Blackjack Strategy: Soft Hands

Soft hands seem to be the most misunderstood hands in blackjack. It does not matter if they are playing online blackjack or blackjack in a brick and mortar casino. A soft hand is dealt, and players’ blackjack strategy goes blank; and they seem to hesitate before playing it out as if it were a hard hand.

Hard hands are not soft hands. Their blackjack strategy is different. This is why when you look at a basic strategy chart soft hands have their own section. It is there for a reason, people.

Soft hands offer a flexibility that hard hands only wish they had. Perhaps that flexibility is what confuses players, throws them since there is more of a variable in what could happen.

Want to see an example?

Imagine that you are dealt a soft 15. This means you are starting the round with a 4 and that dreaded, yet misunderstood Ace. This hand could be played as a 15 or a 5, and it will always start out as a 15. Players need to remember that with that Ace they still have the option of dropping down to 5 in case their hit card would bust their 15.

There is no reason not to hit a soft 15. And if you do not you stand a high chance of losing. Remember this is not a hard 15. This is not a stiff hand. If your hit card is, says, a 7, you will not bust. Sure, if you were holding a hard 15 you would bust. But this is a soft 15 and that 7 is not going to bust you since you can drop that 15 down to 5, leaving you with a hard 12.

Okay, you might end up with a stiff hand if you hit, but you are not worse off hitting a soft 15 than you would be if you stood on that soft 15.

The blackjack strategy for soft hands is about having the flexibility for soft hands. It gives you the ability to hit and end up no worse off than you were when you started. In the case of that soft 15, hitting and getting a 6 would most likely win the round for you.

The point of the blackjack strategy is having that extra chance to do something with your hand that hard hands cannot do. Do not waste it.

For Your Blackjack Strategy and Your Odds—the Double Down

No, I am not talking about that so-called sandwich. A friend of mine tried it once and could not eat for two days his stomach was so upset.

I am talking about the double down play that players can make in blackjack. This handy little play packs quite a punch against the house. And we all know that when the house’s edge is hit, the player’s blackjack odds go up. So it is important to include doubling down in your blackjack strategy.

Doubling down is when a player doubles his original wager and only receives one more card before standing.

As you can probably tell, this is not a play that you make any old time in blackjack. It is a play that must be used at advantageous times. And this is where strategy comes in.

It is well-known that one of the best tools for blackjack strategy is basic strategy. This little chart will tell players when the most advantageous times to double down are. Doubling down when it is not advantageous is a quick way to lose money since your wager, once you have doubled down, is twice what you started with.

Casinos lean on the fear players have of losing their money to keep them from doubling down. But players need to take a deep breath, swallow the fear and double down when strategy calls for it to happen. Otherwise players will not knock 1.6% off of the house’s edge.

Did I forget to mention that earlier? I did? Well, it is true, doubling down when it is advantageous hits the house’s edge for 1.6%.

That is a fairly big hit to their edge, which means that players make a gain to their blackjack odds because they are gaining money. And not just the regular amount won off of a normal hand; players win twice the amount of their double down wager. In fact, it is the extra amount won that makes for such a hit to the house’s edge.

Because of the gain in blackjack odds and in money, players need to add doubling down to their blackjack strategy—but only when it is advantageous.

Blackjack Odds: Stiff Hand Frequency

Stiff hands are the most awful hands to get in a game of blackjack. In terms of your blackjack moral, you immediately feel bummed out because you know that stiff hands are the toughest hands to play out. And in terms of blackjack odds, well, they are just hard on your blackjack odds.

In blackjack, stiff hands are any two card hard hand with a total of 12 through 16. But for today’s discussion we are going to include a two card hard 17 as well.

The reason is because hard 17s are not quite as great as players think they are. Sure it is a high total and you immediately stand, but you are standing not because you know you have a good shot at winning, but because you know that you are more likely to bust if you hit. In a way you could consider a hard 17 the secret, lesser known stiff hand.

Anyway your blackjack odds for being dealt a two card stiff hand—including a hard 17—is about 43% of the time. In other words, about forty three hands out of one hundred will be stiff hands—so a little less than half of your hand put you in a position to lose.

But also consider this: in your blackjack odds of winning are 48% and tying the dealer are 9%, which leaves your odds of losing at 43%. Interesting coincidence.

Now I am not saying that you will lose every single stiff hand you are dealt—the above comparison was just an interesting note. The only way to win with a stiff hand is for the dealer to bust.

Because of the high blackjack odds that you will be dealt a stiff hand that you are most likely going to lose, it is not surprising that the majority of your money losses will result from these stiff hands. How much? Try 85% of your money losses coming from a hard 12 through 17.

Since you know your blackjack odds for stiff hands are on the high side and that most of your money losses go to them, the best thing that you can do is play out those hands in the best way possible. And that means using basic strategy.

Blackjack Strategy: Things Not to Do

No one is a perfect blackjack player. Well, professional players might come close, but still, no one is perfect.

In blackjack there are strategy plays that have good intentions that end poorly, but the point is that you played the correct play based on basic strategy—the dealer just wound up with a better hand. But then there are full on blackjack strategy mistakes. In fact, forget calling them blackjack strategy mistakes. Some of the plays people make are just flat out mistakes.

Take this one woman I saw on a casino cruise. We were playing at a full table and she was dealt a pair of Aces. Does she split the pair like basic strategy says to? No. Instead she hits, winding up with a three card soft 15, which she stands on.

The dealer then hits twice and ends with a hard 17. Three of us at the table won, two gentlemen busted (that is the tough thing about being dealt a stiff hand) and the other two players lost. Yes, one of those who lost was the woman with the soft 15.

Two mistakes this woman made: 1. She did not split her Aces, and 2. She stood on a soft 15.

First off you should always, always split a pair of Aces. Basic strategy will also tell you to always split a pair of Aces. It starts you off with a strong 11 to build on, and often you will be able to build two pretty strong hands.

Not splitting is guaranteed to give you a soft hand that gives you more potential to lose to the dealer with than to build anything significant.

But if you are inexperienced enough to not split your pair of Aces and you do find yourself with a soft hand, make up for not splitting by following basic strategy. This means that you will most likely be hitting again.

As for that woman’s soft 15, there is no reason not to hit a soft 15. One Ace has already been reduced to 1; there is nothing to stop the other Ace from being reduced if necessary. And that is why there is no reason not to hit a three card soft 15.

Blackjack strategy is there to help you. It can hit the house’s edge and increase the money pull in from blackjack by increasing your opportunities of winning. This is why I always tell novice players to stick to basic strategy…and always split a pair of Aces!

Blackjack Odds on Busting: Who and How Often

Busting comes with one of two feelings in blackjack. Either you are quite pleased because the dealer busted, or you are none too pleased because you busted.

Your blackjack odds for busting is about once out of every six hands. That equates to around 16% of the time. And that is if you are a basic strategy blackjack player. If you do not play according to basic strategy, then shame on you and you will be busting more often. So go find a chart.

As for the dealer, the blackjack odds on him busting is twice out of every seven hands, which is around 28% of the time. But do not jump for joy just yet. Just because the dealer has busted does not mean that the house has lost.

This is where part of the house’s built in blackjack edge comes from. If the dealer busts it does not automatically mean that you win.

The dealer is the last to play out his hand for a reason, and it is not just to make it harder for players to figure out how to play out their hands because only the up card is visible. The reason the dealer plays last is because any player who busts before the dealer’s turn is out of the round.

By out I mean that should the dealer bust also, the player still loses. Players who bust first are already out of the game at that point and it means that there is definitely less money the house will have to shell out should the dealer bust. Let me show you.

Let’s say that you are playing at a full table, meaning seven players. Each of you is wagering $10. For this example I am going to say that no one at this table has been dealt a natural blackjack. This means that, without any natural blackjacks, the house stands to pay out $70 should all players win.

But four players bust during their turns. This is all before the dealer has played his hand out. So right before the dealer’s turn, the potential amount that the house has to pay out has been cut from $70 down to $30 should the dealer lose. And if he does lose the house does not have to pay any money to the four players who busted.

So even though your blackjack odds put you at a smaller chance of busting than the dealer, it does not mean that the house is at a disadvantage. That 16% in blackjack odds that has you busting are time when the house does not have to pay you.

Blackjack Strategy: Basic Strategy and Losses

Casinos and online casinos love to perpetuate the idea that blackjack is the one casino game in which the house can be beat. They will even admit that you need a blackjack strategy to beat the house. And they are more than willing to perpetuate the myth that blackjack strategy is the key to beating the house.

And they would be lying to you.

It is true that basic strategy is a major tool against the house in blackjack, but it will not beat the house on its own. Playing according to basic strategy can lower the house edge to 0.5%. But players must play it perfectly, otherwise that 0.5% is not achievable.

Even if you are playing perfect basic strategy there will be times that you lose a round. This is because you only have a 48% chance of winning (ignoring pushes) in blackjack, even if you are using basic strategy. Think about it—if you have lower the house edge to 0.5%, the house still has the edge.

But casinos and online casinos will happily allow and encourage players that they cannot lose with basic strategy. Some brick and mortar casinos will even give players a basic strategy chart for free.

What they are hoping to see are players who believe that they will win every hand with basic strategy who then lose a few rounds and toss the chart away. Once they taught the chart away they are playing without strategy, and that means more money for the casino.

It is possible to lose rounds of blackjack. It is possible to lose them in a row. In fact there is a 14% that you will lose three hands in a row. It is just how it is. And casinos are hoping to bank on that percentage and what players toss their basic strategy charts away.

The best thing that you can do for your blackjack strategy is to understand that you will not win every single hand. Even card counters who are skilled enough to gain an edge over the house will still lose some hands. Stick with basic strategy and hang on through the hands you lose.

Blackjack Odds of Winning

Time to test your blackjack knowledge:

What are the blackjack odds of winning if you ignore the ties?

The answer is 48%.

Pushes, also known as ties, will happen around 9% of the time. But excluding those pushes, your odds of winning are 48% of the time with you and 52% of the time against you. And this is if you are playing according to basic strategy.

You might be wondering how you could possibly make money on this game if you are odds on to lose more often than you would win.

Remember that the 48% of the time you are expected to win is all wins, including the wins you have with natural blackjacks. When you win with a natural blackjack you receive a 3-2 payout instead of a 1-1 payout like you would with a standard win.

So say you are wagering $10 and you win the round, you would receive $10. But if you were to win with a natural blackjack you would win $15. The times that you win with a natural blackjack puts a little more in your bankroll.

Another occasion in which you make more money than the standard 1-1 is when you double down. The payout for a successful double down is 2-1. Again, say you were wagering $10 per hand of blackjack, doubled down and won, you would receive $20 instead of $10.

While there is nothing extra blackjack strategy-wise that you can do to increase your odds of winning with a natural blackjack, when you double down is in your hands.

Doubling down is a good play to make money in blackjack. But it is also a fast way to lose money. The key to making the most of this blackjack play is to know when the most advantageous time to double down are, and that knowing comes from a basic strategy chart. A basic strategy chart gives the best times to double down when your cards and the dealer’s up card provide you with a good shot of winning the round.

So it is possible to make money with your blackjack odds only giving you a 48% chance of winning. The key is in making the most of the hands you are dealt, using your blackjack strategy.

Best Blackjack Strategy

Every single player out there wants to know what the best blackjack strategy is. This comes from blackjack’s reputation that it is the one casino game in which players can beat the house.

The truth is that only the players who are willing to put a lot of time, patience, research and practice into the blackjack playing and blackjack strategy will come to the point that they can beat the house. They also must be highly skilled card counters. And, in all truth, not many blackjack players are willing to put the time and effort in to building up their card counting skill.

So what can the rest of the blackjack players out there do? The ones who want to play for fun and who want to make some money on it—like a serious hobby in other words. What can they do?

The best that a blackjack player who is not aiming to be professional can do in terms of blackjack strategy is to play according to basic strategy.

Basic strategy is a chart with every single player hand running down the left side. This includes pairs and soft hands, not just hard hands. The inclusion of pairs and soft hands is one of the strong points of basic strategy because pairs and soft hands are often tricking for players to figure out how to play.

Running across the top of the chart are all of the dealer up cards. Where any line from a dealer up card intersects with a player hand is the best statistical play for that combination of player hand and dealer up card.

What players need to understand is that they will not win every single blackjack hand with basic strategy. They will win more hands because they are making the best statistical plays. And while basic strategy does not beat the house, it will lower the house edge to 0.5%, making blackjack the casino game with the smallest edge.

Blackjack and Insurance—How Does it Work Again?

I am going to call the basic rules and plays of blackjack Blackjack 101. This includes the objective, hitting and standing. Double downs and splitting pairs goes into Blackjack 102. Then there is the leap into Blackjack 103, better known as ‘first discovering basic strategy.’

But once a new player gets Blackjack 103 under their belts they begin to move into the murkier waters. Bring on Blackjack 104: Casino Tricks and Insurance.

When a novice blackjack player first encounters insurance they are usually a bit confused. Here they are trying to bet the house and the house is offering them a way to save their bet in case the dealer has a natural blackjack. Is that not oh so considerate of them?

But even then the little warning bells go off in the player’s mind: Why is the house trying to help me when they want me to lose?

The truth is quite simple. The house is helping you. They are helping you to turn your money over to them faster.

And really that is all it is. Think first about what insurance is. The dealer has an Ace showing, the less common of the two cards necessary for a natural blackjack. He then offers you insurance just in case he does have a natural blackjack, which means that hole card needs to be a 10. In all reality you are placing a side wager on whether that hole card is a 10 or not.

Insurance is a side bet made for half the amount of your original wager. If you have bet $10 on the round, insurance would be $5 for you. You are wagering more money on a round than is ordinary.

So rather than standing to lose $10 in a round, you could lose $15. And it is possible to lose both bets. Let’s say that you have a hard 19 and the dealer has an Ace. You take insurance and the hole card is a 9, giving the dealer a soft 20 that he can stand on. His 20 beats your 19, and since the hole card was not a 10, you lose the insurance bet too.

What novice blackjack players have to understand is that insurance does not offer them any true benefits, and that it is best not to take insurance when playing blackjack.

Blackjack Odds of Winning and Losing

What makes blackjack one of the most popular casino games out there?

Simply put, it is the myth that blackjack is the one casino game in which the player can gain the edge and beat the house.

Truthfully that can happen. But it does not happen just from sitting down at the blackjack table or by logging in to your favorite online casino to play a few rounds. To beat the house at blackjack you must study the game, its rules and its strategies. It takes practice. And it also takes card counting.

So truth be told, online blackjack cannot be beat because a player cannot count cards. This is because the game functions similarly to a blackjack table with a CSM in a brick and mortar casino. A CSM is a Continuous Shuffle Machine, and it prevents any cards from being discarded because at the end of a round all the just-used cards are put in the little machine, the entire deck reshuffled and then the next round dealt.

So you must be playing blackjack in a brick and mortar casino—at a table without a CSM I might add—so that you can count cards. You also need to be playing according to basic strategy. Basic strategy drops the house edge to 0.5%. A skilled and practiced card counter can overcome the remaining 0.5% that is against them and then begin to tip the odds up to 1% in their favor.

So, yes, blackjack is a beatable casino game.

However, the majority of blackjack players will not spend the time to gain the necessary skill in card counting that is needed to overcome that last bit of the house’s edge. And still many others will not play according to basic strategy.

And while casinos to not want to seem like they are handing out money for free, they do not seem to mind the continued myth that blackjack is the beatable casino game. For them, it draws more and more new blackjack players that they wind up taking money from.

Even knowing that, players who want to become skilled at blackjack should still work and practice their blackjack strategy. Strategy is meant to improve blackjack odds. So even if you do not beat the house, you will lose less money with a sound blackjack strategy than if you did not have a blackjack strategy.