by Henry Tamburin
”I played blackjack in a casino and noticed that whenever the dealer
had a soft 17 hand, he would take a card. I thought dealers were supposed
to stand on 17.”
As a general rule, casino rules specify that dealers must draw on “16
or less” and stand on “17 and more”. In fact it states that
right on the layout. However, when the dealer’s 17 contains an ace that is
counted as 11, the hand is known as a soft 17 (e.g. Ace, 6 or Ace 2, 4 are
soft 17’s). And in some casinos, the rules specify that dealers must hit their
soft 17 rather than stand and it will state that on the layout (this is known
as the soft 17 rule).
So what’s the big deal you say. Does it really make a difference on that
one hand whether or not the dealer stands or hits? Well it is a big deal because
that one slight rule change increases the casino’s edge over players by about
The reason that the player’s expectation decreases when the dealer must hit
soft 17 is that even though the dealer will bust slightly more often when
he hits compared to standing on 17, the times he doesn’t bust he will more
often end up with a hand that totals higher than 17. The net result is soft 17 the
casino’s edge increases by 0.2%.
Your best bet is to not play blackjack in casinos that have the soft 17 rule
especially when 6 decks of cards are used. But if you have no choice, then
you should modify your basic playing strategy on these three hands (for a
typical 6-deck game). They are as follows:
Double down on 11 (e.g. 6,5) against dealer’s ace upcard (instead of standing)
Double down an soft 19 (Ace, 8) against dealer’s 6 upcard (instead of standing)
Double down on soft 18 (Ace, 7) against dealer’s 2 upcard (instead of standing).
Sometimes new casinos come under a lot of heat from blackjack players when
they implement the soft 17 rule at their blackjack tables. This was the case
in a new Mississippi casino that opened with this player unfavorable rule.
Critics (myself included) and players voiced their discontent loud and clear
especially since most of the other near bye casinos did not have this rule.
It didn’t take long before the casino changed the rule to “dealer’s standing
on soft 17″ and took out ads in local papers to announce the change.
The soft 17 rule historically has been part of the blackjack games in the
downtown Las Vegas and Reno casinos. Here you’ll find mostly the more player
favorable single deck (vs. 6 deck) blackjack games. The casino’s offer the
more favorable single deck games but then take some of that player advantage
away by implementing the soft 17 rule. But still a single deck game with the
soft 17 rule is a better game for most blackjack players than a typical multiple
The following chart that summarizes the effect of the casino’s advantage
over the basic strategy player when the soft 17 rule is in effect (i.e. dealer
must hit soft 17). H17=dealer hits soft 17. S=17 means dealer stands on soft
17. DAS=double after pair splitting allowed. NoDAS=doubling after pair splitting
is not allowed.
# Decks Rules Casino Edge
1 H17, noDAS 0.18%
1 S17, noDAS -0.01%(Player has the advantage)
1 H17, DAS 0.06%
1 S17, DAS -0.13% (Player has the edge)
2 H17, noDAS 0.40%
2 S17, DAS 0.19%
6 H17, DAS 0.63%
6 S17, DAS 0.41%
You can see why casinos that offer single deck games usually implement the
soft 17 rule. If they didn’t a typical basic strategy player would have the
edge. Notice the casino’s edge in 6 deck games with the soft 17 rule. Their
edge is 0.63% which is fairly high for most blackjack games.
Fortunately in all of the Gulf Coast casinos, the rules specify that the
dealer’s must stand on soft 17. In the Tunica based casinos, currently all
the casinos hit soft 17 except the Isle of Capri and the Grand (the Grand
has a mix of hit and stand soft 17). The casinos in Tunica compensate for
the hit soft 17 rule by offering more player favorable single deck games then
the casinos along the Gulf Coast.
The bottom line is that the soft 17 rule is palatable in single deck games,
but with 2 and 6 deck games you should try to play in casinos where the rules
specify that dealers must stand on soft 17. That’s the smart way to play blackjack.
Dr. Henry Tamburin is one of America’s most popular casino gaming writers
and the author of 6 best-selling casino books including his Blackjack: Take
The Money & Run. For a free copy of Tamburin’s Blackjack Insider Newsletter
visit his web site at www.smartgaming.com. For a free copy of Tamburin’s Casino
Gambling Catalog call 1- 888- 353-3234.