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How to Play Soft 19 in Blackjack

One of the hands that blackjack players sometimes misplay is soft 19. This is a hand that totals 19 and contains an ace counted as 11. Examples of soft 19 hands are A-8 and A-3-5.

The reason the above hands are classified as “soft” 19 is because the strategy for playing them is different from a hand that totals 19 and either doesn’t contain an Ace (e.g., 10-9), or, if an Ace is present, it is counted as 1 (e.g., 5-9-A-4). (These are known as “hard” 19 hands, because if you hit them, they can break.  By contrast, a “soft” hand cannot break if it you hit just one time.)

PLAYING OPTIONS

When you are dealt a soft 19, you have two playing options:

  • Stand
  • Double down

Which option is best depends on three variables:

  • What the dealer’s upcard is
  • The number of decks of cards being used
  • The playing rules

OPTIMAL STRATEGY FOR ONLINE & LAND-BASED CASINOS

FOR A SINGLE-DECK GAME

  • Double Down against a dealer’s 6 upcard
  • Stand on any other dealer’s upcard

The following color-coded strategy table summarizes the above strategy.

Note:

  • D means double down if allowed; otherwise, stand
  • S means Stand
  • S17 means dealer must stand on soft 17
  • H17 means dealer must hit soft 17.
Dealer’s Upcard
  2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
A-8 S S S S D S S S S S

FOR A DOUBLE- OR MULTI-DECK GAME WITH S17

  • Always stand against all dealer upcards
Dealer’s Upcard
  2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
A-8 S S S S S S S S S S

FOR A DOUBLE- OR MULTI-DECK GAMES WITH H17

  • Double Down against a dealer’s 6 upcard
  • Stand on any other dealer’s upcard
Dealer’s Upcard
  2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
A-8 S S S S D S S S S S

REASON FOR STRATEGY

In a double- or multi-deck game, when the rules are H17 you double down against a dealer 6 upcard whereas if it’s S17 you stand. When the blackjack dealer must hit her soft 17, she will bust 3.4% more frequently compared to when she must stand. This makes doubling down against a weak dealer 6 upcard in an H17 game better than standing.

The logic for doubling down against a dealer 6 in a single-deck game when the rules specify S17 is that the dealer breaks a half percent more often (compared to a double- and multi-deck game) and, therefore, doubling becomes the better play compared to standing (even though the margin is very small).

MULTI-CARD SOFT 19

When you are dealt a soft 19 containing three or more cards, doubling down is usually not allowed in land based or online blackjack. For example, suppose you were dealt a 2 and 6 and the dealer’s upcard is a 6. You hit and draw an Ace giving you a soft 19. The playing rules in most land-based and online casinos prohibit you from doubling down on a hand once you draw a third card; therefore, if you hold a multi-card soft 19, you should always stand.

Likewise, the rules in some land-based and online casinos let players double down only on hard hands (i.e., they are prohibited from doubling on soft hands). In addition, the rules in most video blackjack games in land-based casinos don’t allow players to double down on soft hands. So the bottom line is this:

  • If you have a multi-card soft 19, or the rules don’t allow soft doubling, always stand.

TIPS

The following two rules may help you remember the strategy for soft 19.

  • You double down on soft 19 against a dealer’s 6 upcard in:
    • a single-deck game
    • any double- and multi-deck game with H17
    • Stand against any other dealer upcard
  • You stand against any dealer upcard in a double- and multi-deck game with S17

How to Play Soft 19 in Blackjack

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