Blackjack is a game of decision-making. It is the decisions you make at the blackjack table which will ultimately decide whether you win or lose. Of the decisions you will be called upon to make while playing blackjack, the decision to hit or to stand on your hand is the most important.
Hitting or standing on your hand in the correct manner is the fundamental skill of successful blackjack. It doesn’t matter how well you know how to count cards or manage your money if you fail to execute the proper decision when it comes to hitting or standing on your blackjack hand.
Basic blackjack strategy will give you the foundation you need to understand when to hit and when to stand, but it is just a start. To really become a successful blackjack player you need to understand the true dynamics of hitting and standing.
What Does It Mean To Hit Or To Stand?
Let us first consider what these two options are and how they are exercised at the blackjack table.
To hit your hand means that you wish to receive an additional card from the dealer. This is indicated in multiple-deck games by tapping the table with your index finger. In a single or double-deck game in which you are allowed to touch the cards, you scrape the edge of the cards on the table toward you in order to tell the dealer you want a hit. Each new card you receive from the dealer is considered on hit. In other words, you cannot hit your hand for two cards as you can in draw poker. Whenever you hit your hand you receive one card and then you may choose to hit again or stand on your total.
To stand on your hand means that you are satisfied with your total and do not wish to receive additional cards. To indicate this in a multiple-deck game, wave your hands over the cards. To indicate it in a single or double-deck game, slide your cards under your original bet. Of course, in online blackjack, you only have to click the button which says “Stand”. Once you stand on your hand, you will not be permitted to act further. All decisions have been made and all that remains is to determine whether or not you have beaten the dealer.
The Only Reason For Hitting Your Hand
There is only one reason to take a hit at the blackjack table. You always hit your hand in an effort to improve the hand. If you hit the hand for any other reason, you are doomed to failure. A hit is only taken when you need to try and improve your hand.
In blackjack, your task is to make a total closer to 21 without going over than the total made by the dealer. To understand the logic behind hitting your hand, we need to understand a few basic blackjack principles.
The average winning hand in blackjack, whether held by the player or the dealer, is slightly over 18. It is 18.2 to be exact. Therefore, your goal at blackjack should always be to seek to improve the total of your hand to 19. That line of thinking seems to invalidate basic blackjack strategy, but in reality it clarifies it.
In most blackjack strategy the player is always advised to stand on all totals of 17 or greater. Why is that when we have just shown the average winning hand to be over 18? It is because 17 is the point at which the odds no longer justify taking a hit to improve your hand. There are far too many cards in the deck which will bust a 17. However, when you are armed with the knowledge that it takes a hand of 18 to win most of the time, other decisions you will need to make become much easier.
The second thing you need to understand before we move forward is that you must always assume the dealer has a ten in the hole. Always! The reason for this is that doing so is the only way we can begin to quantify the dealer’s hand and apply basic strategy. The hole card is hidden to the player. You will never know its value until it is revealed. Since there are more ten-valued cards in the deck, the odds are greater that this hole card is a ten. Every decision you make at the blackjack table is always predicated on assuming that the dealer has a ten in the hole. In other words, add ten to the dealer’s face-up card to estimate his total.
The Two Reasons For Standing On Your Hand
There are only two reasons for standing on your hand:
If you are standing on your total for any other reason than one of the two mentioned here, failure is guaranteed.
You must remember that blackjack is a mathematical game. It operates on a specific set of mathematical principles that cannot be violated. Even the basic rules of the game dictate specific actions by the dealer. The dealer must always hit on 16 or less and stand on 17 or more.
Just as the dealer must follow certain rules, so must you. The difference is that the dealer has the casino watching over him to ensure he will follow the rules. You only have yourself. You must always exercise self-discipline when it comes to hitting and standing in order to always make the proper play.
Making The Right Call On Hitting Or Standing
Your mission at the blackjack table is two-fold. First, you must evaluate all of the information available to you. This is done by observing your hand and the dealer’s hand and by maintaining an accurate count. Second, you must decide whether to hit or stand on your hand based upon the information you have available.
You should know that no one makes the right call 100% of the time. You will never manage such a feat. The difference, however, between blackjack winners and blackjack losers are that the winners make the right call most of the time. The call they make is based solely on the information they have available because they know that making that call will lead to long-term profits backed by the science of probability.
The right call on hitting or standing is NEVER a hunch. You should never use your gut to make blackjack decisions. Just like the dealer, make yourself adhere to a set of strict rules where hitting and standing is concerned. Can you imagine how crazy the game of blackjack would be if the casino allowed the dealer to use his gut feelings to make decisions? You might never win! That is humorous, but the point is seriously offered. Your gut feelings cannot be trusted at blackjack. Those who bet according to their gut or a hunch are gamblers, not serious blackjack players.
Hitting And Standing Deviations
In blackjack, knowing the rules of basic strategy is a must. However, when it comes to hitting and standing, knowing when to break the rules is also important.
There are a few times when you must deviate from basic strategy when it comes to hitting or standing on your hand. If you take the time to learn when these situations occur, you will be able to automatically apply them at the blackjack table. Here are a few examples of hitting and standing deviations in basic strategy.
Whenever the dealer shows a ten, you must always hit a total of 16. This is one of the areas where many players fail. They will sometimes stand on a total of 16 against the dealer’s ten because they had a hunch or a gut feeling. This is a road to ruin. Why should you always hit in this situation? Remember, we always assume the dealer has a ten in the hole. That gives him a total of 20. Your 16 means one thing—you are dead in the water. In most cases you are going to lose this hand no matter whether you hit or stand. One thing is for certain. You can do nothing and lose the hand, or you can hit the 16 and hope for the best. On a small number of occasions you will actually better your hand.
A second rule of thumb in basic strategy is to always hit a soft 17. This is because a soft 17 is a hand which contains an ace and a 6 and taking a hit can only improve the hand, not bust it. It is a solid rule, but what about those situations when the count is really in your favor and the dealer has a 6 showing? In that situation you should give consideration to standing on your soft 17 or, even better, doubling down. This is one of those situations when card counting becomes very important.
A third example would involve hitting a hard 12. As a rule, basic strategy is pretty clear on this issue, but there are times when hitting a hard 12 (any two card total of 12 without an ace) should be dictated by the true count. In certain cases, the hand should even be doubled. Beware, however, that hitting a hard 12 is considered an expert play by the casinos. In many cases the dealer will even announce loudly that you are doing so.
A complete coverage of the deviations in hitting or standing is far beyond the scope of this basic article. The player would be advised to study and practice on their own in preparation for many different scenarios.
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