Doubling Down on Soft Hands

Soft hands can be surprisingly hard to play in blackjack. I know, the name does not make these hands sound all that bad. But in blackjack having an Ace dealt to you at the beginning of a round can be a good thing and a bad thing.

The good thing about an Ace in blackjack is that you have the ability to change the value of that Ace if you need to. Aces start out with a value of 11 in blackjack. But if the player hits too high, that Ace can be reduced to a 1 to save the hand from busting. Think of it as having a second chance for your hand.

On the other hand, that ability to reduce can make it difficult to know how to play your hand. If you have a hard 14 versus a dealer’s 3 you would stand. But if that was a soft 14 against a dealer’s 3 you would hit. See what I mean? That Ace can make things a little trickier.

This also applies to knowing when to double down on a soft hand. And you want to double down every chance you get. It is one of the most advantages plays that a blackjack player has in his arsenal of plays. Doubling down when it is most advantageous hits the house’s edge for 1.6%. That is a big hit to them and you need to be hitting them like that when you can.

This does not mean doubling down on every hand or even on every soft hand. There is a simple little rule that you can add to your blackjack strategy tool bag: the rule of 9.

The way the rule of 9 works is simple. Take the value of the card in your hand that is not the Ace, then add that value to the value of the dealer’s up card. If the total is 9 or more you should double down. And if the total of your non-Ace card and the dealer’s up card is less than 9 you should hit.

Let’s say you have an Ace/6 against a dealer’s 4. Adding 6 and 4 together gives you 10; and since that passes the minimum of 9, you should double down on that ace/6 you are holding. But if you had an Ace/4 against a dealer’s 3, the 4 and 3 would only total 7; in that case you would hit since 7 is less than 9.

See, it is an easy rule to use. And you can use it for blackjack online just as easily as blackjack played in a brick and mortar casino.

Adding the rule of 9 to your blackjack strategy arsenal can help improve your strategy, make it stronger. With a stronger blackjack strategy—especially for doubling down—you can improve your blackjack odds.

Other Ways to Win in Blackjack

When playing blackjack, players tend to get very focused on being deal that 21. But it isn’t the only way to win in blackjack as we all know. Remember that the objective of blackjack is to beat the dealer without going over 21. This doesn’t mean that a natural 21 is the only way to beat the dealer—it’s just the most popular.

In blackjack, 70% of your offensive hands will be won with either a natural blackjack or its closest runner a 10/10. But what about the other 30% of offensive hands? They are made up of five hands: a 10/9, an Ace/9, an Ace/8, a hard 11 and a hard 10.

But in order to make the most of these winning hands they must be played the right way. And, yes, in blackjack these hands do have a right way of being played. So we’re going to take a look at them and what to do with them.

Ace/10
This is the much coveted natural blackjack. These two cards are the only ones that can make a natural blackjack, although the 10 could also be a face card. If you’re dealt these cards, congratulate yourself and collect your money.

10/10
This hand is often misplayed because the first thing that blackjack players see is that it’s a pair. But not every pair is made to be split. And this is one of them. It’s folly to split a 10/10 because you don’t have good chances of building two hands that are just as strong. So leave them unsplit.

10/9
This would be known as a hard 19, and after a hard 20 it is the next strongest hand to have. You can only be beat if the dealer has or hits to 20 or 21, or if he has a natural 21.

Ace/9
This is another hand that blackjack players will sometimes stumble on. And it’s because of the Ace. They see that this is a soft hand and assume that hitting is the right play to make. But this is actually a soft 20, and if you stand on it, it’s just as strong as a hard 20 in playing terms.

Ace/8
This hand is treated in a way that is similar to the Ace/9. Blackjack players will hit on it when they should be standing. It’s only a hard 19, but played as a 19 it is worth more than if it’s hit on.

Hard 11
With this hand the best play to make is to double down. This is a strong hand to start on and even though you are only receiving one more card, it still has a good chance of being high enough to beat the dealer and collect double the winning amount. The best time to double down on a hard 11 is when faced with a dealer’s 10 or anything less.

Hard 10
Like the hard 11, this hand is best played and most profitable when a blackjack player double downs on it. But the best times to double down on it is when faced with a dealer’s 9 or less.

Keep these hands and how they are played in your mind when you are at the computer playing blackjack online or are playing blackjack at the casino. It doesn’t matter which place you’re playing at because these hands’ worths and plays are the same for both casino blackjack and online blackjack.

The Thing with Soft Hands

Blackjack is one of the easiest games to play in the realm of casino games. Essentially if you can add up to 21 then you can play blackjack.

The strategy available for blackjack is also very simple. Basic strategy is the easiest strategy to use and have such a significant impact on the house edge.

So with both of those considered how is it that blackjack players keep misplaying soft hands?

To put the answer simply, since this is blackjack after all, is that players are misplaying their hands. Specifically soft hands.

I’m not sure how this is managed considering that basic strategy will tell a player the best way to play out every hand, including soft hands. So the problem is that players aren’t using the chart. As a result they are playing soft hands as if they were hard hands.

There’s a reason that a hand with an Ace has a different name from a hand that doesn’t have one.

And it is that Ace that makes the difference.

Blackjack players should be wanting soft hands because they offer more flexibility than hard hands. This is because that Ace can be reduced from an 11 to a 1.

Let’s look at an example. If you were dealt a hard 16 against a dealer showing a 3 you would stand. A good number of blackjack players will stand on an Ace/5 as well because they only see that the total is 16. They miss that Ace entirely.

If they were to check a basic strategy chart they would see that the correct play is to hit. You can hit a soft 16 because you have the power to reduce that Ace to a 1 if you have to.

It’s this flexibility that gives soft hands a different playing strategy on the chart from hard hands. If soft hands were meant to be played the same as a hard hand they wouldn’t have a separate name and a separate section on a basic strategy chart.

While you might be embarrassed to take a basic strategy chart to the blackjack table, it can seriously improve your odds of winning. It’s worth holding your pride in check and using the chart. If you’re really self conscious playing with the chart, practice playing blackjack online with it or simply stick to playing online blackjack.

Blackjack’s Rule of 9

Doubling down is one of the most advantageous blackjack plays available to players. It allows us to make the most money possible off of one hand.

And it’s easy to know when to double down on a hard hand. Or more precisely which hands to double down on and when: hard 9 against a dealer’s 3 through 6; hard 10 against a dealer’s 2 through 9; and hard 11 against a dealer’s 2 through 10.

But while hard hands are pretty easy to deal with in terms of double downs, soft hands aren’t quite as easy. This is a result of that Ace that we all love. Blackjack players aren’t sure whether to hit or stand. So it makes blackjack players even a little more confused as to when to double down. True players can always check a basic strategy chart. But in the case of doubling down n a soft hand there is another way to figure out whether to or not.

Before I get into the Rule of 9, you need to know that can be eliminated from considering: Ace/7, Ace/8 and Ace/9. Why are these hands already eliminated? Look at their hand totals: 18, 19 and 20. All three of those are hands that you would stand on if they were hard. So stand on them as if they were hard—don’t even think about throwing a strong hand away.

That leaves Ace/2 through Ace/6 up for play in the Rule of 9. With these five hands you can use the Rule of 9 to determine whether to double down on these soft hands or not.

The Rule of 9 is easy to use. Take the non-Ace card of your hand, add it with the dealer’s up card and if the total is 9 or more then you will want to double down. If it’s less than you will hit.

For example if you have an Ace/5 against a dealer’s 4, add the 5 and 4 together; you get 9 which means to double down. Now if you have an Ace/5 against a dealer’s 2, the 5 and 2 only add up to 7 which means that you don’t double down.

The Rule of 9 isn’t limited to only casino blackjack—it can be used in online blackjack too.

See, the Rule of 9 is easy to use and can be paired with basic strategy to make your blackjack strategy a little faster and a little easier to manage. And an easier managed blackjack strategy means an improved game over all.

Why Aces are Your Best Friends

Flexibility works in favor of the blackjack player.

We have more choices when it comes to what plays we can make. You can choose when to stand too. A dealer can only hit or stand. And they have to keep hitting until they have 17 or higher or they bust.

But what about flexibility when it comes to the cards in blackjack?

That one should be easy. Aces are the only flexible cards in the whole of blackjack. And if there’s another card that can change value and is therefore better than an Ace you tell me.

Aces are the best cards in all of blackjack. For one thing they are the essential card for a natural blackjack. It’s impossible to have blackjack without it. Sure you can hit and be lucky enough to hit to 21 but it’s not the same as blackjack, and the dealer can swipe your money out from under you if he has a natural to counter your more-than-two-cards 21.

So after being the key to having a natural blackjack, the next best thing about Aces is that you can change what they’re worth. They’ll usually start out as an 11 but if you hit too hard, you can reduce that 11 to a 1. Think of it as giving your hand a second chance.

And that’s really what an Ace gives you—if it doesn’t give you blackjack right off the bat.

Aces make up soft hands because you can change the value of that Ace. Say for example you have a 7/8 better known as a hard 15. Depending on the dealer’s up card, you’re hitting with a good shot at busting, or you’re standing with a good shot at the dealer having a higher total.

But if you have a 15 made up of Ace/4 it’s soft so you can hit it and if you need to, reduce it from 11 to 1. That’s how having an Ace can give your hand a second chance.

So between being the necessary card for a natural blackjack and having the ability to change the value, an Ace in blackjack is your best friend.

How to Play with Soft Hands–Soft 18

Similar to soft 17, soft 18 is another hand that blackjack players tend to play timidly.

It always boils down to that feeling of relief: “I have 18. I’m good. I have a shot at winning. And I don’t have to worry about busting.”

If you’re choosing to stand on soft 18, you might as well have been dealt a hard 18 if you’re going to ignore the opportunity offered to you by having been dealt that Ace.

So if that’s the way you want to play then let’s take a moment to look at hard 18. Basic strategy says to stand on hard 18. And it’s obvious logic that you do since hitting will most likely bust you.

But soft 18 is not hard 18, ergo the difference in names and ergo the need to treat them differently.

Your best chance of winning happens when the dealer’s upcard is a 2 through an 8, so it’s good strategy to stand on a soft 18 when faced with those dealer up cards. Here’s why.

Always figuring that his hole card is a 10, that would mean he would have a 12 through 18. He would have to hit on his 12 through 16 and stands a pretty decent chance of busting. And he would stand on his 17 or 18; the 17 you would beat and the 18 you would push, so at least you wouldn’t lose money there. So stand on a soft 18 against a 2 through 8—same as you would if you had a hard hand.

Here’s where your blackjack strategy is different from how you would play a hard 18.

You need to hit if you are facing a dealer 9, 10 or Ace. Factoring that assumed 10 hole card, he has 19, 20 or blackjack. And you can’t beat that if you stand on a soft 18. This is knowing your opponent and trying to find the most advantageous play.

Hitting here reduces your soft 18 to a hard 8. You can hit for a combination of low cards that can add up to at least 19, if not 20 or 21.

If it is allowed and you are a card counter and the deck is rich in high cards, you should double down if facing a dealer’s 3 through 6. That would reduce your soft 18 to a hard 8, which you can hit and still have a shot at coming in close to 21 and stay under as long as the deck is rich in high cards. Yes, it’s a gamble, but this is blackjack, not Monopoly.

Always think of what that hole card is, imagine it as a 10. Your blackjack strategy for soft hands should reflect that flexibility of the Ace you’re holding. Remember that some hands will be played the same as a hard hand and others won’t. The best fall-back is to play according to basic strategy—that chart will give you the best plays for soft hands if you can’t remember.