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How to play your 12

The complete rules for playing that 12

By Henry Tamburin


A 12 in blackjack is considered a “ho-hum” hand; however, many players misplay it regardless of how long they have played blackjack. I’ll summarize how to play your 12 perfectly every time no matter what the composition of the cards in your hand, the number of decks dealt, or the playing rules.

First let’s look at how many different ways you can be a dealt a 12. It could be 7-5;8-4; 9-3; 10-2; 6-6; and A-A (yep, a pair of Aces is a soft 12). Let’s take a closer look at how you should play each of them.

Hard 12

A hard 12 can be made up of 7-5, 8-4, 9-3, or 10-2. (I’ll ignore 6-6 for the moment and come back to it shortly.) Traditional basic strategy (also known as “total-dependent strategy”) says to stand on hard 12 against a dealer’s 4, 5, and 6 up card, and hit against a dealer’s 2, 3, and 7 though Ace up card.

The biggest mistake that players make when they are dealt a hard 12 occurs when the dealer’s up card is a 2 or 3. Instead of hit-ting, they often stand instead. Why? Simply because they are afraid to hit their 12, draw any 10, and bust when the dealer is showing a “weak” 2 or 3 up card and may have a 10 “in the hole” and also bust. However, take a look at this. When you hit your 12, only four cards will bust you: any 10, Jack, Queen, or King. On the other hand, there are five draw cards that will get you to a pat hand of 17 through 21 (any 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9). In other words, more cards will get you to a made hand than will bust your hand. It’s true that you should stand on 12 against any dealer’s 4, 5, and 6 up card because of the dealer’s high bust frequency (40%, 43%, and 42% respectively). But with a 2 or 3 up card showing, the dealer is not as weak as you think because the bust frequency is lower. (For a 2 up card, the bust frequency is 35%, meaning she will make a hand 13 times out of 20; for a 3 up-card, the bust frequency is 37%, meaning she will make a hand five times out of eight). Consequently, the percentages are slightly better for hitting a hard 12 against a dealer’s 2 and 3 than for standing.

Let’s take a look now at a 12 that comprises 10-2. Against a dealer’s 4 up card, traditional basic strategy says to stand. This is correct for 7-5, 8-4, and 9-3, but when your 12 is made up of 10-2, you are slightly better off hitting against a dealer’s 4 up card in single- and double-deck games, and in 4-, 5-, or 6-deck games with s17.

Blackjack author Donald Schlesinger, creator of the Ultimate Strategy Cards that contain not only the traditional “total-dependent” strategy but also the advanced “composition-dependent strategy,” offers this explanation for the latter strategy of hitting 10-2 vs. 4.

“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 up card, but in an eight-deck game, it’s best to stand.”

Besides the 10-2 against a dealer 4, there are five more composition-dependent strategies for a total of 12, which I’ve summarized below.

Single Deck

10-2 vs. 6: Hit if s17

8-4 and 7-5 vs. 3: Stand

Double Deck

8-4 and 7-5 vs. 3: Stand if h17


For a hard 12, follow the traditional strategy of hitting against a dealer’s 2, 3, and 7 through A, and standing on 4, 5, and 6 with the following exceptions:

(Note: s17 = dealer must stand on soft 17; h17 = dealer must hit on soft 17.)

Single Deck

10-2 vs. 4: Hit

10-2 vs. 6: Hit if s17

8-4 and 7-5 vs. 3: Stand

Double Deck

8-4 and 7-5 vs. 3: Stand if h17


10-2 vs 4: Hit if s17 and 4, 5, or 6 decks

Pair of 6s

When you are dealt a pair of 6s, you should split them most of the time against a weak dealer’s up card. However, the pair-splitting strategy for 6s varies slightly depending on whether the rules allow you to double down after pair splitting (i.e., DAS) or not (i.e., NDAS). Here’s the correct way to play your 6s.

Single and Double Deck

With NDAS, split against 2-6

With DAS, split against 2-7


With NDAS, split against 3-6

With DAS, split against 2-6

Pair of Aces

When you are dealt a pair of Aces, your starting hand is soft 12; however, you should al-ways split A’s into two hands, each starting with an Ace, regardless of the number of decks and the playing rules. (If the rules allow you to re-split Aces, you should also do so.)

Multi-Card 12

Sometimes you wind up with a 12 consisting of three (or more) cards (e.g., 4-2-6; A-2-9; or 3-5-3-A). In all cases, you should follow the strategy for hard hands listed above with this exception for a single-deck game only: Stand on an original multi-card 12 hand against a 3

There you have it, the complete playing rules for 12. Now you have no excuse not to play a 12 correctly the next time you are dealt it.

Henry Tamburin is the editor of Blackjack Insider Newsletter (, the lead instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack Course(, and host of For a free three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to To receive his free Casino Gambling Catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit

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