## Soft Hands in Blackjack

Recently I talked a bit about the different types of hands players are going to find when playing blackjack. Most specifically I talked about hard hands and how best to play them. Today we are going to look at soft hands.

What sets soft hands aside from other hands in blackjack is their Aces. In order to be a soft hand the player must be holding an Ace. However the big misconception is that just because you have an Ace it means your hand is soft.

Not true.

A hand is only said to be soft in blackjack when the Ace is being valued at 11 and the possibility still exists to reduce that 11 to 1. It is the flexibility of the Ace’s value that makes the hand soft because it can change the value of, says, an Ace/5 from 16 to 6.

If the value of an Ace has already been reduced to 1 it is no longer considered a soft hand. This is because an Ace is usually reduced because the player hit and had to reduce the Ace to keep from busting. Obviously the player cannot increase the Ace back from 1 to 11 because they would bust. So since the Ace is no longer flexible in its value it is no longer a soft hand and is then considered a hard hand.

Because of the ability to change the Ace’s value, the blackjack strategy for soft hands differs from hard hands. There are some totals that players would stand on if it were a hard hand, but should hit if it is a soft hand.

For example, you would stand on a hard 18 against a dealer 9. But a soft 18 against a dealer 9 should be hit. And if your new card would take the soft 18 over 21, reduce the Ace to 1 and try rebuilding.

The trick to soft hand strategy in blackjack is to remember that Aces are flexible and to not be afraid to hit a soft total that you would normally stand on if it were a hard total. It takes a bit of getting used to, but if you practice blackjack and practice your basic strategy you will become comfortable with it.

## General Tips for Playing Soft Hands

Aces are the best cards in a game of blackjack. Your first thought as to why might be that an Ace is the best card because it is necessary to having a natural blackjack.

But if that were true, then why are cards worth 10 not considered the best?

Simply put, Aces are the best cards in blackjack because of their flexibility. Hands with Aces, called soft hands, do not bust like hard hands—hands without Aces—do. This is because Aces in blackjack start with a value of 11, but their value can be reduced to 1 if the player hits their hand too high.

For example, if you had a hard 16 versus a dealer up card of 5, you would not hit your hand because the chances of busting are too high. But with a soft 16 (an Ace with a five) you would hit against a dealer’s 5. If you receive a six or higher, the value of the Ace comes down from 11 to 1. So if you were to hit a soft 16 and receive an 8, your hand total would be 14 instead of 24, allowing you to still stay in the round.

But once an Ace is reduced to a 1 the hand then becomes a hard hand.

The general rule of thumb with a soft hand is that a soft 17 or lower should be hit, while a soft 18 or higher should stand—the hand value for a soft 18 and higher is too valuable to risk hitting and losing.

But the best way to play a soft hand in blackjack can be found on a basic strategy chart which is a chart with how to play every hand—soft, hard or pairs—in blackjack with the most advantageous play. But soft hand strategy should be studied so that opportunities to win money are not lost from misplaying those hands.

## Dealer Hitting Soft 17 is Not Good

Some players think that working in games that allow the dealer to hit a soft 17 is good for their blackjack strategy.

They would be mistaken.

Sure, on the surface a dealer hitting a soft 17 sounds like a good thing. Players might think that the dealer has a better shot of busting because he is so close to 21. But what these players are forgetting is that Ace. The Ace that makes that soft 17 soft can be reduced to a 1 if the dealer hits and receives a card that would cause him to bust.

Because of that Ace, dealers can actually reduce that 17 to an 8 and hit to rebuild a stronger hand. He might then wind up with a hard 17 or higher that stands a shot of beating the player. Just like how an Ace can benefit a player, so too can it benefit the dealer. A soft 17 can be rebuilt whereas a hard 17 has a better shot of being beat by the player.

With that ability to rebuild his soft 17, the house’s edge goes up by 0.2%.

That is quite an increase. Think about it. Basic strategy can lower the house edge to around 0.5%. But if one of the house rules allows the dealer to hit a soft 17 and the house gains 0.2% on their edge, that puts the house’s edge at 0.7%.

In short, playing in a game of blackjack that allows a dealer to hit a soft 17 undoes just under half of what basic strategy works to accomplish. That is a big impact to a player’s blackjack odds and to a player’s opportunities to make a profit from blackjack.

Hence trying to play in games that allow the dealer to hit a soft 17 are not just bad for blackjack strategy—they are very bad and should be avoided.

## 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 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!

## 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 Strategy: Two Card Soft 18 and Multi Card Soft 18

There are some hands in blackjack that who’s basic strategy plays just cause our brains to revolt. Our brains get hung up on the numbers, are so focused on the numbers, that they miss the finer points. One such hand is a soft 18.

A soft 18 consists of a 7 and an Ace. Our brains see that 18 and want to stand. But they are missing the fact that this is one of those flexible hands that have a chance of building into a better hand simply by hitting it. You do not have to worry about busting because you can reduce that Ace from 11 to 1 if you need to

In fact you cannot bust if you hit a soft 18. An Ace, 2 or 3 will give you a hand total of 19, 20 or 21—all strong hands. Anything 4 or more will cause you to reduce the Ace and you have decent ground to build strong.

This is why basic strategy dictates the following plays based on dealer up cards:

Dealer 2: stand
Dealer 3-6: double down
Dealer 7 and 8: stand
Dealer 9, 10, Ace: hit

As you can see, you are receiving another card more often than not. The only times you stand are the times when the dealer is in a good chance to build a hand stronger than yours if you were to hit.

But the soft 18 confusion does not end here. There must be something about having an Ace in hand that makes it a harder hand to know how to play.

I have heard of players who are fine and well with a two card soft 18, but if they start with a two card 7, hit and receive an Ace, the confusion begins again. But the truth is that a two card soft 18 is no different than a three card soft 18. It is still a soft 18 and that Ace can still be reduced, and a 4/3 is still worth 7. So the same plays can be made.

Your blackjack strategy for a soft 18 does not differ from your blackjack strategy for a soft 18 made up of three cards. Or even from four cards. The whole point is that you have an Ace and some other cards that are worth 7. Every player needs to train themselves to see past the obvious hand total on the surface and look at what cards are making up that hand total.

## Knowing When to Double Down on Soft Hands

Soft hands tend to throw some blackjack players off. Most tend to play them as if they were hard hands. Sometimes this works and other times players are not playing their blackjack hands to the greatest advantage.

And you should want the greatest advantage.

Even if a player is playing according to basic strategy the casino will still have the advantage. It does not matter if you are playing blackjack online or in a brick and mortar casino, the house will still have around a 0.5% advantage over you.

And because they will always have the advantage over the player (other than skilled card counting players) you should always want to play your hand to the greatest advantage in blackjack.

Stiff hands and soft hands are the hardest hands to play. There is nothing you can really do about stiff hands other than play them according to basic strategy. But soft hands do not have to be played like a hard hand—they have flexibility that other hands in blackjack do not.

Doubling down is one of the strongest plays a player can make in blackjack. It takes the most off the house’s edge out of all the plays and blackjack rules: 0.6% is knocked off.

But many players do not know when the best times to double down with a soft hand—they are on the tricky side after all. There is actually an easy rule to go by to know when to double down:

Add up your non-Ace card and the dealer’s up card. If the total is 9 or higher then go ahead and double down. But if the total of your non-Ace card and the dealer’s up card is less than 9 do not double down. Easy right?

## Bad House Rule: Dealer Can Hit Soft 17

I have noticed something rather interesting of late pertaining to blackjack. There seems to have been an increase in blackjack games that allow the dealer to hit on a soft 17. And this happens with the casino industry being hit harder by a hurting economy and an increase in online blackjack.

On the surface a dealer hitting a soft 17 does not sound like too big of a deal. If you are shrugging your shoulders and saying, ‘Yeah, so what?’ then you obviously have no idea what a dealer hitting a soft 17 does to the house edge.

Let me ask you, would you like the house’s edge to be increased by 0.2%? No? Then you need to avoid playing blackjack games, be they online blackjack games or brick and mortar blackjack games, that allow the dealer to hit a soft 17. That house rule does exactly that: increase the house edge by 0.2%.

The reason for the increase is the same reason why blackjack players like being dealt Aces. Not only are they key to a natural blackjack, but Aces are the only flexible cards in blackjack. They start with a value of 11 but can be reduced to 1 if necessary. And that is why the house edge goes up if the dealer can hit a soft 17.

Sure the dealer has just as much of a chance of busting as a blackjack player does when hitting a soft 17, but when the dealer does not bust his chances of having a final hand total greater than 17 are also a lot higher. Hence the house increase of 0.2%

And 0.2% is a pretty good chunk. It can give back just under half of what basic strategy reduces the house edge to, making it increase from 0.5% to 0.7%. Why give the house anymore help increasing their odds against you? It is in the best interest for your blackjack odds and the effectiveness of your blackjack strategy to avoid blackjack games, online or not, that allow the dealer to hit a soft 17.

## Blackjack Myth—Always Stand on Soft 18

I have said it before and I will say it again. Soft hands are some of the most misplayed hand in blackjack. I have seen a good number of blackjack players who, while they can handle their hard hands, do not seem to know what to do with soft hands. And a soft 18 is one of those misplayed blackjack hands.

A fair amount of blackjack players will stand on a soft 18. To them it seems like there is no other possible way to play this hand. They get caught up in the 18 part and forget about the Ace.

When facing down a dealer’s 2 or 7 standing is a decent play to make. And you are most likely going to bust when faced with a dealer’s 9, 10 or Ace.

But what about when facing some of the dealer’s weaker hands, like a 3, 4, 5 or 6? Those are his weakest up cards and you do have that Ace in your hand…

The most advantageous play that you can make here is to double down. Part of your blackjack strategy is to exploit the dealer’s weaknesses. Standing is not exploiting those weaknesses. Hitting is a little better, but when faced with a 3 through 6 you really need to be doubling down.

Now, a soft 18 will lose you \$18 for every \$100 that you wager. This is not weak, it just is thanks to that 2, 7, 9, 10 and Ace. But by hitting and doubling down rather than just standing you can reduce that loss to \$14 per \$100.

The whole point of having a blackjack strategy is to take advantage and profit on the dealer’s weaknesses, and to minimalize the losses when such situations come up. Playing according to blackjack myths is not going to help you.

In the case of this myth, you might think that you are doing your blackjack strategy and your blackjack odds a favor, but the truth is that you are not. So do it, hit or double down on a soft 18 when you can.