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A guide to Blackjack hands

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A guide to Blackjack hands

A guide to Blackjack hands

Tue Feb 15 2022 07:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Welcome to the wonderful world of blackjack hands and the strategies you need to beat the house. Let’s unpack the different blackjack hands and how best you can use them to boost your gameplay and get great returns when you first take to the table.

As one of the most popular games played online or in physical casinos, a fair amount of mystique has built up around the best strategies to deploy in a game of blackjack. Novice players are often too easily drawn in by the complicated strategies and betting systems developed by the ever-increasing number of casino gurus out there before examining their own performances and in-game reactions.

Now is your chance to get a brief overview of some of the hands you will likely come across in a typical game of blackjack, along with some strategies to help you deal with them.

Get to know the terminologies in blackjack

Understand how to play blackjack first as a guide to learning how blackjack hands work. Here is a list of the basic terms used in blackjack:

  • Ace: The Ace card can either represent the numerical value of 1 or 11.
  • Bet Limits: The minimum and the maximum limit for your wager.
  • Bust: A card that exceeds the maximum count of 21 on your or the dealer’s hand.
  • Hand: A set of cards held by the dealer or player.
  • Hit: This is when you request another card and add it to your hand.
  • Hole Card: A face-down card that belongs to the dealer.
  • House Edge: It is the percentage of how much the casino stands to receive from you when you play. In blackjack, the house edge can vary based on the number of cards in a deck.
  • Perfect Pairs: Two identical cards that are dealt with a single hand.
  • Split: Placing the same wager on another hand for a chance to double your wins.
  • Stand/Stay: The player decides if they don’t need any more cards and will keep the hand they’re dealt with.
  • Stand-Off/Tie: Your hand matches the dealer’s and you both didn’t reach bust.
  • Surrender: Forfeit the match and get only half of your wager back.
  • Wager: This is the amount of money you bet in a game.

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Four types of blackjack hands

There are 4 ways to win in Blackjack if you’re lucky enough to land any of these hands:

#1. Soft hand vs. Hard hand

For both types, an Ace is necessary to have in your hand for it to be considered a soft hand or a hard hand. The difference, though, is how the Ace is used in the hand you’re dealt with.

A soft hand holds an Ace with a numerical value of 11 without reaching a bust. This rule does not apply if there are high-ranked cards such as 10, Jack, Queen, and King. Having an Ace with a low-valued card like 3 can have a total value of 4 or 14.

On the other hand, a hard hand is when you hit for a third card and its value is 10 or higher. When this happens, the value of Ace automatically becomes 1 by default to prevent you from busting. Another way to consider it a hard hand is that it doesn’t include an Ace, instead it holds a high-valued card that reaches 16.

#2. Stiff hands

A stiff hand means that your starting hand has already reached a total value of a 2-digit number ranging from 12-17. It’s called a stiff hand because there is a high risk of getting a bust if you end up drawing a high-valued card.

It’s considered a bad hand when you get a total value of 15 or 16 at the beginning of the round. There is a high probability of getting a high-value card when you hit and you could go bust.

#3. Doubling down

If you’re a high-roller, doubling down is the perfect way for you to earn high payouts from your hand when you play blackjack. It basically means to double the wager you placed at the beginning if you’re confident when you hit a third card.

There are rules to get a good chance at winning when you double down your cards. Your initial hand should either add up to 10 or 11 as a safe zone if you decide to hit. Take into account if the dealer’s card will be advantageous or disadvantageous to their hand before you double down.


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Soft hand card combinations and how to use them

Option 1: Soft 19 or 20

You’re dealt an Ace and a 9, totaling 20 in your hand.

What should you do?

This is the best possible soft hand you stand to get and will automatically give you the upper hand to win the round. All you need to do is stand. (i.e, stick with what you’ve got and request no more cards) Signal to the dealer that you require no more cards and wait for the outcome (which will likely be in your favor)

Option 2: Soft 18

You’re dealt an Ace and a 7, totaling 18 (depending on which cards the dealer draws)

Let’s say the dealer holds 2, up to 8 in their hand.

What should you do?

With a hand like this, always assume that the dealer is holding a 10, meaning their hand may well be stronger than your own. It’s best not to risk the game at this point and to stand rather than requesting another card. Again, Signal to the dealer that you require no more cards and wait for the outcome.

Option 3: Soft 17 rule

To understand the soft 17 rule, you must first understand what a soft 17 is. It is a blackjack hand that includes an Ace that is either counted as 1 or 11. A soft 17 can be formed in different ways, including having the following cards:

  • Ace - 6 hand
  • Ace - 2 - 2 - 2 hand
  • Ace - 3 - 3 hand

What makes this card value appealing to most blackjack players is that you can always add another card without the risk of going bust. This is because you can change the value of the Ace anytime to a 1 or 11, saving your hand from losing the round. So while a card value of 17 is already a good hand, the player can go for a higher total with a soft 17.

In contrast, a hard 17 is a blackjack hand without an Ace or an ace that can only be considered as 1 since if it is counted as 11, your hand total becomes a bust.

You’re dealt an Ace and a 6, totaling 17 (depending on which cards the dealer draws)

Let’s say the dealer holds a 3, 4, 5, or 6 in their hand.

What should you do?

In blackjack, the dealer either has to stand or hit on soft 17, depending on the casino. You can determine which rule the dealer has to follow on the table layout usually found next to the blackjack odds.

If it says S17, it means that the ‘Dealer Stands on Soft 17’. However, if you see an H17 sign, it means that the ‘Dealer Hits on Soft 17’. Keep these in mind and don’t get confused!

So, what happens when the soft 17 rule is used by the dealer? There are two possible scenarios: either the dealer busts their hand total or they make a better total which often ends up being a higher hand that defeats the player.

With the soft 17 rule, their chances of busting increase by 0.4%. But at the same time, their chances of forming a hand value of 18 or more increase by about 0.80%. In a nutshell, the soft 17 rule typically favors the dealer in most cases, and not the player.

Fortunately, you can make use of the blackjack soft 17 strategy to turn things around and win against the dealer. What makes soft 17 significantly different from other hands is that it also improves your hand total without making you lose your bets altogether.

You can opt for two options with a hand like this. You can either double down (i.e increase your bet) or otherwise hit (i.e ask for another card). If the dealer is holding 3, 4, 5, or 6, there is a good chance he’ll go bust. In a case like this, you may want to double your initial bet stake and try to take the house for a higher payout. Or you can opt to play it safe and stand with the cards you already have.

Option 4: Soft 16

You’re dealt an Ace and a 5, totaling 15/16 (depending on which cards the dealer draws)

Let’s say the dealer holds a 4, 5, or 6 in their hand.

What should you do?

The best move to make in a hand like this would be to double down against the dealer's hand, or if you’re feeling a little more cautious, you could choose to hit. Look out for cards like 5, 6, 7, or 8 as they’ll go a long way to improving your hand and subsequently winning the game.

Option 5: Soft 13 or 14

You’re dealt an Ace and a 2, totalling 13/14 (depending on which cards the dealer draws)

Let’s say the dealer holds a 5 or 6 in their hand.

What should you do?

This is by far one of the least helpful hands you stand to get, but nonetheless, it is still a soft hand, so there is still the chance to beat the house. The best option to win the round is to hit.

Also, be on the lookout for cards like 5, 6, 7, or 8. These can help give you the upper hand and win the game.

Misplaying a hand: what does it mean?

When players misplay a hand, it means that they have somehow underutilised the hand they have been dealt relative to those already on the table. Misplaying hands is a mistake even the most advanced players can sometimes make. However, once you become aware of the hands that are commonly misplayed, you can significantly reduce the chances that you will fall prey to them.

With that said, here is a brief overview of some of the most commonly misplayed hands, along with a brief description of what to do when you encounter them.

A pair of 9s versus a single 9

If you are dealt a pair of 9s (hard 18) and the dealer also shows a 9, you might be tempted to stand given that you have a hard 18. Statistically speaking, however, your chances of winning increase if you opt to split instead of stand.

If you have a hard 18 against a solo 9, the chances of you winning are 8 out of 20. However, if you choose to split those two 9 cards, each of the 9s has a chance of winning 9.5 hands out of every 20. This may not seem like much of a difference, but that is a significant statistical increase compared to choosing to stand on the hard 18.

A 12 card against a 3

Typically, in a game of blackjack, conventional wisdom dictates that players will stand if the dealer shows a low-numbered card. However, if the dealer shows a 3 card and you have been dealt a 12, this conventional wisdom might not give you the best chances of success.

Statistics dictate that you can only go bust on a 12 with a 10 card or any of the face cards. This means that your chances of winning are decent, as you have a solid prospect of scoring a high hand from between 17 to 21 if you choose to take a hit. Furthermore, a 3 card is not quite as weak as you might think, and the chances of the dealer going bust aren’t high compared to other low cards. For this reason, if you get dealt a 12 and the dealer shows a 3 card, taking a hit has a good chance of leading to success.

Hard 16 versus a dealer 10

In the heat of a game, players will usually let out audible groans when they get dealt a 16 pair. This is because it is statistically one of the worst hands to have in a game of blackjack. Your chances are even worse if you get dealt a hard 16 (a 16 hand with a pair of 8s) and the dealer shows a high card, such as a king, jack, or queen.

If your casino game provider allows you to surrender and give up 50% of your bet, this is a good situation in which to do it. Although you’ll be bidding farewell to 50% of your bet, which is understandably painful, you are statistically more likely to lose it all if you’re dealt a hard 16 and the dealer has a high card. This makes surrendering a slightly safer bet, and you should seriously consider it in these circumstances.

Soft 18 against a 9 or higher

If you get dealt a soft 18, it is widely accepted that this is a good time to stand, as it is such a strong hand. If you take a hit on a hard 18, the chances of you going bust are pretty strong. However, if you are dealt a soft 18, it is surprisingly safe to take a hit. If you stand on a soft 18, your chances of winning a given hand are roughly 8 out of 20.

However, if you take a hit, this increases the odds to 9 out of 20. You should note that this strategy only applies if the dealer is dealt a high card. If the dealer has a low-numbered card (especially a 3 card or lower), this strategy will more than likely see you go bust.

11 pair with a 6/5 versus a dealer 10

If you get dealt an 11 pair consisting of a 6 card and a 5 card and the dealer has been dealt a 10 up-card, most players will instinctively double down, as they assume the dealer is statistically more likely to be dealt another 10 cards and thus go bust. However, if you are initially dealt a two-card 11 (by a 6/5, 9/2, or 7/4 pair) you are likely to make a 20 or 21 by taking a hit more often than the dealer will make a 20. As such, when you double down on this combination, you will win six times out of 11.

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Play with the hand you’re dealt

When novice players are looking to upgrade their blackjack skills, they are often quick to look to advanced strategies to increase their success rates. However, complicated strategies are no guarantee of success, and if not learned correctly, they might hurt your chances at the card table.

Therefore, intermediate and beginner blackjack players should first consider the above list of the most commonly misplayed hands to see if they have fallen prey to any of them during a game. If you bear these in mind the next time you play a game, you might be able to spot some of these hands on the table and prevent a potential loss.

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A guide to Blackjack hands