Hard Hands in Blackjack

In the game of blackjack there are three types of hands: hard hands, soft hands and pairs. Each of these types of blackjack hands has a different type of strategy. This is because each type of hand has something about it that makes it different.

Hence, different types.

Moving on, we are going to look at hard hands and blackjack strategy for hard hands today.

In blackjack, hard hands are the most basic of hands. The two cards that make them up are not worth the same value each and neither card has a flexible value. Because of those simple little facts, hard hands are the easiest hands to play…most of the time.

They are easy to play and are often the first hands novice players learn strategy for because there are no special tricks available for them. You can hit, stand of double down on them. All you need to do as the player is decide if your hand total is low enough to hit or high enough to stand.

As a rule of thumb, a hard hand of 17 or higher and players will stand. It is too high to hit safely, and other than the hard 17, stand a fair chance of beating the dealer.

Some of hard 9s, hard 10s and hard 11s can be doubled down on. This allows players to make twice the amount in winnings off of one hand than they would without doubling down.

While many new blackjack players who are just starting out will not bother overly much with strategy, these hands thankfully are not too hard to play. The majority of them can be played with common sense.

However for the player who wants to get the most out of his hard hands and to begin building his blackjack strategy and skills, the best recourse is to check out basic strategy. This is a chart that gives the best statistical play to make for each hand against each dealer’s up card. Playing each hand according to basic strategy can lower the house edge to 0.5%. This takes the guess work out of deciding how to play your hard hands in blackjack.

Oh, and one more benefit—it is legal to use in casinos. Now take it to the blackjack table and use it for your hard hands.

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 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.

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.

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—Always Insure a Blackjack or 20

The only time that this myth would come up is when you are dealt a natural blackjack or a 20 and the dealer has an Ace showing. In fact, the only time you are offered insurance in blackjack is when the dealer has an Ace showing.

The belief on this blackjack myth might sound reasonable, but it is in fact not practical. Here are the reasons these myth-believing blackjack players will insure their blackjacks and 20s:

– If you insure your blackjack you will get an even money payout no matter what even if the dealer has a blackjack.

– If you insure your 20 and the dealer does have blackjack you will wind up with the equivalent of an even money payout because you will lose that round’s wager, but will collect on the insurance bet.

The belief in this myth is that you are protecting your hand. The problem is that when you are protecting it you are costing yourself more money.

When you insure your blackjack you are losing out on your potential profits. By ensuring a blackjack you are taking a payout of 1-1 and giving up your 3-2 payout. Breaking that 3-2 down looks like this: 1.04-1. And 1.04 is greater than 1-1. Taking insurance, ergo even money, on a blackjack is costing you 4% of your potential profit. So while insurance might feel safer, it is more expensive in the long run to your profit.

As for insuring your 20, that is just not practical. What is a hard twenty made of? It is made up of two 10s. It is one of those pairs that you do not split. Think of this: you are holding two of the cards the dealer needs. This lessens the dealer’s chances of having a blackjack, and it lessens your chances of collecting on your insurance bet because you need him to have a 10. So put all of your chances on yourself and do not take insurance.

Part of your blackjack strategy is playing smart. Not all the tips you hear on the casino floor and in online blackjack forums are good ones. Take some time and think about the blackjack tips you find, maybe even do a little bit of research one them, before putting all your belief behind them. You might even try them out in a free-play mode of an online casino to see how they work.

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.