The humble ace is a strong card in pretty much any card game you will encounter at a casino, online or against friends at home, and in blackjack, it really makes the difference in the success of your hand.
Indeed, the presence of an ace in a blackjack hand defines it as a soft hand, while any hand without an ace is defined as a hard hand.
This is because a soft hand gives you options as to how you proceed in the round, while a hard hand often means that choice is made for you based on what you have been dealt and what the dealer has in their possession.
Being dealt a soft hand is the ultimate, besides landing straight blackjack, of course!
As you probably already know, you can play an ace in blackjack as a one or an eleven, which naturally gives you options depending on the value of your second card.
Think about the possibilities that having an ace brings. An A-9 hand can be worth ten or 20 points. With the former, you are kind of in no man's land and yet the latter is an automatic stand and considered a strong hand to have.
Conversely, A-4 is a weak position when played as 15, yet so much stronger when you go with a five-point start. It’s about options, and those increase your liquidity and your chances of winning.
The origin of the phrase soft hand is unknown but knowing that you can hit for a third card and never go bust with a soft hand might have something to do with the genesis of the term.
At this point, there are some distinctions to point out between the various soft-hand options.
The archetypes. These hands require some sort of secondary action, whether it is hitting or doubling down, based on the dealer’s cards. Specifically, these hands are A-2, A-3, A-4, A-5 and A-6.
The split. If you are dealt A-A, congratulations! This is one of the strongest starting points in blackjack. Split your pocket aces to give yourself two decent chances of winning.
The stand. If you land A-8 or A-9 then there is no option – you simply stand and watch the action unfold. A total of 19 or 20 points is a +ve long-term hand in blackjack, and while it can be beaten, the odds of that are low. Never be tempted to hit, no matter what the dealer’s face card is.
The elephant in the room. Soft hands are always welcome, of course, but some soft hands are more welcome than others. A-7 is a less-attractive hand, as it can leave you between a rock and a hard place – hit or stand? In the next section of this guide, we will offer some strategies for the tricky A-7 conundrum.
If you are dealt A-8, A-9 or A-A, you now know what to do at the blackjack table. If you are dealt A-10, good times have arrived!
It’s the other combinations that can confuse you, and here are some basic concepts to follow listed in numerical order.
In standard play, scores of 13 to18 are not that great for blackjack players, and a gentle hit is often a better call than doubling down and risking more of your bankroll.
However, a soft score in that range is very handy, and you can really increase your advantage when the dealer has a 5 or 6 face card.
This is something of a sore point for the blackjack dealer, whose options are limited now and who has a chance of going bust (around 42%) with a hit on 15 or 16.
It’s not a foolproof plan by any means, but when you think of the number of cards in the shoe that can enhance your score when on a soft 13 to 18 – and the dangers for the dealer – you really are in a strong position.
If the dealer doesn’t have 5 or 6 but you have a soft hand in this range, consider a straightforward hit. Your options are limited, and in long-term play, this is a -ve scenario.
With A-4 and A-5, there are a couple of roads you can go down, but both are predicated on the dealer’s face card.
If the dealer has a 4, 5 or 6, this is your attack position. Statistically speaking, this is a danger point for the dealer as far as busting is concerned, and doubling down is your way of upping the ante and maximising your position.
If the dealer has any other face card, take the hit. You may get a small value card and profit from there, or in the worst-case scenario, you get a 10-pointer and follow the basic principles of playing 15 and 16.
A-6 is a tricky play, as there are various scenarios to consider.
However, remember this basic tenet – a score of 17 points is not going to return positive results in the long-term, and the dealer is likely to better it on any given day.
That’s the problem with doubling down – landing a 10 at this point does not advance your hand, so there’s no real logic to investing more of your bankroll in this sticky situation.
Therefore, hitting is usually your best bet, unless the dealer has a 5 or 6 face card as discussed above.
A soft 18 is another tough hand to process, as you can hit anything from 4 through 10 and not really be any better off.
Therefore, use the dealer’s hand as your guide in how to play A-7.
If they show a 9, 10 or ace, clearly there is a strong chance they will go on to score 19, 20 or 21. Therefore, to stand on 18 is not a smart move. Hitting is the percentage play here, even if it feels slightly counter-intuitive.
If the dealer shows a 2, 7 or 8, this is when you stand on soft 18. Should they have a 2, their hand value could be 22, which is never a nice spot for anyone at the blackjack table. Your soft 18 beats their 17, and the dealer will always hit when both of you have 18. The odds are against the dealer winning the hand.
If the dealer shows a 2 as their face card, many thoughts will cross your mind.
Maybe they’ll have a total score of 12, you think, and then they hit again and possibly bust.
That is a perfectly possible scenario but think about it like this. They could draw any card from A to 9 that would enhance their position on 12, and statistically, that is far more likely than drawing a 10-pointer.
Remember, if the dealer shows a 2, you are in a strong position. Resist the urge to double down and instead hit for a third card and assess your standing.
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Words: Sean McNulty