Blackjack Strategy: Playing Multi-Card Hands
We all know what to do when you get pocket Aces or eights at the blackjack table…split!
But, what is the right play when you take your first hit and there is a decision to take another card…or not?
We’ll show you!
PLAYING MULTI-CARD HANDS is often confusing for players. For example, suppose you were dealt an Ace-4 (soft 15) and the dealer shows a 2. You hit and draw a 3 for a soft 17 (Ace-4-2). How would you play the soft 17? What about these multi-card hard hands, a 10-6 and a 4-5-7 against a dealer’s 10 upcard? Would you stand or hit? If you are not sure, stay with me and I’ll show you how to play these multi-card hands perfectly.
Let’s begin with multi-card soft hands. These hands contain three or more cards with an Ace counted as an 11. For example, suppose you were dealt an Ace-2 and the dealer’s upcard is a 3. If you look up this hand (soft 13) in a basic strategy table, it would state “H” for hit. Suppose you hit and drew a 5, giving you a multi-card soft 18 (Ace-2-5). If you looked up soft 18 against a 3 in a strategy table, you would see “D” (for double down). However, the double down option is no longer available to you after you hit. So what would you do with your soft 18, stand, or take another hit? The correct play is to stand.
Here are two rules that you need to memorize so you will always play multi-card soft hands perfectly.
1 Always stand on soft 18 through 21, except hit a multi-card soft 18 against a dealer 9, 10 or Ace.
2 Always hit soft 17 or less.
Try these hands so you get the gist of how these rules work. Suppose you are dealt Ace-3, and the dealer shows a 7. You hit and draw an Ace for three-card soft 15 (Ace-3-Ace). You hit again and draw a 2 for a soft 17 (Ace-3-Ace-2). Now what do you do? You’ve converted an initial two-card soft 13 hand into a multi-card soft 17 hand. According to the second rule above, you should hit again.
How about this hand: dealer shows a 7 and you have an Ace-4. You draw a 2 for a multi-card soft 17. According to Rule 2, you hit again. Suppose you draw another Ace, giving you a multi-card soft 18 (Ace-4-2-Ace). According to our first rule, you should stand.
Try this hand: Ace-4 against a dealer’s 9. You hit your soft 15 and draw a 3 for a multi-card soft 18 (Ace-4-3). According to rule #1, you should hit again.
Now let’s focus on multi-card hard hands. These are hands that either don’t contain an Ace, or if the Ace is present, it counts as 1. The most important multi-card hand that requires a change in playing strategy is the multi-card 16.
Suppose you are a dealt a 16 against a dealer’s 10 (and surrender is not available). Traditional basic strategy, often referred to as “total-dependent” strategy, tells you to hit your 16, because in the long run, you will lose less money compared to standing. However, what traditional basic strategy doesn’t consider is the composition of the hand. It turns out there is a difference between a 16 made up of two cards, such as 10-6, and a 16 made up of three cards, such as 4-5-7. Both hands total 16, but with the three-card 16, you are better off standing, whereas with the two-card 16, you should hit.
The reason you should stand on a 16 when your hand contains three or more cards is your hand contains one or more small-value cards that are no longer available in the pack of unplayed cards. These small cards are exactly what you need to make a pat hand when you hit your 16. The fact that a few of them just landed in your hand is enough to shift the odds toward standing rather than hitting.
Here’s another playing tip that doesn’t involve a multi-card hand, but is based solely on the composition of the hand. Suppose you are a dealt a 12 against a dealer’s 4 upcard. Total-dependent basic strategy says you should stand on 12 against a dealer 4. However, there are in fact four different ways to be dealt a 12: 10-2, 9-3, 8-4, and 7-5 (6-6 is considered separately, as a pair to be split). In the specific case of 10-2, you are slightly better off hitting against the dealer’s 4, whereas with 9-3, 8-4, and 7-5, you are better off standing.
Blackjack author Don Schlesinger, gives this reason for the change in strategy:
“By having just one ten-value card in your hand when you hold a 10-2, you slightly lower your chances of breaking with a hit just enough to tip the balance in favor of risking busting by drawing one more card, rather than standing. This effect, however, diminishes as the number of decks increases, because removing one ten out of 16 is a lot more dramatic than removing one ten out of 128 for an eight-deck game. Therefore, for six or fewer decks, it’s best to hit a 12 consisting of 10-2 against a dealer’s 4 upcard, but in an eight-deck game, it’s best to stand.”
“IT TURNS OUT THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A 16 MADE UP OF TWO CARDS, SUCH AS 10-6, AND A 16 MADE UP OF THREE CARDS, SUCH AS 4-5-7”
Author Bio: Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. For a free copy of his Casino Gambling Catalog containing books, strategy cards, DVDs, and software for blackjack, video poker, and other casino games, call toll free 1-888-353-3234 (or view the catalog online at smartgaming.com). For a free three-month subscription to his monthly Blackjack Insider newsletter, go to bjinsider.com/freetrial. Tamburin’s websites are smartgaming.com and bjinsider.com. He is available as a guest speaker at conventions. Contact him at HTamburin@aol.com.
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