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# Soft versus Hard Hands

26 December 2019

On a sleepy Tuesday morning in November, my wife was at work and I was caught up on current projects. Hooray!

It was a perfect opportunity for playtime, and I took off to play a little blackjack. As it turned out, the question of the day became the value of doubling down on soft hands vs. hard hands.

I won a soft double on 17 vs. 6 after other players had expressed qualms about the play.

Seven or eight hands into my session, I was dealt Ace-6 and the dealer had a 6 face up. I put out chips to double down.

“Man, I hate those soft doubles,” said the first baseman, a gray-haired fellow wearing a Chicago Bears sweatshirt. “Those never work out for me.”

The third baseman, the only other player at the table, chimed in, “You have to do it, but I’d sure rather have a hard double.”

I nodded and smiled, then grimaced when my double down card was an 8 to give me 15.

The first baseman sympathized. “I’m always afraid of that,” he said. “Now you need the dealer to bust.”

That’s always part of the calculation in soft doubles. We don’t double soft hands if the dealer shows 7 or better and can make a standing hand just by turning up the down card. The dealer obliged by turning up an 8, then a 9 to bust with 23.

Once I left the table, I did a quick little calculation. With Ace-6, there were eight card denominations that would leave me with 17 or better: the four 10 values, Ace, 2, 3 and 4.

If I had hard 11 instead, there also would be eight cards that would leave me at 17 or better: 6, 7, 8, 9 and the four 10s.

The difference is that half those cards would leave me at the low end, 17, with Ace-6, and only one, 6, would leave me at the low end with 11. Conversely, only one card denomination, 4, would give me 21 with Ace-6, while the four 10s would take me to 21 with 11.

That shows up in statistics for the hand. With Ace-6 vs. 6, if you stand, you’ll average a loss of about half a cent per dollar wagered. If you hit, the hand turns profitable with an average win of 12.6 cents per dollar. Doubling down doubles the profit to 25.2 cents per dollar of your original wager.

With hard 11 vs. 6, numbers vary a bit depending on composition on the 11. Still, in every case, it’s a much more profitable situation than soft 17 vs. 6.

To use 6-5 vs. 6 as an example, you’ll lose an average of 1.2 cents per dollar wagered if you stand, win 34 cents if you hit and win 68 cents per dollar of your original wager if you double.

What if the dealer has a 10 up? You wouldn’t double soft 17. You need enough of a chance that the dealer will bust to make soft doubling a worthy play.

However, you will double hard 11 vs. 10. With 6-5, you’ll lose 54.2 cents per dollar of your wager if you stand, win 11.9 cents if you hit, and win 17.8 cents if you double.

I don’t blame my fellow players for being more wary of soft doubles than hard. But the soft doubles are on the basic strategy chart because they’re profitable plays. There’s risk, and you’ll lose sometimes just as with any other play, but they’re plays with the odds in your favor.

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John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.