In more years of playing than I care to count, I’ve seen any number of changes come to blackjack. The rise of automatic shufflers and continuous shufflers comes to mind, along with the horror of casinos that pay only 6-5 on blackjacks. (Note to readers: If blackjacks pay 6-5 instead of 3-2, do not play.)
One sweeping change in recent years is the trend toward dealers hitting soft 17, even at multiple-deck games. Single-deck players are used to having dealers hit soft 17, but until recent years it was common to have dealers stand on Ace-6, Ace-2-4, Ace-3-3 and others 17s with an Ace counted as an 11.
Today, it’s difficult to find a stand-on-all 17s game at low limit tables anywhere in the United States, and even some bigger bettors have to sweat it out when their 18 is endangered by a dealer draw to Ace-Ace-5.
It’s a rule that’s tough on players, adding about two-tenths of a percent to the house edge against a basic strategy player. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enormous given that house edges against basic strategy players are measured in tenths of a percent.
Take a common six-deck game with few frills, one where players are allowed to double down on any first two cards, including after splits, and may split pairs of 2s through Kings up to three times for a total of four hands, but may split Aces only once, and get only one card on each Ace. With no surrender or other exotic rules, that’s a widely available game.
If the dealer stands on all 17s, the house edge against those who know their basic strategy is 0.40 percent. But if the dealer hits soft 17, that house edge soars to 0.62 percent. The game is more than half again tougher when the dealer hit soft 17.
In terms of strategy, there’s not much we can do about it. In games of four or more decks, there are just a few basic strategy plays that change depending on how the dealer approaches those soft 17s.
One big change comes when we have a two-card 11 and the dealer has an Ace face up. When the dealer stands on all 17s, we just hit. It’s the only situation in which we don’t double down on a two-card 11. But if the dealer hits soft 17, basic strategy players go ahead and double against the Ace, too.
With Ace-7 --- a two-card soft 18 --- we double down against 3 through 6 if the dealer stands on all 17s. If the dealer hits soft 17, we double against all those up cards, and also double against a 2. And with soft 19, we never double during stand-on-all-17s games. But we double with Ace-8 against a dealer’s 6 if the dealer hits soft 17.
Other changes involve late surrender, offered only if the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack. I don’t remember the last time I played in a casino that allowed you to surrender half your bet instead of playing out the hand. Should you encounter the rule, basic strategy in stand-on-all-17 games calls for us to surrender hard 15 against a dealer’s 10, and hard 16 against a 9, 10 or Ace. If the dealer hits soft 17, we surrender all those hands, and three more: hard 15 against an Ace; hard 17 against an Ace; and a pair of 8s against an Ace.
Overall, you’d be better off to skip the strategy changes and player where dealers stand on all 17s. Unfortunately, that’s become a rare option for low-limit players.
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