Novice players in blackjack feel a sense of relief when they are dealt a hard 17. For them this is a hand that means no strategy to worry about. This comes from a preconceived notion that since players stand on a 17 and higher that this must be a strong hand.
But experienced players know better. Standing on a hard 17 is not too much better than standing on a hard 16. The difference is that there is a slightly greater chance of winning. A hard 17 only wins if the dealer busts since dealer’s stand on hard 17s. So for a blackjack player to not lose their wager, the dealer has to either tie for a push or bust.
And it is for that reason that a player will stand on a hard 17. After all the rules of blackjack have the dealer standing on a 17 and higher because the chances of busting then are very high. Hence players will also stand on a 17 or higher.
So why hit a hard 16 for some up cards but hit a hard 17 against nothing? It is a matter of loss. With the dealer busting against a player hard 16 only 28.2%, players can expect to lose, on average, $71.80 per $100. But thanks to the pushes that happen with hard 17s from both player and dealer standing, the potential average loss is only $57.30.
Granted that is better than the hard 16, but it is not impressive by any means. It is making the best of a mediocre situation. And that is exactly what a hard 17 is in blackjack a mediocre situation.
A natural blackjack is not the only thing that a player is hoping for when they sit down. Each player is hoping that if they cannot be dealt a natural blackjack that they will receive a 20. Or a 19. Or an 18. Or at least a 17—come one, Dealer, at least a 17!
And for the most part the average blackjack player is quite satisfied with a hard 17, be it one that they were dealt or one that they have hit to. Either way they feel like they have crossed That Line so that they feel safe.
A hard 17 gives players the feeling that they have a pretty decent shot of beating the dealer. That is why if you are playing in a brick and mortar casino and you watch the other players at the blackjack table you can see them release a little breath at having at least that hard 17. And if you are playing online blackjack watch yourself—and I will wager that you will feel more relaxed when you have that hard 17 on your screen.
However, that hard 17 can be a little on the deceiving side. It feels safe because it is the minimum hand to have that you just cannot hit. You know that if you hit that you will bust. So because it is a fairly high hand and you should not hit it, it feels like you have a shot of winning.
But let me ask you this—half of the time you should not hit a hard 16. So why does a hard 17 feel safer than a hard 16? Is it because you stand on it no matter what and you only stand on a 16 half of the time? Keep this thought in mind.
Here is the truth about our beloved hard 17: you will lose more money in the long run and there is nothing you can do about it.
You cannot hit a hard 17 so there is nothing you can do strategy-wise about not losing more over time. However there is a little bit of a silver lining in this.
When you have that hard 17 in your hand and the dealer is showing a 6. The dealer has a 42% chance of busting with that 6, which makes your chances of winning with that 17 greater.
I am not saying that a hard 17 is a bad hand to want. You should just keep in your best odds for your hard 17 are against a hard 6. And you had better stand then. Because you really have no choice—hit a hard 17 and you should just hand your money over. Stand and cross your fingers—strategy-wise you have done your best.