Throughout the year I practice gambling skills to keep sharp in some games while learning how to play some other games. While practicing blackjack for an upcoming vacation I noticed that I kept making the same mistake as I have for my entire life. I never hit a soft 18 against 9 or 10.
I play blackjack games with a nearly perfect basic strategy except for this and a couple other hands but always want to get better. Playing perfect basic strategy is a great way to minimize the casino’s house edge.
In the case of a boozy vacation, it’s a great way to play longer and enjoy more drinks. I realized that I had this habit of not hitting soft 18 a few years ago. This is one of the most commonly misplayed hands in blackjack. Here’s a more involved look at this mistake and some other hands that blackjack players get wrong often.
Not Hitting Soft 18 When Dealer Has 9 or 10 Showing
Like many recreational players, I’m a bit timid when it comes to playing high soft hands against high cards. In this case, the Ace-7 is the nemesis. Basic strategy says that players should hit Ace-7 when the dealer has a 9 or 10 showing. Players will lose more often by standing on a soft 18 against these cards. Hitting a soft 18 here is a small winner here and will help keep a bankroll alive a little longer.
Not Hitting 12 When Dealer Has 2 or 3 Showing
This never made sense when I first started playing blackjack. I was taught to assume the dealer has a 10 in the hole and that the next card would be a 10. I was also taught not to hit when the dealer has a “bust card” of a 2-6 showing. After learning basic strategy, I understand these premises are not correct. This is a move that either draws praise or anger from other players. Some people know the correct strategy and others just play a mythological game.
Not Doubling 11
Unless the dealer is showing an Ace the player should double every time they’re dealt an 11. This is a great way to make money playing blackjack. Yes, you should even double when the dealer is showing a 10 or face card. Many players are timid and have a recency bias that only remembers getting burned by doubling when the dealer turns over a winner. Over time doubling 11 will pay off more often than it fails.
Not Splitting Pairs Often Enough
Even the most recreational blackjack player knows to always split Aces and 8’s. What many players don’t realize is how often they should be splitting pairs. According to the correct basic strategy, you’ll be splitting pairs as high has 9’s. Players should be splitting 9’s against all dealer upcards except 7, 10, and Ace. A pair of 7’s should be split unless the dealer has an 8, 9, 10, or Ace showing. Newer players tend to shy away from splitting 7’s against a 7.
There are plenty more examples of splitting cards but there’s one pair that should never be split. A pair of 5’s should be doubled if the dealer is showing anything besides a 10 or Ace. In this case, players should only hit.
Practice Basic Blackjack Strategy
Spend time learning and practicing basic strategy before heading to the casino to play blackjack. The advent of simulators on laptops and mobile training apps allows you to practice blackjack anywhere at any time. I get my practice time for all games in while I’m catching up on the news or watching sports. The distractions offer a close to real life simulation that playing in silence doesn’t offer.