Hard and soft blackjack

Before you can even think about winning a blackjack game, you must understand the common types of hands you will be dealt. In general, there are two main hand categories to keep in mind in blackjack: hard hands and soft hands. Soft hands blackjack and hard hands blackjack are played differently from each other, and your best strategy might change depending upon the kind of hand you are dealt. With that in mind, this article will look at hard and soft blackjack hands. 

From card values to hand examples, we go through everything that you need to know below. 

Soft hands 

The main difference between soft and hard hands blackjack is the ace. Worth 11 points, the ace is an important card to have. When you are dealt one at the beginning of a game, you have a ‘soft’ hand. But what exactly does that mean, and why should you care?

Soft hands are so named because their value can change depending on other cards you receive throughout the game. Aces are usually worth 11 points as we mentioned above, but in soft hands, they can also be worth one point. The exact worth of your ace depends on other cards in your hand. If you would bust with an ace worth 11, then the ace is worth one. 

Let’s say you are dealt an ace and a four, making the total hand value 15 at the start of the game. Most players would hit this hand, but doing so can be risky. For example, if you are dealt a king, then your hand’s value has suddenly shot to 25. In this situation, the ace will default to a value of one, bringing the total value of the hand back down to 15. 

Here are some more examples. In blackjack, which of these hands is a ‘soft 14’?

  • One 5 and one nine
  • One ace and one four
  • One king and one four

The answer is ‘one ace and one four’. The other hands add up to 14, but they do not include an ace and therefore are not examples of a soft hand. They are hard hands, and we’ll explain what that means in another section. For now, just remember that if you are not dealt an ace, you do not have a soft hand.

How do you play a soft hand in blackjack?

The good news is that soft hands are very common and playing with them is straightforward. If you have a soft 13, 14, 15 or 16, take a hit unless the dealer’s face card is a six or so. In that case, you should consider doubling down instead. Aside from that exception, hitting a soft 13 through 16 is the most common strategy at the tables. 

Playing a soft hand with a value of 18 is more difficult. If the dealer has a three, four, five or six as their up card, double down. If the dealer’s card is a two, seven or eight, stand. If you have a soft 18 and none of the previous situations apply, hit. Note that this does not apply to a soft 19, 20 or 21. In the first two cases, regardless of the dealer’s cards, the hand is strong enough to stand on its own. In the latter case, a natural 21 wins the game. 

Remember that the dealer usually stands on a soft 17 blackjack hand or above, but that is not a foregone conclusion. Some casinos require their dealers to hit a soft 17 and only stand on a hard hand of 17 or more. Dealers usually always stand on a hand of 18 or above, regardless of whether the hand is hard or soft.

Different strategy guides might have slightly different tips for how to play a soft hand, but the above are common strategies used at casinos today.

Hard hands 

Hard hands are the second main type of blackjack hand. As you might guess, these are hands that do not include an ace. Their value is not flexible like a soft hand, and therefore they are more perilous to play. Hard hands are common, but soft hands are preferable in nearly every situation. 

Keeping up with the example from above, let’s say you are dealt a five and a 10 for a total hand value of 15. You decide to hit, as most players would, and are dealt a king. Your hand total is now 25, and you have gone bust. There is no lowering the overall value of the hand like you could with an ace. 

Hard hands are harder to play with than soft hands, but not impossible. We’ll walk you through how best to play them below!

How do you play a hard hand in blackjack?

Playing hard hands can be more difficult than playing soft hands because there is less leeway for risky choices. If the dealer’s face card is a three, four, five or six, double down. If your hand total is 10 or 11, you should also double down unless the dealer has a face card of a 10 or an ace. In most cases, you should hit on hands of four through eight.

If you have a hand of 12, you should hit as long as the dealer doesn’t have a four, five or six as their face card. If they have any of those latter numbers, stand instead. Stand for hard hands of 17 or higher. 

Which hands should you surrender?

Understanding when to surrender can be confusing for both hard and soft blackjack hands. Luckily, there are some hard-and-fast rules to help you decide. 

If your hand is less than 50% likely to win against the dealer’s face card, consider surrendering. Early surrender at this point allows you to pull back 50% of your wager before the dealer looks at the hole card. Note that this is a fairly rare rule due to how much it turns the house edge in the player’s favor. However, if it is an option, consider surrendering. 

Beyond the above, the choice to surrender depends on the dealer’s cards. When they have a 10-value card, surrender on hands of 14, 15 or 16. If the dealer has an ace as their face card, surrender on hard hands of five, six, or seven as well as 12 through 17. 

Now that you know the difference between hard and soft cards, are you ready to try out your blackjack skills? If so, we can help! Our casino has not only excellent live options but also free demo play on slots and other casino games. This makes it easy to refine your skills before you play live.

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Author: Tanya Fields

Campaign Acquisition Manager Length with RC: 1 year, 9 months Favorite Casino Game: Starburst Background in iGaming: Opened the iGaming Department at Hard Rock Atlantic City in 2018 in both Customer Service, and then CRM, prior to moving over to RC in January 2021 Location: Based in NJ at the RC HQ Content: Occasionally, but only as it pertains to RC