What do hard and soft mean in blackjack?

In this article we´re going to take a look at soft and hard Blackjack hands. If you’ve ever read about blackjack, there’s a good chance that you’ll have come across the terms ‘soft hand’ and ‘hard hand’. These are also sometimes referred to as hard and soft totals. If you’re early on in your blackjack journey then you may be left wondering what these actually mean. They are important terms that can have a major impact on the game and that’s why it’s important to understand them as soon as possible.

The terms hard’ and ‘soft’ may well sound a little odd to a blackjack beginner. However, the concepts are quite simple. They refer to the two different kinds of hands that you can be dealt at the start of a game. The type that you have will go some way to determining what you do next in terms of standing, splitting, doubling down or hitting.

The strategy that you use for each hand is very much dictated by whether that hand is hard or soft. For that reason, we’re going to explore just what is meant by the terms and just how they impact your game. 

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Soft and Hard Blackjack Hands

Soft and Hard Blackjack hands – What is a soft hand?

When a game of blackjack begins, each player is dealt two cards. If one of these cards is an ace then the hand is said to be soft. This is because of the unique qualities that an ace possesses. Depending on the other card that a player is holding, they can choose to use their ace as a one or as an 11. The word soft is based on the fact that the ace brings liquidity to a hand as there are more options. 

There are four aces in each deck as there is one for each suit and a typical game is played with six to eight decks. The sight of an ace in your hand is always a welcome one at the start of a game as you know that you suddenly have a host of options. Examples of a soft hand include:

  • Ace / Two
  • Ace / Seven
  • Ace / Four

In fact, a soft hand is any hand with an ace with the exception of when this is with a 10 or a picture card. These would give you 21 and are classed as natural blackjack.

Soft and Hard Blackjack hands – What is a hard hand?

Knowing what a soft hand is, perhaps makes it easy to understand what a hard hand is. A hard hand is simply one that doesn’t include an ace. That lack of an ace means that the hand is much more rigid. Each card is worth only what it says it is and that limits the options that a player will have.

Some hard hands may be better than others. They may open up opportunities where splitting is possible so that you can then play two separate hands. We’re going to be taking a look at strategy in a moment, but just remember that a basic strategy chart will always show you what you need to do. 

Strategy for soft hands

As we have already said, whether you have a soft hand or a hard hand will have a major impact on how you play the game and the strategy that you use. There is a need for players to understand both sides of this and the best way of doing this is to get a grasp of basic strategy.

Any experienced player will tell you that a soft hand is best. It is the hand that presents more opportunities and it’s the hand that leads to more wins. Let’s imagine that the dealer has 4, 5 or 6 as an upcard and you have a soft hand. In this instance, it makes sense for a player to double down so that they can maximize their winnings. The chances of going bust with a soft hand are practically zero so there is no risk.

Casinos know just how beneficial soft hands are to players and how they can lower the house edge. That’s why they now have blackjack rules that allow the dealer to hit on a soft 17.

Strategy for hard hands

No player is going to be overly pleased when they’re dealt a hard hand. When this does happen, the player needs to be confident in the fact that they have a solid strategy that can get them through. Again, to do this effectively, players need to have a sound understanding of the basic strategy of blackjack

The only way to make the most of a hard hand is to follow basic strategy to the letter. Any deviation will ruin your chances of salvaging anything. When playing in this way, a player should always assume that the dealer’s hole card is a 10. This is an important step towards going for the win.

If the dealer has a low upcard, such as a six, the player should stand when they have a hard hand. The hope here is that the dealer will go bust. However, players should also do away with any fear when it comes to hitting hard totals, such as 14, 15 or 16, when the dealer’s upcard is a 10.

Doubling Down

Doubling down is a great way of boosting the profitability of the game, but only when it’s used correctly. This works by doubling your bet after you’ve been dealt your initial two cards. When you double down, you are then given just one more card.

If you have a hard hand, doubling down can be a little risky. It should only be done with a hard nine or 10. The dealer also needs to be showing a low card. If the player’s third card is reasonably high, they will then be in a good position.

When it comes to a soft hand, players should double down when they have 16, 17 or 18 as long as the dealer has a low card. 

Final thoughts on Soft and Hard Blackjack hands

Be sure that you fully understand what soft and hard hands are. Recognizing what you’re holding will have a major impact on your next move. 

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Soft Hand and Hard Hand in Blackjack