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# What Happens When the Dealer Hits Soft 17?

19 June 2004

I was sitting at a local blackjack table where the dealer hits on soft 17. Three times in the same shoe I was dealt 18 or better when the dealer turned up an Ace/6. I ended up losing all three hands! Right then and there, I decided that my next article would discuss the inner workings of the soft 17 rule.

What about this rule? Any good blackjack book will tell you that if the dealer hits soft 17, that'll cost you 0.20% in your overall game. All other things being equal, you'd rather that the dealer just stand with any kind of 17.

True as all this may be, it would be nice to know just where the house's extra 0.20% comes from when they hit this hand. So here's a basic breakdown.

No Change: With a six-deck shoe, 31 times out of 100 when the dealer hits, she just catches another 10 to keep her hand at 17. And four more times out of 100, she'll take multiple hits and finally land on 17. We're not concerned with all those, though, because they don't change a thing. It's those 65 other outcomes that we need to sweat.

Dealer Improves: Now, 31 times out of those remaining 65, the dealer will catch an Ace, 2, 3 or 4 and make 18 through 21. Besides that, she'll take multiple hits and end up backing into 18 through 21 another 13 times. So then, 44 times out of the decisive 65, she improves her hand beyond her original 17.

Dealer breaks: The remaining 21 times, we get a gift from the gambling gods and she busts her soft 17 when she hits it. Oooh, I love when that happens! Problem is, it doesn't happen often enough, since better than 2/3 of the times that there's a change in the dealer's final total, she makes a better hand Right in there is your 0.20%.

So just how critical is this percentage anyway? I mean, can it make you or break you whenever you sit down to play? The answer is -- on any single given day, it most likely won't. That's because due to the natural volatility of the game, most of your session results will fall much further away from "break even" than just 0.20% of your action. Here's what I mean.

Suppose you're a \$15 bettor and play a three-hour session at a five-handed table. If you're just an average ploppy who fades about a 1.5% disadvantage because of all the hands you misplay, you're supposed to lose about \$50 for the day - mathematically speaking. But the reality is that two times out of three due to the luck factor (standard deviation), you'll either win more than \$200 or lose more than \$300!

Since the dealer turns up a soft 17 only about once an hour on average (including the likes of A/3/3, A/4/2, etc.), she almost can't burn you enough times to turn a winning day into a loser with that rule alone. Over the long haul, though, her hitting a soft 17 will tend to cost a \$15 bettor about \$3 per hour.

Now suppose you're not a ploppy, but a perfect basic strategy player. For you, the "hit soft 17" rule can affect your outcomes a little more often. That's because your average expected loss for the day will be only about \$15 (betting \$15 per hand). When you're playing so close to an even game with the house, an extra \$3 per hour tariff has a little better chance of turning some of your winning days into losers. Either way, though, if you're a once a week \$15 player, the "hit 17" rule will end up costing you \$400 or \$500 by the end of the year.

Still and all, the "hit soft 17 rule" doesn't necessarily blackball a blackjack game all by itself. It's always a question of tradeoffs. If you can double after splits (DAS), the player picks up an extra 0.14%. Being able to re-split a pair of Aces is worth an additional 0.08%. Surrender is worth 0.07% in "stand 17" games and 0.10% in "hit 17" games. Double-deck blackjack is 0.23% better than six decks.

If you're a card counter, "penetration" (how deep they deal) means more than any of these. How widely you can spread your bets does too. It's the overall package that makes a game good, bad or indifferent.

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Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send \$9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

#### Books by Fred Renzey:

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send \$9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

#### Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II