How some players deal with difficult decisions
By John Grochowski
Soft totals are the bane of existence for some players who otherwise are solid on basic strategy. When an Ace is counted as 11, as in Ace-5 for hard 16, you can’t bust with a one-card hit; draw a 10, and the Ace becomes a 1 and you have hard 16. If you have soft 17 or below, it’s never the correct basic strategy play to stand, and it’s sometimes profitable to double down, depending on your total and the dealer’s up card.
Not all players get that. Soft hands are frequently misplayed. Regardless of whether that’s to the consternation or amusement of other players, they notice.
For this edition of Table Talk, players share their tales of those having a hard time with soft hands.
I swear, half the players I see have no idea what to do with a soft hand.
Last week, there was a player at my table who had soft 17 against a 6. He asked the dealer: “What should I do with that?” The dealer said, “I don’t know, honey. I just deal the cards. Ask them.”
So he crowd-sourced it and asked everyone. I said to double down, another player agreed, two others said hit and one said, “Are you kidding me? He has 17.Why wouldn’t he stand?”
All advice considered, he decided to hit. Better than standing, anyway. Then he drew a 4 and had 21.
I couldn’t help myself. I said to him, “I bet you wish you’d doubled.” He said, no, he’d have been too nervous doubling on a hand he half-thought he should stand on.
It’s his hand, but I still shuddered a little.
This dude had the whole table and the dealer trying to help him, and he would not listen.
He had a soft 16, Ace-5. The dealer had a 7, and the player signaled to stand.
The dealer hesitated and said, “Are you sure?” Everybody else tried to help and told him he should hit. A couple of people tried to explain that he couldn’t hurt the hand by hitting. He had a hand that couldn’t win if the dealer didn’t bust, and if the draw didn’t help him, he wouldn’t bust and he still had a hand that could win only if the dealer went bust.
He looked at the people who told him that for a few seconds, then he shook his head. Nothing anyone could say was going to change his mind.
The player at third base was next to draw, and he got a 3, and a couple of people made sure the other one knew that would have improved him to 19.
I was in good shape with 20, but I was almost hoping the dealer had a 10 down.
Didn’t happen. The dealer had a 9 down for 16 and drew an 8 to bust. Everybody got paid, and the soft 16 guy probably still thinks he made a great play.
My favorite was a young man, probably mid-20s, who loved his soft doubling. If he had a soft hand and the dealer had a 6 or under, he was going to double.
That even included a pair of Aces. He put his money out for a second bet, and the dealer went to split the Aces, and he player said, “No, double.”
The dealer did a double-take, then looked over at the supervisor and called out, “Doubling down on 2!’
Dealers are part of this sometimes, you know. There are some who know the game, there are some who just keep quiet, and there are some who give really bad advice.
One dealer I had didn’t exactly hand out advice on every hand, but he did like to talk. I had a soft 18 against his 10, and I signaled to hit. He kind of did a double take, didn’t say anything, then gave me a 3 for a 21 that beat his 20.
He said, “You got me that time, but I don’t know about hitting 18. Could lose a lot of money, giving up 18.”
I just shrugged it off, but a little later, another player had soft 18 against 10, and this time the player asked. “You didn’t like his play before. You’re saying I should stand on this?”
The dealer said, “I see a lot of hands, but I don’t see a lot of players win by hitting 18.” I put in my two cents: “I bet you do see a lot of players stand on soft 18 and lose to your 20.”
Most of the table laughed, but the player who asked took the dealer’s advice and stood and lost the hand.
This guy sat down and said it was his first time, and people said welcome, good luck. One lady said she hoped everyone would cut him a little slack, and I seconded that. Blackjack players can get a little rough on mistakes.
Everything went well for the first few hands. He was hitting and standing at the right times and even made a double down.
Then he got his first soft hand, Ace-4 against a 5.A few people tried to explain that soft hands were different, that he couldn’t bust. The woman told him it was a good double down hand.
He said, “That’s not right. My uncle wrote the strategy out for me.”
He pulled out a paper, and someone had written a basic strategy chart by hand, but only for hard totals. The uncle hadn’t given him soft hand strategies.