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Soft 18 Hand in Blackjack

One of the terms you may come across when you are playing Blackjack is a ‘Soft 18’ hand. If you are new to the game, you may not be aware of what that means. Here, we will look at what a Soft 18 hand is, some of the best ways to play the hand - and how the dealer’s up-card can influence your next move.

What is the Soft 18 Hand in Blackjack?

In blackjack, a ‘soft 18 hand' refers to a hand that adds up to a value of 18, containing an Ace valued at 11 points and a 7. Because of the Ace, the soft 18 is considered a more flexible hand compared to a ‘hard 18 hand’, which is made up of a 10-value card (like 10, Jack, Queen, or King) and an 8. You will have more options when you play the soft 18 because the Ace's value can be changed to 1 if you need to avoid going bust.

The strategy for playing a soft 18 will obviously vary depending on the specific blackjack variant and the number of decks in play. However, it's essential that you understand the basic principles of the hand so that you can make informed decisions and increase your chances of making the best possible move.

How to Play a Soft 18 Hand

Unfortunately, a Soft 18 hand is one of the most frequently misplayed hands in the game. It requires some strategic decision-making if you do want to maximise your chance of making the best decision based on the different factors.

Here, we will look at the best general strategies for playing a soft 18 hand and how they may need to adapt depending on the version of blackjack you’re playing.

General Strategy for Soft 18

In games with double or multiple decks where the dealer stands on soft 17 (s17), the optimal approach is as follows:

  • If the dealer's upcard is a 3, 4, 5, or 6, consider doubling down.
  • If the dealer's upcard is a 2, 7, or 8, it's generally best to stand.
  • If the dealer's upcard is a 9, 10, or Ace, then hitting is the recommended strategy unless you are playing a double-deck game.
  • If the variant you are playing has a rule that dictates that the dealer must hit on soft 17 (h17), then it may be advisable to double down if the dealer has an upcard of 2.

Single-Deck Games

In a single-deck game with rules that state the dealer has to stand on soft 17 (s17), the following could be suggested:

  • If the dealer shows a 3, 4, 5, or 6, then doubling down is a good choice.
  • If the dealer's upcard is a 2, 7, 8, or Ace, standing is typically the best strategy.
  • When the dealer reveals a 9 or 10, then hitting is the recommended move.
  • If the game rules stipulate that the dealer must hit on soft 17 (h17), you might consider hitting when the dealer's upcard is an Ace.

Ultimately, the right choice of strategy depends on the specific game rules and the number of decks in use. It's crucial to understand these strategies to enhance your blackjack gameplay.

Multi Card Soft 18

In cases where you have a soft 18 consisting of three or more cards, then the option to double down is generally not available. So, for instance, if your hand includes cards like 3 and 4, and the dealer's upcard is a 6, if you hit and get an Ace, it would give you a soft 18.

In most variations of the game, once you have drawn a third card, the rules usually prevent you from doubling down on the hand. As such, if you do have a multi-card soft 18, it's generally advisable to stand against a dealer's upcard of 3 through 6 - or 2, if the rules specify h17.

What’s more, some land-based and online casinos have rules that will only let players double down on hard hands - and not soft hands. So, to summarise:

If you find yourself with a multi-card soft 18 or the rules disallow soft doubling, it's usually best to stand instead of doubling if the dealer's upcard is 3 through 6 (with s17) or 2 through 6 (if the game is h17).

Blackjack Variations

It’s also worth noting that some blackjack variations have their own specific rules. In games such as Spanish 21, where the 10s are removed from the deck, the strategy for a soft 18 can change. Because the chances of receiving a 10-value card are significantly lower, it is generally more appropriate to stand on soft 18 against most dealer upcards.

Ultimately, playing a soft 18 hand in blackjack will need you to have a basic understanding of the specific rules of the game you're playing. While standing on soft 18 against lower dealer upcards is the most common strategy, hitting can be the right choice in some scenarios - especially if you think there’s a good chance the dealer will have a better hand. Also, remember that the number of decks in play and certain rules can influence your decision.

Dealers Up-Card

As we have touched on above, in the game of blackjack, your decisions as to whether you Hit or Stand should be based not only on your own hand but also on the dealer's up-card - especially if you have a soft 18 hand.

Dealer's Up-Card Scenarios:

So, with that being said, let’s take a look at some of the upcard scenarios…

Up-Card: 2, 7, or 8: When the dealer's up-card is a 2, 7, or 8, it's generally recommended that you stand on a soft 18. This is because the dealer's up-card is weak - and thus the chances of the dealer going over 21 are relatively high. By standing, you will be reliant on the dealer having to hit - and possibly bust.

Up-Card: 9, 10, or Ace: If the dealer's up-card is a 9, 10, or Ace, then it's generally advisable to hit on your soft 18. This is because the dealer has a strong up-card, increasing the chances of a strong hand. By hitting, you aim to improve your hand. The flexibility of the Ace in a soft hand allows you to potentially improve the hand without risking busting.

When the dealer has been given a weak up-card - 2, 7, or 8, then standing on soft 18 is a good option because the dealer is less likely to end up with a strong hand. As such, you can afford to wait and see if the dealer busts. However, when the dealer has been dealt with a strong up-card… a 9, 10, or Ace, then hitting becomes a better option. The risk of the dealer making a strong hand is generally a lot higher, so in order to stand a chance, you’ll need to try and improve your hand. Since the Ace in a soft hand can be counted as 1 or 11, you will have more flexibility to improve it without the risk of busting on the next hit.

Other Factors to Consider

It's important to note that the specific rules of the blackjack game you're playing can influence what decision you make. Some games may have additional options - like surrender, which you can use if you are facing a strong dealer up-card.

Essentially, the dealer's up-card is a very important factor to consider when you decide how to play a soft 18 hand in blackjack. Understanding the relationship between your hand and the dealer's up-card is key if you want to make a more informed decision.

Ultimately, the general rule is to stand on soft 18 against weak dealer up-cards and hit against strong ones.