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Best of Alan Krigman

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How Important Are Doubles on Soft Blackjack Hands?

5 January 1998

Basic strategy is unambiguous about doubling down on soft blackjack hands against low dealer up-cards. But even seasoned players may falter in the heat of the action. Here are the rules for the games you're most apt to encounter... multiple decks, doubling is allowed, and the dealer must stand on soft 17.
o Ace-two & ace-three: double against five or six, hit against two to four.
o Ace-four & ace-five: double against four to six, hit against two and three.
o Ace-six: double against three to six, hit against two.
o Ace-seven: double against three to six, stand against two.

On any individual hand, breaking these rules may work out well for yourself and your tablemates. But results of particular hands aren't what separate proficient players from solid citizens who think it's all just luck - mostly bad. That distinction involves knowing which decisions maximize "expectation" - yield the most expected profit or least expected loss - before the fact.

How important is proper doubling on soft hands against low dealer up-cards? I'll give some examples for six-deck games.


Say you're dealt soft 16 - ace-five - against a dealer's four. The rules tell you to double. If you do, expected net profit per dollar initial bet is $0.059. Hitting is also favorable but expected net profit drops to $0.039. A player who stands on soft 16 against four, a rare but not extinct bird known as a bozo, faces a highly unfavorable expected net loss of $0.204.

Consider another situation. You have soft 14 - ace-three - and the dealer shows a three. The "book" says hit. If you do, expected net profit is $0.050 per dollar bet. Doubling in this case is unfavorable, an expected loss of $0.003 per dollar initial bet. Now, the wrong move not only cuts expectation by $0.053 per dollar initial bet, but also shifts edge from you to the house.

These are intermediate cases of decreased earnings potential. Here are the expectation penalties per dollar initial bet in the six costliest situations. Values are for common departures from basic strategy; gross incompetence, like standing on ace-two vs two or hitting ace-seven vs six, would be worse.
o Ace-six vs six, hit when you should double: $0.129
o Ace-two vs two, double when you should hit: $0.112
o Ace-seven vs six, stand when you should double: $0.102
o Ace-seven vs five, stand when you should double: $0.101
o Ace-six vs five, hit when you should double: $0.099
o Ace-five vs six, hit when you should double: $0.084

Some differences in expectation arising from incorrectly playing soft hands against low dealer up-cards are admittedly small. Here are the penalties per dollar initial bet for common basic strategy violations in the six least costly situations.

o Ace-two vs five, hit when you should double: $0.003
o Ace-seven vs two, double when you should stand: $0.003
o Ace-four vs four, hit when you should double: $0.003
o Ace-six vs two, double when you should hit: $0.005
o Ace-three vs four, double when you should hit: $0.015
o Ace-five vs three, double when you should hit: $0.016

Another way to rank penalties for common breaches of basic strategy on soft hands against low dealer up-cards involves errors which shift edge from player to dealer. This occurs when players double rather than hit on the following seven hands, in decreasing order of severity.
o Ace-two vs two
o Ace-three vs two
o Ace-two vs three
o Ace-three vs three
o Ace-four vs three
o Ace-five vs three
o Ace-six vs two

Overall, properly doubling soft hands in six-deck games reduces house edge in blackjack by approximately 0.09 percent. This is not insignificant; it exceeds the benefit offered by the highly-prized ability to resplit aces. Further, a double when a hit or stand would be preferred is a double whammy, since it adds to the house advantage. So it's well worth the effort to follow the correct strategy for these hands. As Sumner A Ingmark, a poet with a soft touch if not soft hands, said:


Proper soft-hand doubles,
Lessen blackjack troubles.

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.