There are several ways to get an 18 when you play blackjack. The 18 could be “hard,” meaning the hand either doesn’t contain an ace, or if it does, the ace is counted as one. (Examples are 10-8, 8-5-5 and ace-4-10-3.) Or you can get a “soft 18,” meaning a hand containing an ace that is counted as 11. (Examples are ace-7, and 5-2-ace.)
Moreover, you could be dealt a pair of 9s for 18. What follows are the playing strategies for all these “different” 18s — and some might surprise you!
The strategy for a hard 18 is simple. Always stand.
Most players are very happy to be dealt a hard 18. They are ready to break out the bubbly and take their winnings to the bank because they believe they have a big edge regardless of what the dealer’s upcard happens to be.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but winning a hard 18 (e.g., 10-8) is not always a sure thing. You’ll have the edge when the dealer shows a 2 through 8 but against the dealer’s 9, 10 and ace, you’re at a disadvantage.
The bottom line is this: Even though you should always stand with a hard 18, you are only a slight favorite to win that hand, after the dealer ascertains that he doesn’t have a natural, and, were you to be offered a starting 10-8 all the time, you would actually be a net loser of about 0.64 percent, allowing for the dealer to have a natural.
So, don’t get all excited when you’re dealt 10-8; you aren’t going to get rich with that holding!
When you are dealt a soft 18, you could stand, hit or double down. Most players routinely stand when their initial hand is a soft 18 but you should only do this when the dealer’s upcard is a 2, 7 or 8 (S17 game), because the player’s expectation is more favorable compared to hitting or doubling down.
Against a dealer’s 9, 10 or ace, you should always hit.
Multi-Card Soft 18
Suppose you were dealt an ace-2 against a dealer’s 4 upcard. You follow the basic strategy and hit, and draw a 5 for a three-card soft 18 (ace-2-5). Since the playing rules don’t allow doubling on a three-card hand, what should you do? The correct playing strategy for a multi-card soft 18 is to always stand when the dealer shows a 2 though 8 upcard, and hit when he shows a 9, 10 or ace.
Pair of 9s
The correct basic strategy for a pair of 9s is to split when the dealer shows a 2 through 6, 8 and 9, and stand when he shows a 7, 10 or ace. You split 9s against a dealer’s small card because you’ll earn more money playing two hands, starting with a 9 on each, than you would by playing one hand, starting with 18.
When you stand on a pair of 9s against a dealer’s 9, you are in trouble because he often will have a 10 in the hole and his 19 will beat your 18. Here again, you are slightly better off playing two hands starting each with 9 (even though sometimes you will lose two bets). Against a dealer’s 7, splitting 9s will get you the money, but you’ll win more in the long run by standing, since your 18 will beat the dealer’s 17, if he has a 10 in the hole.
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