Knowing Your Hand Gives You The Upper Hand

Strategy IconBlackjack involves taking a gamble on what the dealer has. Players must weigh out multiple scenarios when looking at their cards. When it comes to your turn, there are several moves you can make. Part of blackjack strategy is knowing which move to make based on the cards you have. This article will break down what to do under certain circumstances so you can have a better situational understanding of the game. We’ll cover hard hands, soft hands, splitting and doubling down.

Quick Tip: It’s important to understand that some US online blackjack sites might have slightly different rules for their games. Some sites might allow you to split up to 4x while others only allow you to split up to 3x. And some might allow you to double down on any 2 cards while others only allow you to double down on 10 or 11.  So understanding what the game rules are at any particular casino is very important.

Hard Hands

A hard hand is hand without an ace. This means there is only total, whereas with an ace there are two potential totals (explained in the next section). The dealer will ask you whether you want to hit or stand. With hard hands, it is generally considered better to always hit on totals between 4 and 11. It is suggested you stand on hard hands totaling between 17 and 21. You will know what to do with 13 different hand total combinations by following these rules. The remaining total combinations are a little trickier to play and depend on what the dealer is showing as their upcard.

For totals 13 through 16, experts suggest you take a hit when the dealer is showing a 7 or higher as their upcard. Standing is recommended for any other upcard possibility. A hard total of 12 is the trickiest situation to deal with, but it is still manageable. If the dealer is showing a 2 or 3, you should hit. The same goes for if they are showing a 7 or higher. Any other scenario is best handled by standing. These 4 rules of thumb combine to reflect what to do with 18 potential blackjack hands. Having a hand that can be split changes things, but that will be covered in another section.

Soft Hands

A soft hand is a hand with an ace in. Aces are interesting in blackjack because they can either be played high or low—value of 1 or 11. The value used is up to the player. To demonstrate: if you have an ace and 4 you have a ‘soft 15’. If your next card dealt is a 10 your total pushes up to 25, resulting in a bust. At that point, you can elect to value the ace at 1 and end up with a total of 16, leaving you in a better position to beat the dealer. There is a total of 8 possible soft totals—13 through 20. You could potentially have 2 aces, but it would be wise to split them in that situation.

If you have a soft 13 or soft 14, you should double down when the dealer is showing a 5 or 6. You should hit if they are showing any other card. With a soft 15 or soft 16, you should hit if the dealer is showing a 2, 3 or 7 or higher, otherwise hit. With a soft 17, you should stand if the dealer has a 7, hit if they have a 2 or an 8 or higher or double down if they are showing any other card. When presented with a soft 18, it is better to stand if the dealer is showing a 2, 7, 8 or ace. Hitting is best when they have a 9 or 10. Otherwise, double down. Players should always stand on a soft 19 or soft 20.

With these rules (a total of 5), you have moves for 8 potential hands. Knowing when to hit, stand or double down will help ease the pressure of the situation.

Splitting Hands

Splitting your hand is only possible when you have 2 of the same card. By splitting, you are placing a new bet and will have 2 separate hands to worry about. The rules for splitting hands are pretty simple and will help you out in the long run.

You should always split aces and 8s. Never split 4s or 5s and treat them as a hard 8 or hard 10. If you have 2s or 3s, split when the dealer is showing a 4 through 7. If not, treat the hand as hard 4 or a hard 6. Always split 6s if the dealer has a 3 through 6, otherwise consider it a hard 12. Splitting 7s is advised when the dealer has a 2 through 7 as their upcard. If not, consider your hand a hard 14. It is best to always split 9s unless the dealer has a 7. If they are showing a 7, stand.

Doubling Down

Doubling down in blackjack is a bold move, but one that can payout immensely. Doubling down doubles the bet you originally made and leaves you with only 1 additional card. If you are going to double down you better hope that 1 card counts for something.

If you have a total of 9, 10 or 11, it is often considered positive to double down. These totals keep you in a safe zone if you get hit with a 10 or face card (all valued at 10 except for ace). You should always double down on 11 unless the dealer has an ace. If this is the case, hit. Doubling down is also acceptable when holding a 10 unless the dealer possesses a 10 or ace. You should hit in either of those situations. If you have a hard 9, double down when the dealer is showing a 3 through 6. It is better to hit in any other situation.

Beating The Odds

Understanding basic blackjack strategy decreases the house’s odds of beating you. From novice to avid, players try to incorporate some basic strategy throughout the game. Having these simple rules in your arsenal determines which course of action to take with multiple hands. By knowing the implications of your hand, you gain an upper hand on the dealer and limit the risk of losing. The difference between soft hands, hard hands and knowing when to double down or split is vital to becoming a solid blackjack player.

Other Strategy Articles In Our Series

Blackjack Strategy For Beginners

Knowing Your Hand Gives You The Upper Hand

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