where only one deck is used at the table?
The correct approach is almost the same but several exceptions are made for certain dealer upcards. In single-deck blackjack, the optimal strategy requires you to double down on your hard 8 (when it is made up of 6-2 and 5-3) against a dealer who shows a 5 or a 6 and hit against all other dealer upcards.
Sure, you may end up ruining your hand by pulling a weak card that leaves you with a poor total, but you should not forget that these moves are primarily intended to increase the size of your bets at the table when the dealer is in trouble and not to help you outdraw them. And as you probably know if you have read the previous articles from this guide, the dealer is in a very bad position with upcards 5 and 6 which render them more susceptible to breaking their hand.
When to Double Down Additional TipsThese are the recommended moves for a hard 8 in single-deck games when the player follows a total-dependent basic strategy. Some blackjack authors would advise players to switch to composition-dependent strategy which takes into account the values and the number of the cards the hand consists of.
Their recommendation is to hit your hard 8 when it comprises a 6 and a 2 against dealers who expose a 5 or a 6 in blackjack games that follow the S17 rule. Respectively, a player with a 6-2 holding is advised to double down but only against a dealer with a 6 who plays under the H17 rule.
When to Split a Hard 8
Sometimes it happens so that your hard 8 consists of a pair of 4s. Novice players often get perplexed as to how they should approach this situation. Let’s attempt to dispel the confusion in brief. The number of decks and the dealer’s revealed card are again taken into consideration.
Thus, when you get dealt a hard 8 that consists of paired 4s in a single-deck game, you should split the pair when the dealer has 4, 5 or 6 if the DAS rule applies and hit against all other exposed cards of the dealer. If the rules at the table do not allow for doubling after splitting (NDAS), the correct strategy for this hand is to immediately double against a dealer with a 5 or a 6 and hit against all other upcards.
What about double-deck and multiple-deck games? Here the correct strategy altogether eliminates doubling from the equation. How you play out this pair is directly related to the presence or absence of DAS. If DAS applies, players are recommended to adopt a more aggressive approach and split the pair of 4s against the dealer’s weak cards 6 or 5. In case DAS is not allowed, you must hit your hard 8 against upcards 5 and 6 instead of splitting the 4s. You hit the paired 4s against all other upcards the dealer shows.
When to Hit and Double Down on Your Hard 9
Now that we have explained the correct ways to approach a hard 8, let’s shed some light on how to properly play its cousin, the hard 9. Again, this is an Aceless hand which can comprise any of the following card combinations: 5-4, 6-3, and 7-2. The correct plays for this hand are quite straightforward. Clearly, standing and splitting are not viable options here.
The only choice you have is either to hit or double down on your hard 9. The decision of which of the two moves you make is again influenced by the deck number and the card exposed by the dealer.
When playing pitch games, the optimal move with hard 9 is to double when the dealer reveals small cards 2 through 6. You hit your 9 against all other upcards of the dealer. These moves coincide in both S17 and H17 single-deck games. The strategy for this hand in multiple-deck blackjack differs in that players are advised to double on hard 9 against the dealer’s 3 through 6 and hit against the deuce and all other upcards.
There are two basic premises behind the above-recommended strategy plays. You double down against those small upcards because it is mathematically established there is a higher likelihood of the dealer busting with them. And as we have explained on multiple occasions, you want to take full advantage of a weak dealer and increase your bets through doubling. Additionally, you stand a good chance to pull a ten-value card because there are more 10s, Jacks, Queens, and Kings in the deck (or shoe) than any other card denomination.