Blackjack Soft Hand 19 or 20

Knowing how to proceed in a particular situation is crucial for players who want to make the most of every game. One of the hands they are certainly bound to get is the so-called soft hand or in other words, whenever they have an ace valued as 11 and another card.

Such hands are often misplayed as most of them place the players in a very tough position. Thus, it is essential for players to get familiar with every possible hand they can get as this will allow them to be prepared in advance and know what moves are their best choice.

It is also worth mentioning that along with a great understanding of the game and a good strategy, they need to be extremely disciplined in order to manage their bets successfully. The only way players can win in the long run is if they play every time according to their chosen strategy and stick to it throughout the game. They need to know what move they should do next and what its possible outcomes will be.

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Best Moves for Soft 19 and Soft 20

Soft 19 and soft 20 are hands that many experienced players hope for when playing blackjack. Soft 19, in particular, is often misplayed by less knowledgeable players. This is when you have an ace valued as 11 and an 8 in your hand. Other examples of soft 19 include 2-6-A, 5-3-A, and A-7-A.

With soft 20, you are dealt an ace assigned a value of 11 next to a 9 in your hand. This soft total can also result from the following card combinations: 5-4-A, A-3-6, and 7-2-A. Being soft, these totals require a different playing strategy from the one used for hard 19 and hard 20. The latter either lack any aces or have an ace but its value is 1 rather than 11.

Such totals are called hard because the player can break their hand on the next card draw. This is not the case with totals like soft 19 and soft 20 where it is impossible to bust if you draw one more card. If you draw a higher-value card, the ace will automatically switch from 11 to 1 and save you from busting.

To make the best possible decision, players always take into account two things – the total of their hand and the dealer’s upcard. The strategy for these two soft hands is almost the same regardless of what the dealer’s upcard is, which is extremely convenient and easy to remember.

Let’s begin with soft 20 first because there is only one way to optimally play this soft total without regard to the number of decks and other table rules. Soft 20 is always a stand against all upcards of the dealer no matter which blackjack variation you play.

Things are a little bit trickier with soft 19 as it requires modifications against certain dealer upcards, depending on the number of packs in play and the drawing rules the dealer is bound to follow. Splitting and hitting are not among the viable options for a player who is dealt a soft 19. With this total, your choice is narrowed down to two strategy plays – you either stand or double down.

Soft 19 is a stand versus all dealer upcards (deuce through ace) in double-deck and multiple-deck blackjack variations where the dealer must stand on soft 17. The hand should be doubled down against a 6 in double-deck and multi-deck games where the dealer is bound to draw to soft 17.

In single-deck variants of 21, players must always double on this soft hand versus the 6 and stand against all other possible card values of the dealer. The latter rules are always applicable to single-deck games without regard to the dealer’s drawing requirements.

Soft 19 and Soft 20 Basic Strategy Chart for Single-Deck S17 and H17 Blackjack
Players’ Hand Dealer’s Upcard
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ace
Soft 19 S S S S Ds S S S S S
Soft 20 S S S S S S S S S S
S = Stand; Ds = Double if possible, otherwise stand

The strategy from the chart above coincides with the one for double-deck and multiple-deck variants with a dealer hitting soft 17, i.e. you double against the 6 and stand against the rest of the exposed cards of the dealer. Follow the moves from the chart below when you are up against a dealer standing on soft 17 in games that utilise anywhere between two and eight packs of cards.

Soft 19 and Soft 20 Basic Strategy Chart for Double- and Multi-Deck S17 Blackjack
Players’ Hand Dealer’s Upcard
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ace
Soft 19 S S S S S S S S S S
Soft 20 S S S S S S S S S S

Reasons To Stand With Soft 19 and Soft 20

The reason for the above-mentioned strategy is that these two soft hands put players in a very favourable position. Choosing any other move instead of standing (or doubling when the ruleset calls for it) will simply ruin their decent total and reduce their expected value. To make the most of it, it will be best for players to abide by the correct strategy if they want to extract the most expectation from these beneficial spots.

Moreover, having in mind that the average winning hand is 18.5, whenever players have soft 19 or soft 20, they have all that is needed to accomplish the desired win. There is no point in undertaking any further actions to improve it as the chances that it will result in something worse are rather high.

Such situations are a bonanza for players and they need to make the most of them every time they have the chance to. Soft 19 and soft 20 put them in a very advantageous position and allow them to build their winnings.

Thus, in such cases, it is best to keep the decent total value they give players by simply choosing to stand. The only exception to the standing rule occurs when holding a soft 19 in single-deck blackjack and multi-deck games under the H17 rule. The reasoning behind doubling here is that the player’s soft 19 dominates the dealer’s weak 6-up in H17 multi-deck games.

A 6 is particularly bad for a dealer who hits soft 17 as they will break their hand nearly three and a half times more often compared to variations where they must stand on this soft total. The whole point of doubling in these circumstances is to boost your winnings with a hand that holds very well against the dealer’s low upcard.

EV of Soft 19 (A-8) vs. the Dealer’s 6 in Eight-Deck H17 Blackjack
Doubling +0.461836
Standing +0.45245
Hitting +0.230918

The above figures are courtesy of blackjack expert Michael Shackleford. They indicate that doubling is the best possible choice with A-8 under the above-described playing conditions. This is because it earns you more and helps you capitalise on your advantage. If you double, every pound you wager on this hand would earn you 46 pence on average. By contrast, standing results in profits of around 45 pence whereas hitting earns you only 23 pence per pound wagered.

Of course, gamblers have the power to decide which is indeed the best move they can make in a particular situation. However, the odds that such hands can be improved are very low and it is simply not reasonable to take the risk. There are many other cases where risky decisions cannot be avoided so players must refrain from doing so whenever they can.

As for soft 20, the hand is always a stand since this is the move that produces the greatest expected value for the player. While there is still no risk of busting on the next hit, hitting or doubling on this soft hand are not optimal since very few cards can help you improve to the coveted total of 21.

Practically the only way for this to happen with a single hit is for the player to draw an ace. The chances of this happening have dropped given that you already hold one of the aces from the deck/shoe in your A-9. Thus, drawing to your soft 20 is not a viable option even against weak dealers with small-value upcards, as shown in the chart below.

EV of Different Plays for Soft 20 vs. 5 in Multi-Deck S17 Blackjack
Standing +0.670360
Hitting +0.256259
Doubling +0.512517

All three plays for soft 20 result in a long-term positive expectation but standing beats the other two moves, producing the greatest value for the player. It beats doubling earning you roughly 16 pence more per every pound wagered. Compared to hitting, standing produces approximately 40 pence more in terms of expected value.

When the Dealer’s Upcard is Weak

Whenever players find themselves in a situation where they are dealt a good hand such as soft 19 or soft 20, their only choice should be to stand (or double down under some playing conditions) even if the dealer’s upcard is 3, 4 or any other weak card. The total value of their hand is sufficient against any of the dealer’s upcards.

Doubling on soft 19 is optimal against a 6 only in variations where the dealer hits soft 17. This is due to the slight increase in the dealer’s bust percentages when they start with a 6 under this house rule. In a six-deck game under the S17 rule, the dealer is likely to bust 42.3% of the time when their first card is a 6.

Meanwhile, this percentage increases to 43.9% in H17 variants that implement six full packs of cards. The odds favour doubling, not standing, under such conditions since the goal is for the player to extract greater winnings from the dealer’s higher disadvantage.

Of course, if the playing rules of your chosen online or landbased blackjack variation disallow doubling on soft totals, you should opt for the next best move and stand. The same goes for soft 19 hands that contain more than two cards, like 6-2-A, in which instance most casinos prohibit doubling down.

Player is dealt a Soft 20. Dealer’s Up card is a 3. Although, the Up card is weak, Player should Stand.

Benefits of Having Soft Hands

Whenever players have soft hands, there are a few useful things that can help them make better choices and understand the reason behind every move a particular strategy suggests. One of them is that if they have an ace and any other card in their hand, players cannot go bust as whatever card they draw, they can always use the flexibility the ace gives them and change their hand value accordingly.

However, in cases where players are lucky enough to get a soft 19 or soft 20 in their hand, any other move than standing (or alternatively doubling in some instances) will only ruin these hands’ decent total value. Players need to bear in mind that soft 19 and soft 20 hands are usually sufficient to win as the chances that the dealer can beat them are very low.

Conclusion

As already mentioned, the most frequently misplayed hands are the soft ones as many players aren’t familiar with how to play them or even what the term refers to. It is really important to acknowledge the fact that without any clue what a particular hand can lead to, there is no chance they can win in the long run. A reliable strategy should be used if they want to understand why a particular move has the following outcomes.

Hand soft 19 and soft 20 place players in a very favourable position as their total is above the average winning hand (18.5) and the ace gives them the ability to change their hand whenever they want. In such cases, there is no need to do that as these hands’ total value is largely decent enough.

The best possible move players can make is to just stand and see how the game unfolds. Doubling is correct only against the 6 in single-deck blackjack as well as in multi-deck variants where the dealer is bound to draw to soft 17. Your hand will likely be a winning one as the dealer won’t be able to beat it. Thus, players need to take advantage as much as they can whenever they have such hands.