Difference between soft and hard hands in blackjack

If you’re at all familiar with the rules of blackjack, you probably know the difference between a soft hand and a hard hand. What you might not know is how basic strategy is affected by whether a total is soft or hand. That’s what we’re here to explain.

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Definition of hard and soft hands

There are two basic types of blackjack hands: hard and soft. The difference between them depends on whether the hand features an Ace, and whether that Ace can play both high and low without the total exceeding 21 points.

A hard hand is one without an Ace, or where an Ace can only count as one point. For example: a Seven, an Eight and an Ace makes a hard total of 16, because the hand would bust (26 points) if the Ace counted as 11.

Soft hands, however, feature at least one Ace that can go both ways. For example: an Ace and a Five makes a soft total of 16. It is impossible to bust if you hit or double down on a soft hand, which means you can often play more aggressively than with a hard total of the same value.

How to play hard totals in 21

Hard hands in real money blackjack tend to require a slightly more conservative strategic approach than soft ones. That’s because it is possible to bust out if you hit or double on any total of 12 or higher.

With that being said, new players and part-time punters are often too cautious with hard totals. Too many beginners make the assumption that it’s always better to stand on a poor total than to risk busting. In truth, the odds of the game favour drawing on hard totals more often than not, especially when the dealer is showing a strong upcard.

Here is a basic strategy chart for hard hands in a regulation standard blackjack game. To find the correct play for any given situation, locate your hand total on the left and see where it intersects the column for the dealer’s upcard value.

Blackjack strategy for hard hands

H = Hit
S = Stand
Dh = Double if allowed, otherwise hit

You can use this strategy for Classic Blackjack Gold and more online 21 games at Jackpot City Casino.

Blackjack strategy for soft hands

As we mentioned earlier, soft hands allow you to hit or double without fear of busting. However, not all flexible totals are truly ‘soft’ in a strategic sense. For instance, basic strategy for most BJ games says to always stand on 19 or higher, even with an Ace that can go either way. The same goes for a pair of Aces; it’s technically a soft 12, but most players split them whenever possible.

Nevertheless, there are more opportunities for aggressive play when your hand is malleable. This is especially true in American blackjack games where players can double down on any two cards. That free hit, so to speak, allows good strategists to take advantage of situations where the dealer has an awkward upcard.

That rule doesn’t apply in standard 21 games, which often restrict doubling to hard totals of nine, 10, or 11 points. Thus, we’ll show you the basic strategy chart for soft hands according to liberal Vegas blackjack rules. When playing a standard game, simply hit or stand as appropriate instead of doubling down.

Blackjack strategy for soft hands

H = Hit
S = Stand
Dh = Double if allowed, otherwise hit
Ds = Double if allowed, otherwise stand

Should I double down on hard 12?

In US blackjack games with liberal rules on doubling down, some players like to contravene basic strategy by doubling on a hard total of 12 in certain situations. The question is: why would someone do this when a 10 – the most common card in the deck – would bust the hand?

If your answer had anything to do with card counting, you’re on the right track. Experienced counters can indeed take advantage by doubling down on 12 when the deck is light on high cards, but it’s a risky move in more than ways than one. Besides the obvious danger of deviating from conventional strategy and putting more money on the table, this expert play is a huge red flag for blackjack dealers and pit bosses. Do this in a Vegas casino, and you’ll be blacklisted before you can say “unfair”.

When the dealer hits soft 17

The Atlantic City casinos did their best to ruin 21 for everyone when they started instructing dealers to continue drawing cards on a soft total of 17. It might seem like a minor rule variation, but it can have significant consequences for both the player’s ideal strategy and their chances of winning.

For example, let’s say we’re playing a normal casino blackjack game with six decks, 3 to 2 payouts for natural 21, doubling after splitting, no resplits, no surrender and no dealer hole card. If the dealer stands on all hands of 17, the house edge comes to about 0.51 per cent; but if the croupier hits on soft 17, that figure rises to around 0.74 per cent. In blackjack terms, that’s a big hike in the casino’s advantage.

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