Blackjack Hand Decisions


This article contains the following categories:


Doubling Down in Blackjack
How to Play Pairs in Blackjack
How to Play Split Pairs in Blackjack
How to Play Soft Hands in Blackjack


Doubling Down in Blackjack


The objective in the game of blackjack is to beat the dealer, and that happens in different ways. It is not just about getting closer to 21 than he or she does, but also to successfully stay under that total while the dealer, who has no arbitrary decisions at his or her disposal, goes over that total. 


So you can imagine that in the pursuit of winning, there are offensive moves and defensive moves. An example of a defensive move would be standing when you have a two-card total of 14 while the dealer has a five showing, because you are looking for the dealer to bust. In that situation you may know that the likelihood of busting on your part is high, but it's the same for the dealer, but you have the ability to stand, so you do just that.


An example of an offensive move is to exercise the option of blackjack doubling down. This involves doubling your bet after you have been dealt your first two cards and taking one more card from the dealer. In effect, you are increasing your bet on the basis that the hand that results is going to be a winner, based on the information in front of you (i.e., the dealer's upcard). 


The key to playing double down blackjack effectively is to know when to do it, quite obviously. Well, let's go down the list of how to do it and when to do it. First, we will assume that you are in a game where the rules allow you to double on any two cards, and there are no restrictions on the doubling option (restrictions favor the house, by the way). 


You are naturally going to be looking at doubling when you have the strongest two-card hands available. You don't have to be an expert or veteran to guess that this means two-card totals of 9, 10 and 11. If you had a ten-value card hit to any of these, you would wind up with totals of 19, 20 and 21, respectively, and all of those are relatively hard to beat.  


So the next question surrounds which dealer upcards to do blackjack doubling down against. Well, when you have nine, you would double down against a dealer's upcard of anything from three (3) through six (6). When you are dealt a two-card total of ten, you are going to stretch yourself out a little, since that is a much better hand, and you would double when the dealer is showing a two (2) through nine (9). When you've got an eleven (11) in your hand, you are going to venture one step further, doubling against any dealer upcard that ranges from two (2) through ten, and that of course includes the cards that have a value of ten.


You can also double down in blackjack on soft hands, which contain an Ace. This will generally be done against weak dealer upcards. For example, when you have Ace-Two or Ace-Three, you would double against the dealer's 5 or 6; with an Ace-Four and Ace-Five the double comes against either 4, 5 or 6; Ace-Six is doubled against 3 through 6, and Ace-Seven is different, in that you would double on the dealer's 3-6, but stand when he is showing 2, 7 or 8, and otherwise stand. 


Some of it may sound complicated, but with some study it will be easy to remember the right way to exercise the double down blackjack option.


How to Play Pairs in Blackjack


What should you do when you get dealt a pair at the blackjack table? Well, the quick answer is that it should be treated like an opportunity. That is especially the case when the option of doubling down after split is allowed. Of course, it makes sense, when learning how to play blackjack pairs, that there are even more opportunities when the player can do that.  And you will wind up splitting more over the long haul if that is the case. 


So it is time to cover these moves, as we look at blackjack pairs and what to do about them. 


Let's get the easy ones out of the way first. When you are dealt a pair of Aces, you always split them up. There is no sense holding onto a soft 12. By splitting the aces, you have an opportunity to make two very good hands out of it, because after all, a ten-value card to each hand gives you 21 (though not a 3-to-2 payout on a natural, which can only come on the first two cards). 


You will also split eights all the time. This is not one of those maneuvers that represents a net gain, but it is more of a defensive move, so that you would lose less money. Certainly a two-card 16 is not a winning hand for you, and at least by splitting the eights up you have a chance to make some kind of a hand out of it, although even if you get a ten to each of the split eights, you've got something that isn't the strongest "pat" hand. 


You will never split tens, or, ten-value cards - that is, if the rules allow for cards of equal value (10, J. Q, K) to be split. Naturally you could make two hands out of the split tens, but there is also a chance that you'll fall short of building a couple of very strong hands. When you stand with the pair of tens, you have 20, and that, obviously, can only be beaten by the dealer's total of 21. 


You will also never split a pair of fives. They comprise a total of ten (10), and that gives you a very good two-card hand to work with. Why fool around with it just to go with two hands starting with a five? That doesn't really work that well for you. 


When looking at other blackjack pairs and what to do, the pair of 2's, 3's and 7's are all treated the same, in that you will split when the dealer is showing 2 through 7 as an upcard, otherwise hit. With a pair of fours (4's), you will double against a dealer's 5 and 6, otherwise hit. And with a pair of sixes (6's), you will split against the dealer's 2 through 6 and otherwise hit. 


The one that you might have to try extra hard to remember surrounds a pair of nines (9's), in which you would split against the dealer's 2 through 9, expect for 7, and otherwise stand. With an 18, you should be able to beat the dealer when he has an upcard of 7 most of the time. mastering how to play blackjack pairs can do you a lot of good at the table. 


How to Play Split Pairs in Blackjack


When you are dealt pairs in blackjack, your mind should immediately start to consider whether it is a pair that needs to be split up. The rules of the game allow this to happen, and indeed it can be quite a boon to the player. 


When you are playing blackjack in an online casino, you'll be presented with an icon that will appear in the software. In the physical casino setting, you'll have to take the initiative on your own. 


How will you approach this? Well, Basic Strategy for blackjack pairs calls for certain moves that have to be made as part of the mathematically-sound agenda you have to follow to cut out the house advantage. 


If you were wondering about the best possible play to make when you've got pairs in blackjack, we'll be happy to explain the whole thing to you. 


First of all, let's say this: when you have the option of doubling down after split (otherwise known as DDAS) is available, you are going to split more because you are opening up more options of yourself. DDAS is widely available, though not always. Nonetheless, the Basic Strategy decisions we are going to give you here area based on the option being there for you. 


As a rule, you do not split up ten-value cards, because you already have 20. That's easy enough to understand. And when you have a pair of Aces, you split them to put together two rather strong hands that start with eleven (11). Fives (5's) are not split because who would break up a two-card total of ten (10)? And when you have eights, the prudent thing, in order to lose less money, is to split them rather than move forward with a hand of 16. 


Here is what you do with some of the other pairs in blackjack: when you are dealt a pair of twos (2's), threes (3's) or sevens (7's), you treat them exactly the same, by splitting them up when the dealer is showing any upcard from two (2) through seven (7), and in all other cases, you would hit. With a pair of sixes (6's), you'd be a little more cautious, as you would split when the dealer has an upcard of two (2) through six (6), and otherwise hit. With a pair of fours (4's), you will split them up when the dealer is holding a five (5) or a six (6), and otherwise hit. 


The tricky one involves a pair of nines (9's). In this particular instance, you are best advised to split against the dealer's upcard of two (2) through six (6), along with eight (8) and nine (9). Okay, that makes enough sense. But when the dealer is showing a seven (7), you would stand. Why is that, you ask? Well, when you have a pair of nines, you have a two-card total of 18, and that will beat the dealer if he draws a ten-value card to the upcard of 7. When the dealer has a ten-value card as the upcard, or an Ace, you would also stand. 


We mentioned doubling after split (DDAS), and indeed when you are working with so-called "stiff" hands, they aren't the greatest things to have, but when you have split sixes, for example, you can get a three, four or five hit to that and you'll have strength to work from. That's where you can find some benefit to splitting blackjack pairs. 


How to Play Soft Hands in Blackjack


Any hand that contains an Ace is known as a soft hand in blackjack. Conceivably, even a two-card 21 could be considered in that category as well, even though that pretty much ends the proceedings since you're going to be collecting at 3-to-2 odds. 


If you are just a beginner, dealing with the soft hands may be somewhat tricky for you. Remember, if you have a hand that contains an Ace, you have either of two total - the "high" value and the "low" value. So if you are dealt an Ace and a five, you could either play that as six (6) or sixteen (16). It all depends on what works best for you. And that will be determined by what happens after you take your next card. If you've doubled on a soft hand in blackjack, you get just one card. If you hit, you still have some flexibility, and once again, you can continue to play based on what is advantageous for you at that particular point. 


By the way, for purposes of all blackjack conversations, the proper way to refer to a soft hand would not be to say you have "six or sixteen," or "soft 16," but instead Ace-Five. 


When you think about it, there are really only six blackjack soft hands you have to concern yourself with. The soft hands of Ace-Two and Ace-Three are dealt with the same way. In each case you're going to double when the dealer is showing a five (5) or a six (6) as the upcard; otherwise you are going to hit. 


Then you've got the tandem of Ace-Four and Ace-Five. You're also going to be doubling here, except in this case you're doing it when the dealer shows four (4), five (5) or six (6). In all other cases, you are going to hit. When you are holding Ace-Six, you would double against the dealer's three (3) through six (6), and hit in all other situations.


The especially tricky one is Ace-Seven (A, 7), where you will stand in the cases when the dealer is showing a two (2), seven (7) or eight (8). When the dealer shows a three (3), four (4), five (5) or six (6), you will double. Otherwise, you're going to hit. 


Okay, so that takes us down all the Basic Strategy moves as they relate to blackjack soft hands. If you use this guide you will know exactly what to do when you are dealt a certain hand and you match that up with the dealer's upcard. Of course, that covers taking the first hit to the hand. 


What happens beyond that? After all, when you hit hands, obviously it is going to change the character of the hands you have. As a result, your blackjack soft hand is going to become a three-card total that is 12 or above and there is no more "two or 12," for example. When your soft hand essentially becomes a hard hand, what you want to do is take whatever total you have and plug it right into the Basic Strategy. From there you'll just play the hands the way it instructs you.

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