What to Do When Your Hand Goes Soft

            I'm going to continue talking about blackjack this week.  No, I'm certainly not giving up on video poker!  Blackjack is very similar to video poker in that they both require learning rather complex strategies in order to achieve a strong payback.  However, blackjack has the advantage, in my opinion, in that it is a bit easier to learn the strategy.  Recognizing hands in video poker can sometimes be tricky for the beginners.  But, with blackjack a 16 is a 16.  Well, sort of.

            You can actually have 3 different types of 16's.  The first is a Pair of 8's.  For this, we use Pair Strategy.  The second is a Hard 16, where there is no Ace counting as an 11 involved in the hand.  For this, we use our Hard hand strategy.  Lastly, there is a Soft 16, where the hand contains an Ace being used as an 11.  This hand cannot bust by hitting one additional card, so the strategy is quite different from a Hard 16.  For these, we use our Soft hand strategies.

            It is these Soft hands that I would like to focus on today.  Hard strategies are pretty well known.  Don't hit anything above a 16.  Don't hit most Hard hands between 12 and 16 unless the Dealer has a 7 through Ace showing.  There are a few exceptions with 12 and 13, but if you just followed what I wrote, you'll do okay.  But, when it comes to Soft hands, people do all sorts of things - many of them quite wrong.  We've all even seen a few people try to stop on a Soft low hand.  Which card could you draw that will make your Soft 16 more likely to lose as compared to staying put?

            The reason why learning Soft Hand strategy is so important is because these hands afford us the most opportunities to Double Down.  We Double Down for two reasons.  The first is that we have a strong hand (i.e. 10's and 11's) that is likely to get stronger with a single card.  The second is that we have a good hand and the likelihood is strong that the Dealer will bust.   

            When we have a Soft Hand, we have usually have at least 5 chances to make the hand better to the point where it matters - that is to say, wind up with a hand between 17 and 21.  If you can only hit one card and you hit a 13 and it becomes a 15, you really haven't done anything for your hand - positive or negative.  Quite frankly if you hit a Soft 16 and it become a Hard 12, you haven't done anything negative to your hand either.  So, when we Double Down on a Soft hand, we have a hand that MIGHT improve and we look to do this when the Dealer is likely to Bust.

            That last part tells us the first critical part of Soft Hand strategy - we NEVER Double Down when the Dealer has a 7 through Ace up with a Soft Hand.  The likelihood of the Dealer busting is not strong enough to make it worth Doubling Down.

            Next, you need to understand that when you Double Down, you are actually REDUCING your chances of winning the hand, while INCREASING how much you will win when you do.  So, imagine if an identical opportunity came up 100 times.  If you don't Double Down, you will win 75% of the time.  If you do Double Down you will win only 65% of the time.  Which would you want to do?  Well, if you don't Double Down, you will wager 100 and win back 150 for a net win of 50.  If you do Double Down, you will wager 200 and win 260 for a net win of 60.  If you want to win more, you Double Down even though you will win less often.

            As is the case with video poker, you don't have to do any amazing calculations on the fly to figure out what the right strategy is.  Someone like myself, with the help of some computer programs has already done all the hard work.  That is, unless you consider memorizing the strategy tables to be the hard work!

            There are some slight variations in strategy depending on whether the Dealer hits or sticks on a Soft 17.  What is presented here is for the cases where the Dealer does NOT hit a Soft 17.

  • ·         Double Down with a Soft 13 or Soft 14 against a Dealer 5 or 6 Upcard. 
  • ·         Double Down with a Soft 15 or Soft 16 against a Dealer 4, 5, or 6 Upcard. 
  • ·         Double Down with a Soft 17 or Soft 18 against a Dealer 3, 4, 5, or 6 Upcard.

            If you have a Soft Hand that is more than 2 cards so that you can no longer Double Down, you Hit ALL Soft 12 - Soft 17 and Hit a Soft 18 against a Dealer 9, 10 or Ace Upcard.

            Yes, there will be times you will turn a Soft 18 into a Hard 16 and begin to wonder if you made the right move.  But, in these cases, don't just look at YOUR hand, look at the Dealer's.  If he turns over a 10/Face to wind up with 19 or 20, staying put on your 18 would still result in losing.

            Next week, I'll explain a bit more why I like to use Blackjack as a sort of training tool as we see how the strategy I've covered today might change if you were playing a Blackjack variant, such as Spanish 21 or Blackjack Switch.