Blackjack has a countless number of strategies which can be used to gain an edge or at least significantly reduce the house edge. These methods range across the spectrum, with everything from basic strategy tables to advanced card counting routines being used by players in order to maximize the value and fun of this classic card game. An area of blackjack which can get quite interesting is that in regards to soft hands (where the player’s hand contains an Ace which can either count as 1 or 11) and the art of doubling properly in order to maximize the value when dealt one of these hands.
Also, it is important to always maintain enough in chips so that the double down option can be utilized when necessary. If the strategy dictates that a double down should be made, but the player does not have enough chips, then he is simply needlessly handicapping his hand by reducing the payout on this valuable hand. When a double is to be made then the player simply takes the same amount of chips as the initial bet and places them beside that wager in order to let the dealer know about his decision.
Rule of 9
Probably the simplest method to utilize when an Ace appears in the player’s hand is called the “Rule of 9s.” The first premise to understand is that an Ace with an 8 or higher accompanying it is going to be a definite stand. The choice of whether or not to double down will only need to be made when an Ace appears with a card in the 2 – 7 range. At that point, the double down decision is going to be determined based on what the dealer’s upcard is. The dealer will always receive one card down and one card up, it is that latter card which provides important information in regards to the optimal decision.
The rule of nine states that a player should add the count of the dealer’s upcard to the count of non-Ace card and if the sum is 9 or greater then that is an optimal time to take the option to double down. This rule works well for most cases, however, there are some outlying cases which can change that decision. One simply needs to remember these few further constraints:
-A dealer upcard of a 2 is going to be a case where a double down should never be utilized. This is due to the fact that the odds are usually in the house’s favor, although this really depends on the specific rules of the table and whether the house will hit or stand on a soft 17 as opposed to a hard 17. Without those specifics, it is generally best to just not use double down with a 2 showing for the dealer.
-The second exception is a dealer upcard of a 5 or 6 which is very weak, and as such the player should double down more frequently in order to maximize the return on the initial bet. In this case the best strategy is to double down on any soft hand with a 2 – 6 non-Ace companion.
-Lastly, do not double down when the dealer is showing a 7 or higher.
These rules will provide a basic plan for all soft counts. It should be noted that if the non-Ace is an 8 or higher then the best strategy is going to be to just take a hit rather than double. While this rule of 9 will not be exactly optimal, it will still provide enough of a return so as to be quite useful considering its easy to remember formula.
There are other tables which can be used in order to memorize the exact and optimal strategy for all scenarios in regards to doubling down on a soft 17. It is recommended that these be printed, and they can even be used at the table in most cases. However, a strategy that is somewhat frowned upon in the casino is card counting, and as such it should never be obvious that a player is doing this. With a counting program such as Hi-Opt 1 or 2 (Highly Optimum Card Counting) there are times when even that basic strategy should be superseded due to the count being extremely high or low. In other words, if the count is extremely favorable in the direction of the player then even a soft 20 can become a reason to double down due to the chance of the dealer busting.
Here is an example of such a scenario. If a blackjack player is counting cards with the Hi-Opt 2 method which is a system developed by Einstein (not THE Einstein, but Charles Einstein) in 1968, then a high count will mean that there are more 10s and face cards available to the dealer. This means that a bust is more likely to happen when the dealer is forced to hit on something like an upcard of 3 through 6. So with this system, for example, if the dealer has an upcard of a 6 then it is wise to double down on an A,9 or soft 20 when the count tally is +7 or higher. In these type of cases, the player is not looking for an improvement to the 20, but merely to get more money down in the likely case of a dealer bust.