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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Nearly Everyone Mishandles Their Soft Hands in Blackjack

20 June 2008

So you think you play a pretty solid game of blackjack, eh? Well, if you're like 98% of the players I see in the casinos, you bungle your "soft" hands something awful.

Soft hands are those containing an Ace. When you've got Ace/4, that's a "soft" 15 because you can't bust it with your next hit. If you catch a 10 to make A/4/10, it becomes a "hard" 15 by changing the value of the Ace from 11 to 1. Yet if you caught a 6 to make A/4/6, you'd have 21 since you could still count the Ace as 11.

Most players mishandle the extra flexibility of the Ace in their hands. To prove it, look at the 10 soft hands below. What are the proper ways to play them?

A/7 against a 9
A/6 against a 2
A/3 against a 3
A/7 against a 10
A/4 against a 3
A/2 against a 2
A/5 against a 3
A/3 against a 5
A/7 against a 3
A/6 against a 4

The correct plays are to hit the first seven, and double down with the last three. So how did you do? An experienced veteran of the game will usually get maybe three or four of these right, and it's such a needless waste of money.

Now, it's true that a color-coded basic strategy chart spells out every correct play for you, but all those colors can run together in your mind when it's crunch time. So here are some easy rules of thumb to help simplify those ever-tricky soft hands.

Hit Ace/7 against a 9 or higher. When the dealer shows a 9, 10 or Ace, your 18 is a distinct underdog. But the extra flexibility in your Ace will increase your win percentage on the hand if you take one or more hits -- even though you'll sometimes end up busting. Just hit it and if you make a stiff, hit it again.

Ace/tiny vs. tiny is a bad double. A "tiny" is a very small card such as a 2 or 3 -- and sometimes even a 4. The problem with a real small soft hand like, say, Ace/3 against a 3 is there are too many times when you're going to need more than just one hit. If you catch any Ace, 2, 3 or 8 to that hand, you'd take another hit if you could -– but if you doubled down, you can't! That hurts your win percentage on the hand too much, since the dealer isn't all that weak when she has a 3 up. The only times it's correct to double down with an Ace/tiny are when the dealer has a 5 or 6 up, her weakest up-cards. That'll give you a bigger back door to sneak through all those times that you make a bad hand.

Ace/6 and Ace/7 make the best soft doubles. That's because if you catch a 10, you'll still have a made hand (17 or 18). Catch a 10 on any smaller soft hand and you've got yourself a stiff (12 through 16). That's why you should double down with Ace/6 and Ace/7 against any 3, 4, 5 or 6.

The "Rule of 9". To sum up all of your soft doubles (when you have Ace/2 through Ace/7), first of all remember to never double against a deuce and always double against a 5 or 6. That's simple enough and leaves only the dealer's 3 and 4 up-cards to worry about. Against the 3 and 4 only, you should play by the Rule of 9. It will save you a lot of confusion.

That rule says to simply add your side-card (i.e., your 3 if you have A/3) to the dealer's up-card. If they total 9 or higher, double down. If it's less, just take a hit. For example, you should hit when you have A/5 vs. 3, but double with A/5 vs. 4, etc.

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:

> More 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:

> More Books By Fred Renzey