Give any blackjack player the opportunity to handpick the first of the two cards to make up their initial hand and the majority would logically select an ace.
An ace is essential to completing the perfect hand total of 21 and there are far fewer available to a player than the other necessary cards to be dealt a blackjack, with a 10, jack, queen or king all fitting this criteria.
Should a player be dealt an ace first, there is an internal ‘yes feeling’ that a blackjack is imminent.
However, this is far from the case. In a six-deck game, if a player has an ace in their hand, there are 311 other possibilities for the second card. Of these, 96 hold the required value of 10. This equates to a 31% chance of a player completing their blackjack.
Any other two-card hand they end up with is classified as a soft hand, where the ace is counted as 11. So a player receiving a six to go alongside their ace has a total of soft 17.
Playing soft hands is arguably the area where most blackjack players, even those of an intermediate competence, have been known to struggle.
Here are three of the more common mistakes that can easily be rectified.
Standing on all soft hands
It can be forgotten that it is impossible for a player to bust any soft hand when hitting the dealer for another card. Effectively the worst that can happen is that a 10 is received, changing a soft hand to a hard one with the ace counting as one instead of 11.
The other main thing to remember is that if a player’s total is 17 or lower, then the only way that they can win the hand is through the dealer busting.
Therefore, sticking on the majority of soft hands makes little sense on the basis that taking another card can, in theory, only improve their hand. It certainly cannot bust it.
Sticking on soft hands of 19, 20 and 21 is considered the right play, while hitting for another card is regarded as the optimum move on any total between 13 and 17.
Soft 18 is a unique case, with the decision to stand or hit hinging on the face card of the dealer.
For example, standing when the dealer shows a seven is sensible, as there is a good possibility that a 10 will join the seven and the dealer has to stand on 17. This obviously gives the player a winning hand.
Meanwhile, if the dealer is showing a 10, there are an abundance of cards in the deck that will lead to a hand superior to 18, so a player is advised to hit.
Not doubling down when the situation allows
When a player is dealt any soft blackjack hand, they are not restricted to the two options of hitting or standing. There is a third betting option available to them.
Doubling down is the choice of a player to double their initial bet on the proviso that they will be limited to hitting for only one extra card.
Plausibly, players normally limit their doubling down to occasions when they are dealt a hand of 11, based on the likelihood that one extra card will complete a 21.
However, there are other situations where getting more chips on the table is the correct call if a player is in an advantageous position in a hand.
How to play the majority of soft hands between 13 and 18 were not highlighted above, but these are the ones that offer double-down potential.
Any of these hands are sufficient to double down with when a dealer is showing a five or a six, because these cards put a dealer in their weakest position and at the highest risk of busting.
Meanwhile, doubling down should be avoided with all six hands against a dealer showing a two, due to their reduced risk of busting.
Players must remember that the aim of blackjack is to beat the dealer, not to get a hand total as close to 21 as possible.
The Rule of 9
When the dealer is showing either a three or four, the Rule of 9 should determine whether a player is best to double down or simply just hit for another card.
The Rule of 9 is a simple concept to follow as all it involves is adding together the value of two cards – the player’s card that is not the ace and the dealer’s up card.
If the total is nine or more, then the player is considered to be in the position of strength and so is instructed to double down.
Alternatively, if the two cards add up to eight or less, the advised play is to just hit.
The only exception is when a player is holding an ace and a four against a dealer four. In this hand, the player is marginally in a superior position and so should double down.
One soft hand has not been discussed thus far, which is when a player is dealt a second ace to go with their initial one.
It will come as no surprise that splitting these aces is the most profitable play, providing two opportunities of obtaining a blackjack.
However, players should be aware that different establishments have different rules as to how split aces must be played. Among the more common is that only one extra card can be drawn to each of the aces, effectively meaning a player has two doubled-down hands.
It would be a big error not to split two aces.