Similar to soft 17, soft 18 is another hand that blackjack players tend to play timidly.
It always boils down to that feeling of relief: “I have 18. I’m good. I have a shot at winning. And I don’t have to worry about busting.”
If you’re choosing to stand on soft 18, you might as well have been dealt a hard 18 if you’re going to ignore the opportunity offered to you by having been dealt that Ace.
So if that’s the way you want to play then let’s take a moment to look at hard 18. Basic strategy says to stand on hard 18. And it’s obvious logic that you do since hitting will most likely bust you.
But soft 18 is not hard 18, ergo the difference in names and ergo the need to treat them differently.
Your best chance of winning happens when the dealer’s upcard is a 2 through an 8, so it’s good strategy to stand on a soft 18 when faced with those dealer up cards. Here’s why.
Always figuring that his hole card is a 10, that would mean he would have a 12 through 18. He would have to hit on his 12 through 16 and stands a pretty decent chance of busting. And he would stand on his 17 or 18; the 17 you would beat and the 18 you would push, so at least you wouldn’t lose money there. So stand on a soft 18 against a 2 through 8—same as you would if you had a hard hand.
Here’s where your blackjack strategy is different from how you would play a hard 18.
You need to hit if you are facing a dealer 9, 10 or Ace. Factoring that assumed 10 hole card, he has 19, 20 or blackjack. And you can’t beat that if you stand on a soft 18. This is knowing your opponent and trying to find the most advantageous play.
Hitting here reduces your soft 18 to a hard 8. You can hit for a combination of low cards that can add up to at least 19, if not 20 or 21.
If it is allowed and you are a card counter and the deck is rich in high cards, you should double down if facing a dealer’s 3 through 6. That would reduce your soft 18 to a hard 8, which you can hit and still have a shot at coming in close to 21 and stay under as long as the deck is rich in high cards. Yes, it’s a gamble, but this is blackjack, not Monopoly.
Always think of what that hole card is, imagine it as a 10. Your blackjack strategy for soft hands should reflect that flexibility of the Ace you’re holding. Remember that some hands will be played the same as a hard hand and others won’t. The best fall-back is to play according to basic strategy—that chart will give you the best plays for soft hands if you can’t remember.