Blackjack Strategy for Hard 12 vs. a 2

Sure a 2 does not seem like that big of a threat. It is a tiny card, the tiniest card in a game of blackjack. But when facing down a dealer’s 2 with a hard 12 that little tiny 2 suddenly seems like a much bigger problem than its value begets.

When a player finds himself in such a situation he is, according to basic strategy, supposed to hit his 12 against the dealer’s 2. But many players do not do this out of fear that they will be dealt a 10 or a face card and bust.

But here is the truth—those four cards are the only four cards that can bust a hard 12. Otherwise, the other nine cards will not bust a hard 12, not even an Ace since it would be reduced immediately to a 1.

It comes down to the fact that there are only two choices for a player here: stand or hit

Of the two standing is the worst choice to make in terms of blackjack odds. I know that players’ inclinations in when holding a 12 and faced with a 2 is to play it safe and stand. But standing only gives you a 35% chance of winning and a 65% chance of losing.

On the other hand a player can—and should—hit. Hitting, while going against a player’s instincts to preserve their wager and hand, offers better odds: 37% odds of winning and 63% odds of losing.

Okay, I know, that is only a 2% decrease in the odds of losing, but lowering the losing odds does increase the winning odds. And while it may not be a huge difference it still is a difference.

In terms of money, which is perhaps more easily understood, standing will on average cause a player to lose $30 in an hour when making $1 wager; but hitting reduces that loss to $26 per hour. Me? I would rather have odds of losing $26 per hour than $30. That is how to preserve your bankroll.

Now it is true that with a two showing the dealer only has a 35% chance of busting. Sad to say it, but this is an underdog hand. The best that a player can do is make the best possible—also known as the most advantageous play—possible.

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 for Hard Hands

Name one of the worst hands to be dealt in a game of blackjack.

If you named one of the stiff hands then you have chosen wisely.

Stiff Hands are some of the worst hands to be dealt, and not just statistically speaking or in terms of blackjack strategy. They are a bummer to moral too. You know as soon as you see those two cards tallying up to 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16 you just have this sinking feeling.

Those are, by the way, the stiff hands, hard 12 through 17.

And there is also a feeling that your blackjack strategy cannot help you when you are facing down a stiff hand.

Unfortunately you can look to being dealt a stiff hand around 43% of the time when you are playing. This percentage applies to both blackjack played in a brick and mortar casino and to blackjack online. Both games at their core are the same.

On that note you are lucky as your blackjack strategy will not vary regardless of where you are playing blackjack.

What makes blackjack strategy for stiff hands seem so ineffective is that you know that you still are the underdog and that your chances of losing are still pretty high. Blackjack players are used to turning to their blackjack strategies to make their odds at winning better. But that is not the sole purpose of blackjack strategy.

That other part of blackjack strategy is minimizing your losses, and it goes hand in hand with playing out stiff hands. It is true that even with a strategy tool are great as basic strategy that you are still the favorite to lose as unfortunate as that sounds.

Knowing that you are the underdog, what you want to do with your blackjack strategy is to minimize your losses. I know, this sounds easier said than done, but that is how players must look at it.

As a rule of thumb, and according to basic strategy, the best thing for you to do if you find yourself with a hard 13 through hard 17 is to stand if the dealer is showing a 2 through 6 and hit if the dealer is showing a 7 through Ace. Now, with a hard 12 you will want to hit if the dealer has a 2, 3 or 7 through Ace, and stand if he has a 4 through 6.

When your first two cards reveal a stiff hand, switch your mind to thinking that you must now minimize your losses. Once you have that in mind, next focus on how your blackjack strategy says to handle the stiff hand you have been dealt.

Blackjack Strategy: Two Cards or More than Two?

After my post yesterday afternoon I started giving some thought to blackjack strategy in regards to a two card hand versus blackjack strategy for multi card hands. This came to me after discussing how a two card soft 18 is played that same as a three card soft 18. This lead to the aforementioned thinking.

Is there really a difference between a hand that is made up of two cards and a hand that is made up of more cards?

In some cases it does. Naturally a two card blackjack is worth more than a hand with three or more cards that totals to 21. And a pair can only be split in the first two cards; you cannot have a 4/8 and hit for another 8, and then split. Also, you generally can only double down on two cards. Some casinos will allow for doubling on three cards but it is not a common house rule; and online casinos only offer double downs on two cards.

But in most cases it does not matter if you have a hand total made up of two cards or a hand made up of more than two cards. Take a look.

Let’s say you have a hand made up of a 6/8. That is a hard 14. If the dealer has a 7 or higher you would stand according to basic strategy.

Now let’s say you have a hand that is made up of a 5/3, which is a total of 8. Again, the dealer is showing a 7 or higher, and you hit according to common sense and basic strategy. You receive a 6 for a total of 14. As you do not have an Ace this is still a hard 14 and it would be played like you would a two card hard 14—in this example it means that you would still hit.

See how this works? There is nothing on the basic strategy chart that says that the hard hands can only be made up of two cards. Often enough with smaller starting hands you have to hit before your hand at least once before it comes time to decide to hit or stand again.

The point is that to get the most out of your blackjack strategy you need to actually be familiar with your strategy. Basic strategy is easy to use if you play on auto pilot. But auto pilot is not the best way to play blackjack if you want to turn a profit.

Online Blackjack and Stiff Hands

While there are some things that are different between online blackjack and blackjack in a brick and mortar casino, there are still some things that are not any different. When it comes to online blackjack one of the similarities is stiff hands.

Just a quick recap a stiff hands are another name for certain hard hands. Those hard hands are hard 12 through hard 16. They are considered stiff hands because they are on the hard side to play with. These are typically underdog hands that are, truthfully, hard to win with. Your playing options are stiff, hence stiff hands.

How often are you likely to be dealt a stiff hand in online blackjack? You stand about a 43% of being dealt one of the stiff hands when you are playing online blackjack.

Now if you were playing blackjack in a brick and mortar casino you also stand about a 43% chance of being dealt a stiff hand.

So when you are playing online blackjack your playing strategy for stiff hands is not any different: abide by basic strategy.

Basic strategy not only is the key to the best statistical plays for every hand in blackjack, it is also the best strategy for online blackjack. The reason basic strategy is the best strategy tool for online is not only because it is the best play for every hand, it is essentially the only strong strategy tool since card counting is not possible in online blackjack.

Since card counting is not possible in online blackjack the best thing that you can do when you have a stiff hand is to play according to basic strategy. Since stiff hands are underdog hands regardless of whether you are playing online blackjack or not, basic strategy is your best bet.

A Hard Hand vs. a Dealer 9, 10 or Ace

Do you know what the best play in blackjack to make when you have a hard 15 or hard 16 versus a dealer’s 9, 10 or Ace? The answer might not be exactly what you think it is.

The instances in a game of blackjack that I am talking about are when you have a hard 15 versus a dealer’s 10 or a hard 16 against a dealer’s 9, 10 or Ace by the way.

Your first answer would be to stand. And in some blackjack games that would be the best statistical play to make. But in other blackjack games there is a better statistical play and it comes in two varieties: late and early surrender.

Late surrender is the more common of the two, but that is because it only hits the house edge for 0.08%. When it comes to late surrender, it is a play in which the player gives up half of his wager to exit the round only after the dealer has checked for blackjack. Players must decide to make a late surrender before they make any other plays; once a player decides to hit or stand the option to make a late surrender is gone.

The other type of surrender is early surrender. This differs from late surrender in that in an early surrender the player can give up half of their wager before the dealer checks for blackjack. Early surrender allows the player to get out of that particular round even if the dealer does have a natural blackjack. And because that aspect early surrender lowers the house edge by 0.6%. And that 0.6% hit is why early surrender is seen less often in blackjack games.

But surrender should only be used in blackjack if you have a hard 15 against a dealer’s 10 or a hard 16 against a dealer’s 9, 10 or Ace. Those are the four best times to surrender since a blackjack player’s chances of winning are the lowest then.

If you can find a game that allows for late surrender go for it, and if you can find a game of blackjack that allows for early surrender—even better!

How Good is that 17 Really?

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.

Blackjack Myth: Never Hit 12 Against a Dealer’s 2

For blackjack players who play according to basic strategy, I know, this myth does not make any sense.

And players believe this regardless of whether they are playing online blackjack or blackjack in a brick and mortar casino. Some are absolutely steadfast in this myth.

In truth they are only hurting their own blackjack odds.

Here is what happens in the mind of blackjack player who believes this myth—this is their reasoning. They are afraid of hitting and receiving a 10. They believe that the dealer’s hole card is a 10—another no-no in blackjack—and that if the dealer was dealt a 2 and a 10; and if they stand then the dealer will receive that 10 and bust.

They have this idea that if they hit they will only receive a 10. In their mind there is no other card that they could receive. So they will stand and hope the dealer gets the 10.

But here are the odds: standing on a hard 12 against a dealer’s 2 will cause you to lose 65% of the time while only winning 35% of the time.

On the other hand, if you hit like basic strategy tells you to, you will only lose 63% but you will win 37% of the time.

Yes, in the long run the odds are against the blackjack player in the long run. But look at the winning percentages: you will win 37% of the time if you hit. That is 2% more than if you were to stand. Granted 2% is not a lot, but I will take that 37% chance of winning rather than give it up.

Besides believing that you can only hit a hard 12 and receive a 10 in blackjack just seems, well, rather limiting. It also sounds a little like chopping off your nose to spite your face blackjack style.

Worst Stiff Hand in Blackjack

It is never fun to be dealt a stiff hand in blackjack. You always feel like you have lost the round before it is even your turn to play. Or in the case of online blackjack, as soon as you see the cards you have been dealt.

You wind up basing your play off of whatever up card the dealer has. For hard hands 13 through 16 you stand if the dealer is showing a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. And if he is showing a 7, 8, 9, 10 or Ace you hit. A hard 12 is the same except that you do hit when the dealer is showing a 2 or 3, so it is a little more flexible.

So if four of the five stiff hands are all played the same, which one is the worst one?

It would be the hard 16. Players have a 61% chance of busting with this hand. This is because when the dealer has a 7 or higher showing, the player’s best play is to hit. And there are only four cards that the player can receive that will not bust him: 2, 3, 4 and 5. That’s 4 out of 6 card types.

It naturally follows that the smaller the stiff hand the less of a chance there is of the player busting:

Hard 15: 59%
Hard 14: 56%
Hard 13: 52%
Hard 12: 48%

Notice that the hard 12’s chances of busting are less than 50%. This is because more than half of the card types that the blackjack player could receive will not cause him to bust.

The best you can do in blackjack is to play according to basic strategy and hope for the best. There really is not anything else that you can do. This is because you are too close to hit and not bust, but you are not high enough to really stand. Which is why every blackjack player hates being dealt stiff hands. At least in knowing the chances of busting, it can help a player feel a little better about hitting.

Dealing with a Hard 12

Stiff hands are miserable to get in blackjack. There is a feeling of losing before the round before the game really gets going. And in blackjack—be in online blackjack or blackjack in a brick and mortar casino—you are going to be dealt a stiff hand around 43% of the time.

But of all those stiff hands one is not as bad as the other hands. That stiff hand is a hard 12.

Thankfully a hard 12 offers us a little bit more room to work with than the other stiff hands we could be dealt in blackjack.

For starters let’s look at the plays recommended by basic strategy. For a hard 13 through hard 16 the basic strategy recommended plays are the same: if the dealer’s up card is a 2-6, stand and if the dealer’s up card is 7 through an Ace, hit.

But a hard 12 is different. Basic strategy recommends standing only on a dealer’s 4-6. If the dealer has a 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10 or Ace the recommended play is to hit. That alone gives the player some more room to work with this stiff hand in a game of blackjack.

On a side note, you can win 37% of the time when you hit a hard 12 against the dealer’s 2 or 3. Standing will only allow you to win 35% of the time. I do not know about you, but when it comes to a stiff hand, I will take that extra 2% any day.

So why is it recommended to hit a hard 12 against a 2 or 3? Mostly it has to do with the dealer’s chances of busting.

The dealer has the highest chances of busting when he has a 4, 5 or 6 showing. This is why you stand against those three so that you can leave the path to him busting open. All the other up cards have less than a 40% chance of busting. And since a hard 12 still offers a chance of not busting because of it being a lower hand total than the other stiff hands it allows us the chance of hitting against a dealer’s 2 or 3.

That being said do not think the round of blackjack is entirely lost when you are dealt a hard 12. Thankfully, the odds in blackjack give you a little room to work with.