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Editorial: Blackjack soft and hard hands

Blackjack Strategy

Veteran blackjack players know that some blackjack hands are easy to play. They understand the blackjack strategy behind staying on a high hand (18 or higher) and hitting a weak hand (10 or lower). However, some players often need blackjack advice on how to play soft hands in blackjack. Our list of blackjack tips will guide you through this treacherous part of the game.

Blackjack Soft and Hard Hands: Definitions and Rules

A "soft hand" is any hand that includes an ace where the other cards total less than eleven. Since the ace counts as either one or eleven, any hand where the ace could count as eleven is a "soft hand". For instance, a "soft 17" hand could be a hand of ace-six (ace = 11, 11+6=17).

A "hard hand" can be a hand that does not include an ace. For example, a "hard 17" could be a hand of ten-seven (10+7=17). A "hard hand" can also contain an ace if the other cards in the hand total eleven or more. An example of a "hard 17" with an ace could be ace-eight-eight (ace=1, 1+8+8 = 17).

Blackjack Soft and Hard Hands: House Hits on Soft 17

Players may need to implement different blackjack strategy techniques based on the house rules. In most casinos, the dealer must "hit" (take a card) when he has a "soft 17". This rule increases the house edge on blackjack, which is why so many casinos feature this rule. The rule allows the dealer to improve his "soft 17" into a better hand rather than stay with a weak hand and allow players increased odds of winning.

Blackjack Soft and Hard Hands: House Stands on Soft 17

A key piece of blackjack advice to remember is that players have a slight edge on games where the dealer must stand on both "hard 17" and "soft 17". In a normal game, soft hands in blackjack are just that: soft and prone to losing better blackjack hands. If the dealer has to give up on the chance to improve his hand, the player should take advantage whenever possible. Although the dealer is restricted in how he can play certain blackjack hands, the player has no such restraint.

Blackjack Soft and Hard Hands: Basic Blackjack Strategy

No set of blackjack tips would be complete without mentioning the idea of "basic blackjack strategy". Several of the best books that offer top-notch blackjack advice often feature charts and graphs depicting how to play soft hands in blackjack. One of the most basic blackjack tips that players can remember is to stand with a soft 19 or soft 20 and hit a soft 17 or lower. A player may choose to "double down" on soft hands in blackjack if the dealer's upcard is six or lower.

Blackjack Soft and Hard Hands: Counting Cards

Many new players to the game have read books on "counting cards" or have seen the film "21", which featured the infamous MIT Blackjack Team. The methods behind card-counting can also change the way a player employs his blackjack strategy techniques when playing a "soft 17" hand.

If the deck has a "high count" (most of the tens, face cards and aces are still in the deck), then the counter can hit his "soft 17" with strong odds of improving his hand to a "hard 17". If the deck has a "low count" (most of the tens, face cards and aces have already been dealt), the player still can't bust with one card, but may not improve his hand enough to beat the dealer.

Blackjack Soft and Hard Hands: Stiff Hands

Some of the toughest blackjack hands to play are called "stiff hands". Stiff hands are those hands with values between twelve and sixteen. The best blackjack tips our guide can offer on stiff hands is, whenever available, surrender the hand. Stiff hands are those "in between" hands that often lead rookie players to make poor decisions.

Basic blackjack strategy charts recommend that, if the dealer's upcard is six or lower, the player should stand and wait for the dealer to bust. If the dealer's upcard is seven or higher, the player should hit and try to improve his hand.

Blackjack Soft and Hard Hands: Split Aces

The ultimate "soft hand" is a pair of aces. While aces are the best starting hand in Texas Holdem poker, a pair of aces can sometimes be a problem in blackjack. The only thing to remember about a pair of aces is to split them -- always, forever, without exception - for two reasons.

Reason 1: Since casinos typically only allow one additional card on each split ace, each new hand cannot lead to a busted hand.
Reason 2: In a "high count" deck, the odds of getting a ten-value card to go with the ace are better than normal, thus leading to more blackjacks.

Blackjack Soft and Hard Hands: Conclusion

Another factor to remember about soft hands in blackjack is that a player can never bust after one hit. Since a soft hand's value cannot exceed eleven points, no card in the deck can lead to a busted hand. When a soft hand becomes a hard hand, the player's grasp on blackjack strategy becomes much more important.


22-Apr-2010, 08:50

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