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May

01

2014

Adapt to the Ever-Changing Game of Blackjack

Blackjack has been evolving, and the game you play today isn’t quite the same as the game you played just a few years ago. It once used to be standard in multiple-deck games for the dealer to stand on all 17s. Today in Tunica, as well as in the rest of the United States, you’re far more likely to see the dealer hit soft 17, especially at tables with low minimum bets.

What’s soft 17? Any total of 17 in which an Ace is counted as 11. Ace-6 is soft 17, and so is Ace-2-4, Ace-3-3 and several hands with multiple Aces. You can’t bust soft 17 with a one-card hit, because the Ace can be counted as 1 instead. Draw a 7 on top of Ace-6, and you don’t bust with 24. You have 14, and can keep playing from there.

Players who learned basic strategy for stand-on-all-17s games need to make a few adaptations for a hit-soft-17 world.

In common six-deck games, one big change comes when you have a two-card 11 and the dealer has an Ace face up. When the dealer stands on all 17s, the players just hit. It’s the only situation in which we don’t double down on a two-card 11. But if the dealer hits soft 17, basic strategy players go ahead and double against the Ace, too.

With Ace-7 — a two-card soft 18 — we double down against 3 through 6 if the dealer stands on all 17s. If the dealer hits soft 17, we double against all those up cards, and also double against a 2. And with soft 19, we never double during stand-on-all-17s games. But we double with Ace-8 against a dealer’s six if the dealer hits soft 17.

Other changes involve late surrender, and that’s a rare rule. Should you encounter late surrender, basic strategy in stand-on-all-17 games calls for us to surrender hard 15 against a dealer’s 10, and hard 16 against a 9, a 10 or an Ace. If the dealer hits soft 17, we surrender all those hands and three more: hard 15 against an Ace; hard 17 against an Ace; and a pair of 8s against an ace.

Don’t worry too much about the surrender switches. You won’t find the option very often. Just be sure to adapt your strategy in the two-card 11, Ace-7 and Ace-8 double down situations.


John Grochowski is an author and gambling consultant who has written about the casino industry since 1994. Look for his posts about gaming strategy and trends on the Down the Road blog.

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