Blackjack Strategy: Hard 17-21

At long last, we are at the conclusion of my step-by-step strategy guide for hard hands. The right decisions to make in these situations is contingent on the odds. Certain cards are more likely to be dealt than others and you also have to play the percentages for what card the dealer has in the hole and what cards he will be dealt. To make things easier, math wizards who are a lot smarter than you or me have come up with the answers a long time ago. It’s called blackjack basic strategy and a chart of it can be found here. Memorizing that strategy will go a long way toward lowering the house edge and will cause you to win a lot more money (or lose less). Here is what to do when you have a hard 17, 18, 19, 20 or 21.

The strategy for these hands is simple. Stand. Always. No matter what the dealer has. Got it? Good.

First, let’s look at the obvious. A hard 17-21 is a good hand. There are only a few hands that can beat you. However, because your hand is so high, if you were to hit you would have a good chance at busting. Take a hard 17 for instance. There are only four cards that can help your hand if you hit: an ace, a two, a three or a four. If you receive any other card when hitting, you will bust and lose the hand. Not only that, but the card you are statistically the most likely to be dealt (a 10) is one of the cards that would bust you.

For that reason, it is best to stand on a hard 17. In doing so, you’re basically hoping that the dealer will bust. That is because a dealer will draw to a 17, so they will never stand on any hand lower than yours. If you have a hard 17, you need the dealer to bust (or you can have a push if you both have 17). Your odds are still better than trying to improve your hand, though.

The likelihood of hurting your hand rather than helping it only increases as your hand gets higher. A hard 18 can only be improved with an ace, two or three. Everything else would cause you to bust. It is also a difficult hand for the dealer to beat, since they would stand on a 17. You have a good chance of either beating a dealer 17 or having the dealer bust. In any case, your odds are significantly better to stand on the 18 than to try to improve your hand.

A hard 19 is an even better hand than an 18 and it can only be helped by an ace or a two. A hard 20 can only be helped by an ace. Both hands will bust if you draw anything else. They’re also very difficult for the dealer to beat without busting. A 21, of course, is impossible to beat (the best the dealer can do is tie with a 21 of his own).

For that reason, if you have a hard hand from 17 to 21, you should always stand.

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