shuffling cards on table

It’s a simple game; you, a dealer, 52 cards and the Holy Grail, 21. Easy to play, difficult to predict. Exciting to win, painful to lose… yet simple to strategize.

It’s a probabilities game, where you don’t have to be a math whiz, or fumble with differential equations, you just need to get the right cards. If luck is on your side, that can work out for you, however, most of the time you’re on your own to guess, seek divine intervention, or learn to play like a pro. That’s where we come in.

Forget about blackjack magic and accept that there are some famously hard blackjack hands out there. Don’t sweat it, all they need is a little more thought and strategy to maximize your returns over the long run. 

If you’re an MIT-level card counter, what are you doing here? Head to the Blackjack tables right now. Your fortune awaits. 

For the rest of us, including some of the veteran blackjack players, you’ve got to know how to play the six hardest hands in the blackjack universe. They’re a challenge to handle, they come up quite often, and the winning strategies will surprise and delight you. 

Today’s the day you stop playing by your gut, and apply proper blackjack strategy like a Ninja – focused, smart and deadly. Always knowing what move to make is a super power every blackjack player covets. 

Settle in and let us teach you how to take on each difficult hand with confidence, consistency, and a little cunning.

Hard hand number 1: your 12 against a 3

This is a good place to start. A common, almost innocuous, hand that can go several ways. But it’s ugly; you’ve got a 12 and the dealer has a 3. 

What do you do? Quit? No. Adding a ten-value card means a bust, and pulling the trigger seems too risky. But there’s only a 4 in 13 chance of getting that ten card, which means that, most of the time, you won’t bust. Sure, you might. But you’ve accepted the risks just by playing. So play fer cryin’ out loud.

Continuing with the trigger metaphor, this is Russian Roulette, and what you’ve gotta do is hit because probability says it’s the strongest move. 

Five of the 13 possible cards can lead to a decent total between 17 and 21. That’s a much stronger hand than your feeble 12 will ever be. 

Standing is more of a risk. Hitting is the only way to go. So hit, already.

Hard hand number 2: your 11 against a 10

The dealer’s showing a 10 and you’ve got 11. You’re not standing on this and hitting feels natural, but this is the time for a special move. You fake a heart attack or you double down. 

You should put down another bet equal to your original amount, take one more card and then stand. 

Understand that if you don’t double down, you have about a 54% chance of winning. However, if you double down, there’s a 56% chance of winning twice as much. We like those odds and you should too.

Don’t be afraid to take a smart risk. Doubling down is the best blackjack strategy here.

Hard hand number 3: your 16 against a 10

Ah yes, the dreaded 16. Taunting you, mocking you, staring you down because it thinks you’re a punk who can’t handle the truth!

Settle down. Blackjack players have learned to hate this hand because it intimidates the weak.

It’s not a great situation, but like the drunk at the end of the bar at closing time, you really don’t want to hit it. Some blackjack players would suggest surrendering; you chuck the hand and lose half of your wager. Live to fight again another day.

It’s certainly the better option mathematically, because you will lose about 53% of the time if you play out this hand. However, that option is not always available.

What do you do if you’re forced to play out this hand from a disadvantage? Believe it or not, it’s time for a hail Mary – hit.

If your hand has lots of low cards, your odds switch and lean towards standing. Remember, the low cards in your hand are no longer in the deck and each one of them is needed to make this strategy work.

Hard hand number 4: your pair of 8s against a 9, 10 or ace

Don’t be fooled! A pair of eights is a 16 in disguise, but there’s a way out – splitting. Dismiss the 16 completely and restart with two fresh 8s. In the long run, your chances are way better. 

Full warning: When you do this and lose both hands, you’ll hate us and every other expert who says this is how to beat blackjack. However, the odds clearly tell us that it’s the right choice to make in this situation.

Although splitting the 8s isn’t highly favored, it loses less often than a non-pair 16. The split 8s offer you the chance to diminish your loss and reduce the damage from one of the hardest hands to play in blackjack.

Hard hand number 5: your soft 18 against a ten

Everyone loves 18, right? It’s soooo close. Within spitting distance of 21, you can live comfortably with an 18. It’s strong and powerful, especially since the dealer has to stand on 17.  So why isn’t 18 enough to win? 

Because the dealer’s ten is a little stronger, with lots of potential for 19, 20 or 21. 

The hard reality is that you don’t want to hit a soft 18, but standing is the bigger loser when you calculate the probabilities. Now’s the time for courage my friend, no matter how crazy it may seem. 

This is not the time to get all shy and safe. Grit your teeth and go bold to make the most money possible. Good things can happen. Suck it up and hit it. 

Hard hand number 6: soft hands with 3 or more cards

These types of hands are complicated at the best of times, whether you’re sober or not. So, we offer three possibilities.

You should hit soft 17s in order to get ahead of the dealer when it’s safe, but you should stand if your total is higher. However, there is an exception. When you’re playing against strong cards like nine, ten, or ace, you need to come out of the corner with guns blazing and keep on hitting.

Someone is going to take a pummeling here, and chances are good that it will be the dealer.

What about small soft hands against a small dealer card?

Blackjack’s least macho family member – small, soft hands – are hands with an ace and a small second card or kicker. Milquetoast comes to mind.

Get ready to focus and memorize, because there are three blackjack hands to consider. Your main choice is whether to double down or not.

One: never double against a deuce. 

Two: always double against a 5 or 6. 

In situations where the dealer has a 3 or 4, stay cool. Total the dealer’s card and your kicker. If it equals nine or more, double down. If not, hit. Simple, except… If you’ve got ace-4 to the dealer’s 4. Double that, too.

It’s truly high-concept insanity, but if squeezing out some extra wins means you’ve got to learn how to play blackjack at a higher level, you could be seeing real money.

What have we learned?

No one can guarantee you’ll win, but you can increase your chances. Don’t forget that when you’re playing online blackjack, you can use a blackjack strategy chart. Perfectly legal, perfectly smart.

Be sure to apply good bankroll management and take a pause whenever a bad streak makes you a little frenzied. Step away to rest, refresh, and reset. Come back when you’re feeling re-energized and positive. Winning at blackjack is a result of good strategy, knowledge and a little mathematics. Especially adding to your bankroll.