How to Read a Soft Hand in Blackjack

Questions & Answers

Q: “I don’t understand soft hands. Why does the table say that the dealer must hit all soft 17’s?”

A: First, let’s go over what a soft hand is. A “Soft Hand” only happens if there is an ace in the hand. Since the ace can either be 1 or 11, this means that the hand containing the ace can either be one of two numbers and usually it’s the number that is most beneficial to the player. For example, if the player’s two cards are a 6 and an ace, then the player can have either a 7 or 17. If the player decides that he wants his hand to be a 7 and then hits again, he can do that. He can also decide to keep it as a 17 and stay, it’s his choice. However, there are some hands where there’s only one choice. For example, if the player has a 2, 3 and an ace then they have 6 or 16, or in other words, a soft 16. If they hit and get a 10, then they have either 16 or 26. Since 26 is a busted hand and the player would lose, the value of the hand automatically goes to 16, since that is more beneficial for the player. You can practice reading soft hands with the quiz I put at the end of the video.

      A “Hard Hand” is when the player has a set of cards that would bust if the player added a 10 value card to them. For example, if the player had an 8 and a 9, then they would have a Hard 17. If they hit and get a 10, then the hand would bust with 27 and that is why it’s a Hard 17.

      When a table displays the words, “Dealer must hit soft 17”, it’s notifying you of the rules of the game, rules that the dealer must follow. In this case, the dealer must hit a 16 or lower and they must also hit a soft 17. If the dealer has a hard 17 or an 18 and higher than the dealer must stay. If the dealer has a soft 18, soft 19 or a soft 20, then the dealer must stay. The dealer has no choice on how to play their hands.

      But not every house will display those words. Since every casino is different, there’ll be some blackjack tables where you’ll see the words “Dealer must draw to 16 and stand on all 17’s”. This means that the dealer will hit a 16 or lower and they will stay on a 17 and higher. By displaying the words “stand on all 17’s”, the casino means the casino wants the dealer to stay on soft 17’s.