Folks who are just learning the secrets of blackjack may be hearing the terms “hard hand” and “soft hand” for the first time. All card games come with their own unique terminology, and it’s always important to master it if you want to become a good player of a specific card game.

Understanding how hard and soft hands work in blackjack is crucial. Not only does this affect one’s interpretation of the gameplay, but it also influences the application of the blackjack basic strategy. It’s really not that hard to tell apart these two concepts in a game of blackjack. Here’s how to do it.

Learn Card Values in Blackjack
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Learn Card Values in Blackjack

Before you can interpret whether a hand you are dealt is soft or hard, you must know the individual values of the card as they are ranked in blackjack.

Every blackjack game starts with players receiving two cards each, including the dealer. What those two cards are determined the total value of the hand. Blackjack can be played with one or more decks of cards, but the card points stay the same.

The numerical values of the cards from 2 to 10 correspond to their points. Face cards Jack, Queen and King count as 10 points. The Ace can be counted as either 1 or 11, depending on which value suits the hand holder best.

Acknowledge the Importance of the Ace Card
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Acknowledge the Importance of the Ace Card

It is in this one card, the Ace where the difference between hard and soft hands becomes notable. The fact that you can assign two very different values to this one card can make all the difference because you do not wish to exceed the hand total of 21 and bust.

If you have a hand that contains an Ace and a 4, the total value can be either 5 or 15. The Ace provides a certain level of flexibility and gives the player something to think about while deciding the next course of action, having in mind the dealer’s up-facing card.

Hard Hand Explained
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Hard Hand Explained

A hard hand in blackjack is the combination of cards that does not contain an Ace, or when it does contain it the Ace can only be counted as 1 and not 11. Why can’t it be counted as 11? Because in that case the total value would go over 21 and the game for that hand holder would be over.

In hard hands, the value of the Ace loses flexibility. If present, the Ace needs to be given the value of 1 to prevent exceeding 21 and busting. A hard hand is K-8 or 9-8, but also 6-A-Q and A-4-10-3. A 7 and 8 are considered a hard 15, and such hard hands are risky hands to play. With hitting just one card, the risk of going bust is big and the dealer’s upcard is a significant consideration in these cases.

Soft Hand Explained
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Soft Hand Explained

A soft hand is the one where you’ve got an Ace and you can manipulate its value. In other words, you can assign the Ace 1 point or 11 points and still not go bust. For instance, if you have an Ace and a 7 in your initial cards, whichever card is the third card you will not go bust.

The hand can be counted initially as 8 or 18. If you draw a card that is higher than 3, simply count the Ace as 1 for the optimal total given the circumstances.

Recognize When You Have a Better Hand
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Recognize When You Have a Better Hand

Now that you know how to classify your hands in blackjack, it becomes clear that having a soft hand is seen as a more advantageous position. Whenever you are in possession of an Ace and you can manipulate its value according to the next card, it’s good to know that you will never go bust on the first hit. Soft hands are also more convenient for doubling down and generally a more economical outcome of a deal.

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