What Is A Soft 17 In Blackjack?
One of the most important aspects of playing blackjack is knowing how to distinguish one table from another, and how the differences may affect your game. Whether you’re playing at a land-based casino or online, you’ve definitely come across mentions of the soft 17 rule, soft and hard hands, as well as S17 and H17. But what is a soft 17 in blackjack? What does a soft hand mean for you, the player, and how does a soft 17 influence the dealer’s actions? What is the soft 17 rule, and how does it affect the house edge? This article will answer all of these burning questions, guide you through the basics of playing blackjack and cover all the ins and outs of what a soft 17 is.
Blackjack is a popular game of choice available in nearly every casino, on par with staple games like roulette, poker and baccarat. The rules are simple, but don’t take the game’s simplicity for granted — it’s packed with strategy! Blackjack has one of the lowest house edges among all casino games, and what makes this game truly special is that blackjack players can further reduce the casino’s advantage through strategy.
How To Play Blackjack
The game’s objective is to beat the house by forming a hand with a total value closest to 21 without going over it. All number cards take their face value, and face cards (J, Q, and K) are 10 points each. The ace can be 11 points or one, depending on the hand’s total value. If having the ace at 11 will push the hand over a total of 21, then it will count as one.
Online blackjack is played with live dealers and has a limited betting window of just a few seconds. Aside from the main bet, online tables may allow you to place side bets as well, such as the Any Pair, Hot 3, Bust It and 21+3 side bets. When the betting time is over, players who wagered will be dealt two cards face up, and the dealer receives one face-up card (upcard) and a second card face down (hole card). Players must use the dealer’s upcard to determine the probability of winning with their hand.
After the initial hands have been dealt, the player will be the first to act — hit, stand, split or double down. Hitting will deal another card, thereby increasing the point total, while standing keeps the hand as is and ends the turn. Splitting is only available on pairs or cards of the same value (like 7-7 or 10-J). Doubling down will double the wager in exchange for only one additional card, after which the player’s turn ends. The player may also be offered the option to take Insurance or, more rarely, to surrender. Surrendering forfeits the hand in return for half the wager, and Insurance is a safety net (at the cost of half the original wager) if the dealer has blackjack.
Soft vs Hard Hands
What determines whether a hand is soft or hard is just one card — the ace. A soft hand in blackjack is any hand that contains an ace counted at 11.The ace can be 11 points or just one, depending on the hand's total point value. If the total exceeds 21, the ace will be valued at one to prevent the hand from busting. For example, ace-6 and ace-3-3 are both a soft 17. A 10-7 is a hard hand, but so is ace-7-9; if the hand doesn’t contain an ace or has one or more aces counted as one, then the hand is hard.
What Does Soft 17 Mean For Blackjack Players?
Other than the structure of the hand, the main distinction is how soft hands are played by the dealers and players. Basic strategy suggests that a player should always stand on a hard 17 total, like 10-7, and never stand on a soft 17 total, like A-6. A player's strategy should be adjusted depending on the dealer's upcard and whether the table is S17 or H17 — every situation calls for a different approach, and there is a right way to play every hand.
The Soft 17 Rule
A blackjack table will always be labelled as S17 or H17, distinguished by the print on the baize-covered table or specified in the rules section (in online blackjack).
- S17 — The dealer must stand on soft 17, labeled with “Dealer Must Stand on Soft 17”.
- H17 — The soft 17 rule is in effect, meaning that the dealer must hit on a soft 17. This table will usually be labelled with “Dealer Hits on Soft 17”.
House Edge on H17
When the soft 17 rule is in effect, the dealer hits soft 17 and usually busts more often. This sounds great for the player but is quite misleading. Hitting soft 17 increases the dealer’s chances of busting, but it also increases their chances of building a stronger hand. To put it in perspective, the odds of busting go up by about 0.40% when the dealer hits on a soft hand of 17, while the odds of forming a better hand increase by about 0.80%. In other words, when the dealer doesn’t bust when the soft 17 rule is in play, their hand is more likely to become strong enough to beat the player’s.
This means that the house edge increases by roughly 0.20% on H17 tables, which is enough to turn most players away. The house edge in online casino blackjack is one of the lowest among all casino games, standing at just about 0.50% — a 0.20% increase is nothing to scoff at. Fortunately, there are a few adjustments that you can make to the basic blackjack playing strategy to account for the soft 17 rule.
House Edge — Number Of Decks
The house edge will also increase depending on the number of decks in play — the more decks are in the shoe, the higher the casino’s edge will be. Why does the house edge increase with the number of decks when the ratio of high to low cards remains the same? The ratio is, in fact, the same — but the likelihood of getting blackjack is not.
Let’s say you are playing a single-deck blackjack game at a casino, and an ace is your first card. The probability of getting blackjack is 16/51, where 16 is the number of 10-point cards and 51 is the remaining deck, excluding your ace. The likelihood of drawing a 10-point card is thus 31.37%. In an eight-deck game, there will be 415 cards left in the shoe after you are dealt an ace, 128 of which are worth 10 points. The likelihood of getting blackjack is 128/415, or 30.84%. Fewer blackjacks mean a higher house edge; the difference between a single-deck and an eight-deck game is about 0.25%.
H17 And The Dealer’s Upcard — What Should You Do?
Strategy modifications should be made while keeping the number of decks in mind; while single-deck blackjack is more favourable for the player, players will mostly find multi-deck games in online casinos. Additionally, whether the table allows doubling down after splitting (DAS), resplitting aces (RSA) and late surrender (LS) can play a significant role in adjusting your strategy and, in turn, impact the house edge. If you can double down after splitting, for example, you can subtract 0.15% from the house edge.
Online casino blackjack is typically S17 with an eight-deck shoe, but some casinos may use a single deck or a double-deck shoe. Since most H17 online blackjack games are played with four or more decks, we will cover the basic strategy for the player in multi-deck games. The information below is widely available online on blackjack strategy charts. A perfect blackjack strategy chart covers every possible scenario and presents you with the mathematically optimal decision to take. Keep a strategy chart like this handy the next time you play — mastering basic strategy is fundamental to every blackjack player and will help you play a soft or hard hand optimally in every scenario.
- Soft hands of 13 and 14 — Hit on dealer’s 2-4 and 7-A, double down if allowed on 5-6; otherwise, hit.
- Soft hands of 15 and 16 — Hit on 2-3 and 7-A, double down on 4-6 if allowed; otherwise, hit.
- Soft 17 — With a soft 17, you should hit on 2 and 7-A, double down on 3-6 if allowed; otherwise, hit. Standing on soft 17 is inadvisable.
- Soft 18 — Double down when the dealer shows 2-6 if allowed; otherwise, stand. Stand on 7-8 and hit on 9-A.
- Soft 19 — It is generally better to stand on a soft 19. Double down, if allowed, on 6; otherwise, stand.
- Soft 20+ — Stand, regardless of the dealer’s upcard. The odds of improving a total of 20-21 are very low.
For more information on how to play a soft 17 or any soft hand, consult a basic strategy chart online or one of the many guides on playing this game.
- Hard 4-8 — You should never stand! Hit when the dealer shows any card.
- Hard 9 — Hit when the dealer shows 2 and 7-A, double down on 3-6 if allowed; otherwise, hit.
- Hard 10 — Double down, if allowed, on 2-9; otherwise, hit. Hit on 10-A as well.
- Hard 11 — Double down on 2-A, if allowed; otherwise, hit.
- Hard 12 — Hit on 2-3 and 7-A, stand on 4-6.
- Hard 13 and 14 — Stand on 2-6 and hit on 7-A.
- Hard 15 — Stand on 2-6 and hit on 7-9. If surrender is available, surrender on 10-A; otherwise, hit.
- Hard 16 — Stand on 2-6 and hit on 7-8. If surrender is available, surrender on 9-A; otherwise, hit.
- Hard 17 — Stand on 2-10, surrender when the dealer’s upcard is an ace; if surrender is unavailable, stand.
- Hard 18+ — Stand on any hard hand of 18 or more.
- 2,2 and 3,3 — If DAS, split on 2-3; otherwise, hit. Split on 4-7 and hit on 8-A.
- 4,4 — Hit on 2-4 and 7-A. If DAS, split on 5-6; otherwise, hit. It is worth mentioning that splitting 4s is generally inadvisable.
- 5,5 — Don’t split a pair of 5s.
- 6,6 — Split on 2 if doubling after splitting is allowed; otherwise, hit. Split on 3-6 and hit on 7-A.
- 7,7 — Split on 2-7 and hit on 8-A.
- 8,8 — Split on 2-10. Surrender on ace if allowed; otherwise, split.
- 9,9 — Split on 2-6 and 8-9. Stand on 7, 10 and ace.
- 10,10 — Don’t split a pair of 10s.
- A,A — Always split.
When it comes to strategy in this casino game, the bottom line is that one size doesn’t fit all. Strategy is integral to the game — every rule matters, and every situation calls for a different approach. No matter which blackjack hand you’re playing with, there is a mathematically optimal way to play. Aside from mastering the rules of play, players should also dedicate their efforts to managing their bankroll. Money management is as important as understanding blackjack rules and strategy, and will help you avoid common bankroll mistakes. Establish a budget and never wager outside of your means — chance plays a role as significant as skill. Please play responsibly!