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What are Hard and Soft Hands in Blackjack?

soft hands in blackjack

In order to be a successful blackjack player, it’s important to understand the concept of soft hands.

A soft hand is a hand that contains an Ace, because an Ace can be worth either 1 or 11. This gives the player more flexibility in terms of how they play their hand, and also increases their chances of winning.

In this guide, you will learn the difference between soft hands and hard hands in blackjack, which (if any) is best, and how they affect the dealer.

I’ll also give you some tips on how to play soft hands successfully, to get the best returns.

What are Soft Hands in Blackjack?

In blackjack, soft hands are hands where the player has two cards and one of them is an Ace.

For example, if you are dealt an Ace and a 6, this hand would be referred to as Soft 17 because it can be counted as either 7 or 17.

If you were to get this hand in a casino, the dealer would usually say “7/17” to you when it comes to your turn to play, to remind you that you have a soft hand.

When playing online or via a blackjack mobile app the software will mark your hand as “7/17” to remind you.

How Soft Hands Differ from Hard Hands

This is different than a hard hand, which would be any other combination of cards. The Ace is important because it can be worth either 1 or 11, so it gives the player more options.

However, contrary to what you may read elsewhere, soft hands do not necessarily contain only two cards.

For example, if you receive a low-value soft hand, such as a soft 14, you will inevitably decide to hit, since there is no chance of going bust.

If you subsequently receive another low-value card, you may still have a soft hand even after you have received 3 or even 4 cards.

Examples of Soft Hands

There are many different permutations that would qualify as being a soft hand. Here are some examples:

  • Soft 15 – A4, A22, A3A
  • Soft 16 – A5, A32, A4A, A22A
  • Soft 17 – A6, A33, A42, A5A, A32A

It is possible to get soft totals between 13 and 20 (soft 12 doesn’t exist because would be a pair of Aces, and soft 21 would in fact be a blackjack!)

What are Hard Hands?

In blackjack, a hard hand is any hand where the player has two cards and neither of them is an Ace. This is different than a soft hand, which would have at least one Ace. The Ace is important because it can be worth either 1 or 11.

A hard hand gives the player fewer options because they cannot use the Ace as an 11. This can make it more difficult to get to 21, or to beat the dealer’s hand.

However, it is still perfectly possible to win with a hard hand – you just need to understand the difference before you can decide how to play.

Advantages of Soft Hand for Players

So we know that a soft hand has two possible values, due to the fact it contains an Ace which can be counted as 1 or 11.

Some advantages of having a soft hand include:

  • The ability to hit (ask for another card) without worrying as much about going over 21, since the Ace can change to a 1 if necessary.
  • A better chance of getting closer to 21 without busting.

In general, soft hands are considered to be better than hard hands for players, as they give the player more options and thus increase their chances of winning.

Disadvantages of Soft Hands for Players

There are also some disadvantages of having a soft hand, which include:

  • Many players don’t know how to play soft hands correctly, and often end up treating them the same as a hard hand. This can lead to poor decisions which can affect their own hand and (sometimes) the rest of the table as well.
  • If the player hits and gets an 8 or 9, they can often end up with a lower score than their original soft total.

Despite these disadvantages, soft hands are still generally considered to be advatnageous hands for players, as they give the player more options and thus increase their chances of getting a higher score.

Soft or Hard Hands: Which is Better?

There is no definitive answer to this question. It depends on the situation and what cards the player has.

For example, if the player has a hard 16 and the dealer has a 6, then it is better to have a soft hand. This is because the player can use the Ace as an 11 and get to 21.

However, if the player has a hard 17 and the dealer has a 7, then it is better to have a hard hand. This is because the player cannot use the Ace as an 11, so they would need to hit and risk going over 21.

In general, it is better to have a soft hand when the player has a low number (under 17) and it is better to have a hard hand when the player has a high number (over 17).

Tips for Playing Soft Hands Correctly

There are a few key tips to remember when playing soft hands:

  • In general, you’re going to want to stand on all soft hands of 19, 20 or 21 (obviously) and also on 18 if the dealer is showing a 2, 7 or 8.
  • You’ll hit soft scores of 17 or less, and double if the dealer is showing a weak up-card.

This table, taken from our complete blackjack strategy charts guide, shows the actions that a player should take on soft hands in a multi-deck game of blackjack.

Multiple deck - dealer stands soft 17 - soft hand

Note that if the dealer hits soft 17 (see below) then the player chart is different, so refer to the full blackjack charts section to find out more (and geta downloadable copy of the perfect strategy guide).

Soft Hands for the Dealer

Although an Ace still counts as either 1 or 11 for the dealer as well as the player, soft hands don’t really affect the dealer in the same way.

Remember that the dealer always follows a predefined set of rules, and does not get to make any decisions. For example, they must always hit on any score of 16 or below and stand 17 or above.

Therefore, if the dealer has, say, a score of 18, it makes no difference whether that is a soft 18 (e.g. A, 7) or a hard 18 (e.g. 10, 8). The dealer must stand regardless. They do not get the option of hitting the soft 17 to try for a better score.

Dealer Hits Soft 17 Rule

The only time soft hands affect the dealer is when the table rules state that the dealer hits on soft 17.

You will always see this written across the table itself. It will either say:

  • Dealer Stands on Soft 17, or
  • Dealer Must Hit Soft 17

In those games, the dealer would play a soft 17 differently to a hard 17. The dealer would be forced to hit on a hand of (A, 6) but forced to stand on a hand of (10, 7).

This rule generally gives a slight additional edge to the house, so avoid it where possible by choosing another table or game variation.

Last Updated on September 18, 2022

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Latest posts by David Graham (see all)
Posted in Rules & How to Play, Strategy

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