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# Strategy for hitting hard hands

11 November 2011

The playing decision that you will make most often when you play blackjack is hitting and standing. Knowing when to risk taking a hit or to stand fast with the cards that you have will often be the difference between a winning or losing session.

This month I'm going to review the correct playing strategy for hitting and standing, but first I need to review some terms so that we are on the same page.

Blackjack hands are often referred to as being "hard" and "soft" and you need to know the difference between the two. The reason is the playing strategy for hard hands is different from that of soft hands (even if the total of the hand is the same). For example, you would play, say, a hard 16 differently than you would a soft 16.

A hard hand in blackjack is any hand that either doesn't contain an ace, or if the ace is present, it counts as 1. Here are some examples of hard hands:

5-8 (hard 13)
10-6 (hard 16)
10-6-ace (hard 17)
Ace-7-10 (hard 18)

A soft hand is any hand that contains an ace counted as 11.

Ace-6 (soft 17)
Ace-2-3 (soft 16)
5-2-ace (soft 18)

Generally, hard hands from 12 through 16 are also known as "stiff" hands because the hand could break with a one-card draw (e.g., 10-4 is a hard 14 that could break if you drew an 8 through 10). The only way you can win when you stand on a stiff is when the dealer busts. This will occur roughly 28 percent of the time.

A hard hand that totals 17 or higher is known as a "pat" hand because you would stand pat (and not take a hit). A pat hand also wins when the dealer busts, but it could also win or push depending upon the outcome of the dealer's hand.

In this article, I'll focus on the standing and hitting strategy for hard hands. I've grouped them into three categories to make it easier for you to remember the playing strategy.

Hard 17 through 21

You should always stand on 17 through 21 regardless of what the dealer shows (this assumes the playing rules do not allow surrender). The reason is you have a strong hand and most of the time you are the favorite, so don't mess with a potential winner.

A 17 is an anomaly. Against a dealer's 6 upcard, you are the favorite. But against any other dealer's upcard, you are the underdog. So why do we stand? Because your chances of busting if you hit 17 are too great, so the better play is to stand (even though you are still an underdog).

Hard 13 through 16

You should stand on your stiff 13 through 16 hands if the dealer's upcard is 2 through 6, and hit if the dealer shows a 7 though ace. The reason you stand on these stiff hands when the dealer shows a small upcard is due to the double-bust rule. The latter means that if a player busts and the dealer busts in the same round, the player still loses. Therefore, even though you are an underdog when you hold these stiff hands, you are less of an underdog when you stand (and hope the dealer busts) rather than hitting (and risk busting).

Hard 12

You should stand on hard 12 when the dealer shows a 4-6 upcard and hit if she shows a 2 or 3 or a 7 though ace. Take note that many players won't hit their 12 against a dealer's 2 or 3 because they are afraid to bust. Unfortunately, that is a mistake. The best play is to hit even though you are the underdog.

Are you still not convinced? Then look at these percentages.

• If you stand, you win 35 percent of the time and lose 65 percent.
• If you hit you win 37 percent of the time and lose 63 percent.

Regardless of whether you hit or stand on your 12 against a 2, you are a big underdog because you stand to lose more hands than you will win. However, if you look carefully at the percentages, hitting wins you 2 percent more times than standing will. Therefore, you hit 12 versus 2 because in the long run you will lose less money than standing. (Losing less money is an important strategy in blackjack for those hands in which you are the underdog.)

Surrender

Some casinos allow players to surrender their hands. This means forfeiting half your wager in exchange for the right to play your initial two-card hand. Generally, you should surrender only when the house edge against you is greater than 50 percent. This means you should surrender the following hands in a six- or eight-deck game:

• Hard 16 (but not 8-8) against a dealer 9, 10 or ace upcard
• Hard 15 against dealer 10 upcard.

(Note: The above strategy assumes that the casino allows late surrender, meaning you can't surrender your hand if the dealer peeks at her hole card and has a blackjack.)

Multi-Card 16

Here's an advanced playing strategy for playing a 16 against a 10 that's relatively easy to remember. (Even though it's not 100 percent accurate for all multi-hand 16s, if you consider all multi-hand 16s as one grouping, it's accurate enough.) If your 16 happens to consist of three or more cards (such as 4-5-7 or 4-4-3-5), then you are slightly better off standing rather than hitting against a dealer 10. The reason you stand with a multi-card 16 against a 10 is you are holding small cards that could have helped you achieve a pat hand. Since these small cards are no longer available in the un-played pack of cards (they are in your hand), this shifts the odds just enough so that standing is the better play rather than hitting.

How would you play these hands if they were dealt to you the next time you play blackjack (answers below)?

 Your Hand Dealerâ€™s Upcard 7-9 10 8-4 3 6-3-2-5 7 10-10 6 10-7 6 5-10 10 4-5-7 10

Until next time, I wish you good cards.

Answers: Surrender if allowed, otherwise hit; hit; hit; stand (don't even think about splitting 10s); stand; surrender if allowed, otherwise hit; stand on multi-card 16.

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Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

#### Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

#### Books by Henry Tamburin:

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

#### Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com