If you are serious about generating consistent winnings when playing blackjack, you should acquaint yourself with the optimal plays for any possible situation you can find yourself in while at the table. Most of all, you should remember blackjack is anything but a guessing game where acting on your hunches and intuition will inevitably do you more harm than good.
The beauty of this game lies in the fact there is a mathematically correct decision you can make for all card totals against any possible dealer upcard. This set of optimal decisions is what we know as basic strategy. It helps you in several ways – it enables you to maximize your profits and reduces your losses, decreasing the edge the house holds against you to around 0.50%.
The thing about blackjack is that its house edge is prone to change as the game progresses. Certain cards and combinations of cards favor the dealer while others are more advantageous to the player. And yet, casual players who have not mastered basic strategy often fail to recognize when the odds are in their favor and when they are in trouble, which causes them to make plays that are far from optimal.
This happens frequently with some hard totals like 14, 15, and 16 which top the list of the worst hands you can possibly get dealt in the game of blackjack. Knowing how to approach them correctly will spare you lots of headaches and money in the future so stay with us as we explain the basic strategy decisions for these totals and discuss some of most common mistakes players make with these hands.
The Correct Playing Decisions for Hard Totals 14, 15, and 16
Hard 14, 15, and 16 are hands with fixed totals that lack Aces to give them flexibility and improve the player’s chances of making a successful hit. How you play them depends on several variables which include the dealer’s upcard, the deck number, and the fixed drawing and standing conditions the dealer must adhere to when playing out their hand. Below are several examples for hard totals 14 through 16:
- Hard 14: 7-7, 10-4, 6-8, 9-5, 10-3-A, and 9-3-A-A
- Hard 15: 7-8, 6-9, 10-5, 10-2-3, and 9-5-A
- Hard 16: 8-8, 10-6, 9-7, 6-4-6, and 10-2-3-A
These rank as the worst possible hands you can get in blackjack. They put players in significant trouble, even more so when they are up against a dealer who shows powerful upcards. The trouble with these hands is that they expose the player to a considerable risk of exceeding 21 and thus, automatically losing the round. Take a look at the table below – you will surely notice starting totals 14 through 16 are the ones with the highest probability of causing a bust:
|The Player’s Hand Total
|Probability of Busting with This Total
The bottom line is you stand a good chance of losing with these hands no matter what the upcard of the dealer is although your chances of losing increase further when the dealer has a powerful upcard. The best course of action in this case would be to surrender your 15 and 16 against dealers with powerful cards like 10s or Aces.
The Correct Playing Decisions for Hard Totals 14, 15, and 16Unfortunately, some casinos have altogether removed the surrender option from their blackjack tables. The absence of surrender is terrible for the player and increases the house edge so it is generally recommended to stay away from such games.
However, if playing online is not an option for you and there are no landbased casinos offering surrender where you live, here is how you should approach hard 14, 15, and 16 when surrendering is not allowed. The strategy without surrender is the same for games with a different number of decks and different dealer standing rules. It is as follows:
- Always stand on your hard 14, 15, and 16 against the dealer’s upcards 2 through 6
- Always hit your hard 14, 15, and 16 against a dealer with upcards 7 through Ace
The logic behind standing in this case is that the dealer is in a weaker position when starting a hand with these small cards, which is why players should let them do the hitting and hope for a dealer bust. When the dealer’s upcards are 7 through Ace, they stand better chances of reaching their standing total of 17 or higher and outdrawing the players’ lower hard totals 14 through 16. We are not discussing paired 7s and paired 8s here since we have dedicated separate in-depth articles to those pairs.
When to Surrender Your 15 or 16
Many experienced blackjack players are very reluctant to join tables where surrendering is not permitted and rightfully so. The absence of this playing decision is detrimental to the player as it inevitably causes them to lose more money over the long run. Basic strategy suggests you take advantage of this option, if available, with breaking hands hard 15 and 16 against certain powerful upcards of the dealer.
Surrendering is advisable when you have hands that cause you to incur expected losses of over 50%, i.e. hands whose chances of winning are under 25% while those of them losing are above 75%. When you execute this playing decision at the start of a round, you are entitled to receive half of your original stake back, which ultimately saves you money in the long term.
Moreover, the correct use of the late surrender option reduces the house advantage by 0.07% which may not seem like much but there is no escaping the law of large numbers – your incorrect surrender decisions will ultimately cause a dent in your blackjack bankroll over the course of time.
Keep in mind that surrendering is allowed only on two-card totals, which is to say you will be unable to use it when you start a hand with say 10-4 against a dealer’s 10 and you hit it to draw a deuce for a hard 16.
Now that we have gotten this out of the way, let’s examine the situations in which basic strategy recommends you to surrender when you have hard 15 or hard 16. The strategy decisions vary depending on deck number and the fixed rules for the dealer so we shall examine the correct plays in single-deck blackjack first. You can see them below:
When to Surrender Your 15 or 16 Additional Tips
- Surrender hard 15 against a dealer Ace in H17 games
- Surrender hard 16 against a dealer 10 and Ace in both H17 and S17 games
The correct strategy changes a little bit when you join a table where the game plays with two decks. In this instance the optimal moves are the following:
- Surrender hard 15 and hard 16 against a dealer 10 and Ace in H17 blackjack
- Surrender hard 15 against a dealer 10 in S17 games
- Surrender hard 16 against a dealer 10 and Ace in S17 games
When multiple decks are in use, the player is recommended to adjust their surrender strategy for hard 15 and hard 16 in accordance with the new playing conditions. Here is what you are expected to do in these situations when playing blackjack with four to eight decks:
- Surrender hard 15 against a 10 in S17 games
- Surrender hard 15 against a 10 or an Ace in H17 games
- Surrender hard 16 against a 9, a 10, or an Ace in both H17 and S17 games
If surrendering is not a viable option because of poor table conditions or three-card hard 15 and 16, the best you can do is take the plunge and hit instead, which gives you more long-term value than standing against these powerful upcards of the dealer.
Hard 16 – The Worst Hand You Can Possibly Get in Blackjack
While all three hard totals are bad for the player, nothing quite beats the disadvantage hard 16 puts you at. This is the hand with the highest bust frequency rate out of these three hard totals. Many players dread hitting it because they are too scared they might bust by drawing one more card.
Here it is important to remind you that the moves suggested in this article are based on total-dependent strategy. Advanced players often revert to composition-dependent basic strategy when dealt hard 16s that consist of three cards or more against a dealer with a ten-value upcard.
Such is the case with hard holdings of 16 that comprise 8-5-3 or 6-5-5 where the composition-based strategy suggests we stand against a dealer with a 10 instead of hitting, the reason being you have already drawn some of the small cards that can possibly help you improve to a better total. This slightly improves the odds for standing over hitting in one such situation.
Common Player Mistakes with Hard 16
Ironically or not, hard 16 tops the list of both the worst hands and the most commonly misplayed hands in blackjack. Some cringe at the thought hitting this total because they might bust. Others hate surrendering without putting up a fight and hit against a dealer 10 in a desperate attempt to improve their stiff 16.
Apart from these two common mistakes, hard 16 is frequently misplayed against a dealer whose upcard is a 7. And the weirdest thing of all is that this hand is misplayed by people who normally hit hard 16 against a 10 but are obviously not intimidated enough by the dealer’s 7 to make the correct move. They prefer to leave the hitting for the dealer reasoning that upcard 7 is bound to lead to a bust.
And yet, basic strategy tells us to stand on hard 16 against upcards deuce through 6 and hit against 7s through Aces (when surrender is unavailable). We would like to warn you these moves do not guarantee you will win each time you make them. What they help you with is losing less money in the long term. But why?
Common Player Mistakes with Hard 16It is indeed true the dealer is more susceptible to busting with a 7 than they are with a ten-value card. Hitting the 16 is recommended in this case because when the dealer starts a round with a 7, their average standing hands tend to be lower than those when the dealer starts with a 10 upcard.
It is worth mentioning both 16 versus a 10 and a 16 versus a 7 are negative-expectation situations for the player. You are bound to lose more than you win with both hands. Yet, hitting the 16 against a 7 is worth the trouble because it slightly reduces the losses you incur in the long run compared to standing.
Let’s use an example with hard 16 (10-6) against a dealer who exposes a 7. Mathematics and computer simulations tell us players who hit in this situation are bound to win roughly 30 out of every 100 hands and lose the remaining 70 times. Meanwhile, those who choose to stand on their hard 16 against the 7 win 26 out of every hundred hands on average and lose the remaining 74 hands.
From this, it follows that you win 4 times more when you choose to hit the hand instead of standing. This accounts for a 4% difference in your win rate when you choose to hit which may not seem like much, but every percentage counts over the course of tens of thousands of hands. Remember that losing less money when you are at a stark disadvantage is just as essential as profiting more when you have the edge over the dealer.