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# Gaming Guru

### Blackjack and "Soft" Hands

17 March 2006

Last week, we discussed refinements to the first three blackjack basic strategy rules. Those rules dealt with hard hands, that is, hands without an ace or hands with an ace that count as 1.

The next two rules concern soft hands, or hands with an ace that counts as either a 1 or 11. These hands are kind of fun because they can't be busted with a one-card hit. The player can always just use the ace as a 1 instead.

But a lot of people are confused about soft hands because they don't know what to do with the ace, and they tend to play soft hands conservatively. Generally, that's a bad approach because soft hands represent a great chance to be aggressive with your play and to take advantage of some good doubling opportunities.

That's why the fourth rule can and should be expanded. It states, "If you have a soft 13 (ace/2) through a soft 17 (ace/6), double against either a dealer's 5 or 6; otherwise hit." It should still apply to a soft 13 and soft 14 (ace/2 and ace/3), but for a soft 15 and soft 16 (ace/4 and ace/5) you can also double against a dealer's 4. And if you happen to have a soft 17 (ace/6), then also double against a 3.

By now, I would guess you're having a fit trying to remember that a soft 17 is an ace/6. For me, it was always easier to remember a soft-whatever hand as an ace combined with another card because that's how you saw it dealt on the felt. So, as I was memorizing the rules, I would visualize the cards in my mind and would repeat to myself the following:

Ace/2 and ace/3 double against a 5 and 6; ace/4 and ace/5, double against 4 through 6; ace/6, double against 3 through 6; otherwise, hit.

The fifth rule goes like this: "If you have an ace/7 through ace/10, stand, except double an ace/7 against a dealer's 3 through 6." Okay, this rule needs some major revisions. First, we're going to break it into two rules, so that we now have a total of ten blackjack rules; plus, we're going to tweak that ace/7 (soft 18) part.

With an ace/7, most people simply stand. Their reasoning is, "Why mess with 18? It's already a good hand, leave it alone." Wrong. The only time you should stand with an ace/7 combination in your hand is against a dealer's 2, 7 or 8.

When the dealer shows a 9, 10 or ace, you should take a hit. I know, I know, this is hard to do sometimes, especially when you consider that only three cards (3, 2 and ace) will help your hand, six cards (4 through 9) will hurt, and four ten values will leave you in the same position. But the math and the computer tell you this is the right thing to do. And years of experience playing blackjack tell me the same thing. Do it.

And the math also tells you to double an ace/7 against a 3 through 6. Yes, you double. Just like you do with an ace/6.

The proper play of a soft 18 is what separates the men from the boys, serious blackjack players from amateurs. And don't let other players tell you otherwise. Every expert, every book written on the subject, every strategy chart will tell you the same thing: Double an ace/7 against a 3 through 6; stand against a 2, 7 or 8; hit against a 9, 10 or ace.

There is one exception when it comes to a single-deck game, but that involves a dealer's ace, and remember, we're still talking about 6-deck shoe games, so we'll come to that exception later.

The last rule about standing with an ace/8 through ace/10 remains unchanged.

With a multiple-card soft 18, stand against a dealer's 2 through 8; hit against a 9, 10 or ace.

Until next week, aces and faces to you.

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Linda Mabry

Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com
Linda Mabry
Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com