Frequency of Stiff Hands in Blackjack

Stiff hands are the worst hands to get in blackjack. They are not automatic losses; players still have a chance to win the round, but the odds are not with the player, they are with the dealer. But how often do blackjack players really have to contend with stiff hands?

Stiff hands, for the record, are hard 12s through hard 17s. I include hard 17 in this because even though players always stand on it for being too high to hit, it does not have the odds that blackjack players believe. As for how often players should expect to be dealt a stiff hand, it is about 43% of the time.

I know, that is a lot. But stop and remember that blackjack players will lose to the house 52% of the time; most of those losses are wrapped up in that 52% of total losses. Around 83% of your money that goes to the house happens with those stiff hands. And all you can really do is make you play and hope for the best because the odds are not on your side with those hands.

So what do you do when you are dealt one of those stiff hands, knowing that you are looking at odds stacked against you?

The best option blackjack players have in the instance of stiff hands is to play the best statistical play; and we all know that those plays are found on a basic strategy chart. That chart will tell you if it is better for you to hit, stand or even surrender (if the casino gives blackjack players that option).

Why Hitting a Hard 12 Against a 2 or 3 is the Way to Go

Basic strategy is often abused. Players think they are adhering to it when they are not. And when you do not play basic strategy perfectly, the house edge cannot be lowered to 0.5%. Two of the most commonly misplayed scenarios are a hard 12 against a dealer 2 or 3.

Hard 12 is one of the stiff hands, meaning it is one of those hands with a high shot of losing but still has a shot at winning. In other words they are underdog hands. Basic strategy for those hands was calculated to give the play that would do the least amount of damage should the player lose. And, let’s face it, those hands do have a larger chance of losing than winning.

Most hard hands are played like this: if the dealer has a 6 or less, then stand; but if he has a 7 or greater, then go ahead and hit. The only stiff hand that is the exception to that rule is the hard 12; for that hand players are advised to hit against a dealer’s 2 or 3 rather than stand. This is because the average amount of money lost when hitting is less than average amount lost when standing. Check it out (figured from a $100 wager):

Average amount lost when hitting against a 2: $25
Average amount lost when standing against a 2: $29

Average amount lost when hitting against a 3: $23
Average amount lost when standing against a 3: $25

When put into money terms it is easy to understand. However, many blackjack players, experienced ones too, will stand against a 2 or 3. I think players make the mistake because all of the other stiff hands are advised to stand against a dealer 2 or 3; so they play a hard 12 in the same way even though a hard 12 is better off being hit against a 2 or 3. All it takes is sticking to what the basic strategy chart says. The good thing about basic strategy is it can be used in online casinos like Online Vegas without it being illegal or frowned upon by the online casino.

Blackjack Strategy: More Pair Splitting!

This is the last of the pair splitting post, I swear. But what would a mutli-part discussion on pair splitting blackjack strategy be without a post devoted to pairs of 8s? It would be incomplete, that is what. So here it is blackjack strategy meets a pair of 8s.

Unlike pairs of 5s and 10s, and like a pair of Aces, a pair of 8s should always be split.

Why do you not split a pair of 8s?

Let me ask you what is 8 + 8? The answer is 16. So a pair of 8s is the same thing as a hard 16. And we all know how much we hate that hand. Nothing worse than a stiff hand, and a hard 16 is the worst. It is not high enough to win with, and it is also too high to hit.

In my opinion a hard 16 is the worst hand to have in blackjack. The only way you can win with it is if the dealer busts because there are five totals that are higher than your 16, all of which the dealer can stand on.

If that alone is not enough to convince you not to split your pair of 8s, ask yourself which you would rather have: one 16 that does not have a decent shot at winning. Or would you rather have two hands that each start with 8?

You should have said two hands that start with 8. This is because, while the chances are not stellar, you do have a better chance of building a stronger hand by starting each hand with an 8 than you do of winning with a hard 16.

Splitting a pair of 8s is on a basic strategy chart, which is legal to use in brick and mortar casinos and in online blackjack. But you have to use it, to make it a part of your blackjack strategy, in order for it to be effective. That includes splitting a pair of 8s when it tells you to. And besides it is just good blackjack strategy to split 8s.

Blackjack Strategy: Splitting Aces

To go along with the stories of mistakes made while playing blackjack, I will talk about another one this afternoon: splitting Aces. Similar to how soft hands are often misplayed, pairs are often misplayed, although soft hands are more often played wrong than pairs. A lack of blackjack strategy is involved here.

And while players do not seem willing to embrace the aspect that makes a soft hand soft, players will fall into one of two camps in regards to splitting pairs: split them all or split none of them.

And neither blackjack camp is correct.

Good blackjack strategy has players not splitting some pairs and splitting others. One of those pairs that, according to good blackjack strategy, should be split all of the time is a pair of Aces.

Think about it. If you value both Aces at 11 it gives you a hand total of 22, which is stupid and an instant bust. And valuing them both at 1 seems rather silly. We are left to value one card at 11 and one at 1, which is a hand total of 12. Uh oh, you now have a hard 12, one of the infamous stiff hands. What is a blackjack player to do?

Split those Aces!

It does not matter what the dealer’s up card is, a pair of Aces is always split–your blackjack odds are better overall to do so.

Splitting a pair of Aces gives you two hands that both start at 11, which is solid ground to stand on to build two strong hands. In fact there is not a single card that you can draw that would bust you; a card worth 2 through 10 would give you a total of 13 through 21. If you were to receive another Ace you could split again if house rules allowed you to, or would be left with a 12—which is no worse than how you started.

When thinking about your blackjack strategy ask yourself which you would rather have: a single hard 12 or two hands that start at 11? When considering blackjack strategy the answer should be simple. Split, split, split.

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 Odds with a Dealer 5 or 6

Okay this one is something of a blackjack myth, but it does have an impact on your blackjack odds.

Players tend to believe that when the dealer deals himself a 5 or 6 up that they are sure to win. They know that 5s and 6s are the weakest up cards for the dealer to have in blackjack. So they will automatically begin counting up the money they are sure is coming their way.

However, those 5s and 6s are not quite as much of a sure thing as you might think they are. In fact the dealer has less than a 50% chance of busting with those up cards. With a 5 showing the dealer only has a 41.8% chance of busting. And with a 6 up he only stands a 42.3% chance of busting.

So how does this translate to blackjack odds?

Well the dealer has to play until he can stand on a hard 17 and higher or until he busts. He will not finish with a 16 or below like a player can. So there are chances for him to win:

5 up:
12.2% on 17
12.2% on 18
11.8% on 19
11.2% on 20
10.8% on 21

6 up:
16.6% on 17
10.6% on 18
10.6% on 19
10.2% on 20
9.7% on 21

Any one of those other outcomes could happen. And they all mean that you could lose, giving the dealer a 58.2% or 57.7% chance of winning respectively.

Typically when the dealer is showing a 5 or 6 the player is holding a stiff hand. In those cases we are hoping for the dealer to bust. But as you can see, he has a better shot of winning in total than he does in losing. Which means that your blackjack odds of winning are not as high as this blackjack myth leads players to believe.

This does not mean that players should feel any less for a 5 or 6 up card. It still remains that the dealer has the highest chance of busting in blackjack with a 5 or 6 showing. This only means that players’ blackjack odds are not as solid as they might think, and to not count their money before they have it.

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 Different Light on Stiff Hands

I hate stiff hands. You probably hate stiff hands. Any blackjack player worth their chips hates stiff hands. It doesn’t matter whether you play blackjack online or in a casino, stiff hands happen. Online blackjack, while there are some differences from regular casino, doesn’t differ in terms of being dealt a stiff hand.

On average blackjack players can expect to be dealt a stiff hand 43% of the time they play. While that’s still less than half of the time, it’s still a relatively high percentage. And it always feels higher when you’re actually playing.

What makes stiff hands so unappealing are their lack of flexibility and their lack of winning potential. If you’re dealt a hard 15 against a dealer’s 5 you know that if you stand you have a pretty good shot of losing the round. You also know that if you were to hit you would most likely bust.

But there’s another way to look at stiff hands, a way that might put your mind at ease a bit about standing or hitting with a stiff hand. And it has to do with the dealer’s chances of busting.

Let’s go back to the example I used a bit ago, the hard 15 against the dealer’s 5. When a dealer is showing a 5 he has about a 42% chance of busting. Same applies if he was showing a 6. Those two cards are the two that the dealer has the greatest chance of busting with.

The cards that the dealer has the greatest chances of busting with are 2 through 6. And wouldn’t you know it—it’s against those up cards that basic strategy recommends standing against. This is because if the dealer stands a higher chance of busting it makes sense for the player to stand. The dealer busts, player wins.

The dealer has less of a chance of busting with a 7 through an Ace showing. Again look at what basic strategy is telling you: to hit your stiff hand against those up cards. The theory behind this is that if you stand you have a very good shot of losing, so go ahead and hit and see if you get lucky with a low card. It’s one of things in which you give it your best shot.

Keep in mind when you’re playing blackjack, be it online blackjack or blackjack in a casino, that there is a reason and statistical calculation behind the recommended play. Bearing that in mind and thinking on the reasons for a play can help y

What Makes Stiff Hands so Stiff

We hate them. We hate being dealt them. We know that when we do see these cards in blackjack that we have a pretty decent shot of either busting or being beat. They’re hands that you could say the following of: “You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.”

I’m talking about stiff hands in blackjack. It doesn’t matter if we are playing blackjack online or in a casino. Those would be hard 12 through hard 16. They aren’t strong hands. But they’re big enough that hitting on them gives you a pretty decent shot of busting.

With the exception of a hard 12, basic strategy advises to stand on all of them when faced with a dealer’s up card of 2 through 6; and it advises to hit if facing a dealer’s up card of 7 through Ace.

Unfortunately those are the only options available to us. Unless you’re lucky enough to be playing blackjack at a table that allows for surrender; and then you had better be surrendering a hard 15 against a dealer’s 10 or a hard 16 against a dealer’s 9 through Ace.

These hands are stiff because the odds of them being successful hands are against the blackjack player. There isn’t really a play that will turn them around into successful hands. And that’s why we hate being dealt these hands. Because we feel powerless to have an impact on our game when we are playing a game we are used to being able to impact.

And there is the crux of the stiff hands. Blackjack players feel powerless against them. The most we can do is hit or stand according to basic strategy and hope for the best.

Even though we do not stand a high chance of winning or impacting the odds of those hands, we have to keep the overall game of blackjack and our overall odds in mind. We can make the play that basic strategy recommends, and allow that play to work towards bringing the house edge down to 0.05%, which is what basic strategy does if we play according to it. And that means sucking it up when we lose and think of the bigger picture.

Sometimes in blackjack we have to accept that while we made lose a battle here and there, we are going to win the war.